As one of the most cool and versatile character actors working today, William Fichtner has been put into many different categories. We’re adding one more – Oscar contender. In his new film "Wrong" (currently available VOD and hitting theaters March 29 from Drafthouse Films) Fichtner embodies the complex character of Master Chang, a scarred face spiritual lost soul who seeks fulfillment by kidnapping animals to re-strengthen the loving bond between pet and owner. It’s a role as strange and wonderful as the film itself, which is writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s follow up to his equally odd first film "Rubber." But so captivating, compelling and lovingly layered is Fichtner’s work that it almost overshadows all. (Almost – the film is five –star!) We wanted to delve much more deeply into the inner workings of the mysterious Master Chang via Fichtner, so we sat down for some one-on-one chat time to pick the actor’s brain clean. What follows is part ass-kissing session (I give credit where credit is due folks!), part examination and part dissection of one of the most unusual and arresting performances this year. (Plus, yes, he does talk a bit about Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming "Elysium!") All hail the Academy Award worthy prowess of...
First off, I have to say not only did I love this movie and it’s totally in contention for my Top Ten list for 2013, but your performance is not just amazing, but I think it’s Oscar caliber! I f#cking loved you in this movie!
William Fichtner: (Laughs) Love it - thank you! Quentin, he’s out there that guy – I love him!
When you got the script for "Wrong" what was your initial gut reaction and had you seen Quentin’s previous film "Rubber?"
WF: No, I hadn’t seen "Rubber" – not yet I hadn’t. My agent called me and he says, ‘Listen, there’s a director and he’d like to talk to you about a role in this film that he’s doing.’ He said, ‘It’s a little out there.’ And I said, ‘You know me, I love to read everything.’ So he sent it over, I read it and I called him literally one minute after I turned the last page. I said, ‘Set it up – I can’t wait to meet the guy.’ So then he sent me "Rubber" and I saw it and I went and met Quentin. That took all of about thirty seconds before I was like I’m in. It was that quick – a few weeks later we were figuring it out.
How much of Master Chang was on the page vs. what you brought to the character?
WF: The obvious things for me as an actor was first of all half his face is burned off and he’s got a whole monologue where he talks about that. But what really hit me right off the bat and really intrigued me about the character and that I loved about him was that he was a white guy named Master Chang. So it became pretty obvious after reading the script that this was a guy that manufactured what he wanted to be in the world. I’m sure he wasn’t born Master Chang and I felt like everything about him was as he wanted it to be in the world. So when you have that sort of thought – I thought that – that’s a lot of room to go figure out where you want to go with the guy. But truth be told the script was great and the more you read it the more you got and good scripts do that.
Where did the accent, costume, posture and overall oozing vibe of that character evolve from?
WF: As far as the accent I was just really looking for the rhythm – I wanted to find the rhythm of the guy. Once I felt like I had the liberty to find how this guy wanted to be perceived in the world, he could talk anyway he wanted and he could walk anyway he wanted. I felt like whether it was a true evolved place that he was in or he manufactured an evolved place that he lived in the world that I had the room to find it. Now to whatever degree that’s successful (laughs) or not, I don’t know – I guess that’s up to the eye of the beholder.
The film is called "Wrong" and it’s about a topsy-turvy world, but at the end of it all there seems to be a cohesive orchestration – do you feel like Master Chang is possibly the facilitator of what happens?
WF: The movie is through Jack Plotnick’s character and it really follows him and his journey through that. But Master Chang is just one of those things that came into his life and he took his dog. It’s hard to describe but I just feel that in the journey of the lead characters life Master Chang adds pieces to the puzzle of what was going on in his life – and they’re very key pieces.
You’ve played some seriously tasty strange fellows – Tommy Dundee in "The Underneath," Burke in "Go" and The Accountant in "Drive Angry" – how does Master Chang match with them in terms of oddity?
WF: They’re pretty out there, huh?! (Laughs) Listen, I’m not one of these guys that walks into something thinking ‘My God, I’m gonna be good in this!’ (Laughs) I mean we go to shoot this, sure I have thoughts and ideas and things I want to try and I feel like I have a rhythm of a guy. But probably more than any other film when the camera rolled for the first time, like the shots of when Jack and I are in the woods and I summon him to come there and I turn around and have the whole half burned off face, that was the first thing that I shot in the film and for me personally I’m spinning around thinking I HOPE someone thinks that what I’m doing works here! (Laughs) This is really out there. It’s just one of those – you keep diving off the board.
Its little things like when you exit the car for the first time and just your askew posture – those little details THAT is what makes an amazing performance!
WF: Thanks. Some of the things you mentioned like "Drive Angry," I wish a lot of people had seen "Drive Angry." Because I feel like as far as a character journey and really loving a guy, I REALLY loved that guy the Accountant. And I really love this to and I’m so glad it speaks to you and you get it – it’s really cool.
You’ve also played some memorable straight characters as well – "Heat," "Black Hawk Down" and "Crash" to name a few – which do you prefer regular or a tad saucy?
WF: You never know – and I never know. I never pick them based on I want to be a crazy cop or something. You never know either. I can’t tell you how many times my agent or manager will say, ‘Hey look at this – check out this part in the script.’ And I’ll read it and I’m like that’s not the part. THIS is the part. The guy wearing a dress! (Laughs) Then they’re like, ‘Yeah, but that’s like a small two scene part.’ And I’m like, ‘Stop, stop.’ I remember the day that I got offered to do "Crash" and they said, ‘It’s just one scene.’ I said, ‘Listen, you can sign me up for one scene parts for the rest of my life.’ It doesn’t matter – it’s so individual to each project. It’s whatever speaks to me and those are the things you want to do.
I’m salivating about Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to "District 9" titled "Elysium" – can you tell me anything to quench my movie excitement thirst?
WF: It seems that there’s such a hush about it and I have to tell you something. I was in Prague in the Czech Republic like a month and a half ago and there’s a little section of the film that they needed a little ADR from me. So they set it up at a soundstage in Prague and I went in and they ran a ninety second clip of this one little section with a couple of lines in there. I have to tell you I had an out loud reaction because it was unbelievable – it blew my mind. This is not even complete with the mix done and everything. It blew my mind and I went WOW! Working with Neill I would do it again and again and again – he’s so smart. And I got a chance to meet Matt Damon on this and work with Jodie (Foster) again, which I hadn’t since "Contact." And she is just forever very close to the top of my list for any actor, so that combination all together I have to tell you just WOW. It was that kind of experience doing it and I know that that is what it’s going to be when it comes out August 9.
What’s next for you?
WF: You know I’m so excited about seeing "Elysium" this summer and also "The Lone Ranger" that last year I worked on. I play Butch Cavindish a gunslinger and I’ll tell you talk about an experience. Gore Verbinski the director such an amazing commitment and I can’t wait to see it because when you see the train coming around the bend and people screaming in the train and a horse is following and everything, you know what we did that day? We had a train coming around the bend, people on the train screaming and horses chasing it – we were like Ringling Bros. moving around the Southwest!
"WRONG" IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE VOD AND HITS THEATERS MARCH 29 FROM DRAFTHOUSE FILMS.