You’ve probably spent the last few pages trying to figure out where you’ve seen the guy in these photos before. And trust us, you have definitely seen him before. Maybe it was on Prison Break, where he spent three seasons as ruthless FBI agent Alex Mahone. Or it might have been in any one of the 45 movies he’s made: The Dark Knight, Black Hawk Down, Armageddon, The Perfect Storm, Heat—his IMDB reads like a veritable laundry list of tentpole flicks. You don’t recognize him because he inhabits every role to a staggering degree, a real actor’s actor, elevating the quality and depth of everyone else around him like a quarterback in the pocket. His name is William Fichtner—Bill, to his friends—and he’s one of the best damn character actors working today.
Don’t worry about not recognizing him—he’s not offended. In fact, Fichtner’s perfectly used to it. “I have a lot of encounters that start with, ‘Hey! You’re that dude!’” the 57-year-old chuckles. “I’m not Brad Pitt. The name isn’t going to fly up.”
That’s the kind of self-awareness and perspective you develop when your true calling doesn’t become clear until later in life. Fichtner, who has degrees in criminal justice and political science, didn’t land his first movie role until he was 36. Free of the constraints of Leading Man-dom, he’s been able to carve a career seeking out the most interesting—if not always the biggest—parts available.
“When I first started out,” Fichtner remembers, “my agent would send me scripts and tell me to look at these big parts. I can’t tell you how many times I’d have to say, ‘That’s not the part. This is the part—the guy in the blond wig and a dress. Who cares if it’s small? It’s a great role.’ I’ve always gravitated towards that, because I’ve never wanted to just play myself. I love trying to find the rhythm of someone else.”
This summer, Fichtner’s landed what might just be the meatiest role of his career, in the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot. He plays a mysterious scientist named Erich Sachs (who might also turn out to be the villainous Shredder). And while Bay-backed films aren’t exactly known for the complexity of their storytelling, rest assured that Fichtner’s take on the Turtles’ sworn enemy will have more nuance than your average comic book baddie. “There’s no mustache-twirling or eyebrow-cocking,” he says. “I don’t know how to play a bad guy; I know how to play a person. And this character is multi-leveled—he’s got way more than a couple plates spinning.”