William Fichtner, currently seen starring in the NBC series Crossing Lines (check it out if you haven't already), tackles one of the two main villains in the Western The Lone Ranger. Fichtner plays Butch Cavendish, Indian killer and nemesis of both John Reid (aka The Lone Ranger) and his Texas Ranger brother, Dan (played by James Badge Dale). Butch is not a sympathetic character and in our exclusive interview Fichtner talks about physically transforming for the role and playing a really bad dude in this Disney release in theaters on July 3rd.
Do you have to find something that you like about a bad guy to play him?
William Fichtner: "Who do you mean? Butch Cavendish?
William Fichtner: "Is he a bad guy? I didn't know that. Now why didn't somebody tell me that?
It's a spoiler.
William Fichtner: [Laughing] "It's more important to figure what makes somebody tick. That's the most important thing to play, I think, to play any character. At least that's what I look for.
Bad people don't think they're bad people and if they do, then it's usually a role or it's written in a way that it's not something that I'm interested in doing. If you find something that makes them tick then ... I remember the first four or five times that I read the script for The Lone Ranger before I started shooting it. Good scripts will give you all the clues you want. I remember reading Lone Ranger for the first time and seeing things and going, 'Awww, here's a little something. Here's a little something.'
Listen, it's not my sensibilities. It's not my psyche, but I'm not interested in mine - I'm interested in Cavendish's. What makes him go? That's usually the journey. That's the road I like to be on."
So what does make him go?
William Fichtner: "There's so many things, but this will be a very long and boring actor conversation if I would explain it all. I'll give you an example. There's a scene when Butch Cavendish goes up to the Lone Ranger's brother and he leans down. He takes the knife and he tips his hat up and he says, 'You take something from me. I'm going to take something from you.' That's a little thing like that in a script you read it and you think about it. I mean he says to him, 'You put me in this place. You put me in a bad place for a long time. I did not forget it and you took my life away from me for a while, I'll take something from you.' All you've got to do is sit with those few words for a while and it tells you so much about somebody, not me, but something about what might make a guy like that tick."
You said you read the script a few times. What did you get out of it the fourth time that you didn't get out the first time?
William Fichtner: "Oh, there's always something you get off a good script. I read The Lone Ranger several times before we started working on it and I probably read it once a week for the seven months we worked on it, right up till the end because it helps you as an actor to continually keep the arc of where you're going and what's happening with you. There's so many things that it can feed you with, but do I remember specifically? No, but I know that every time you pick it up and you read it, you'll see something else.
You never know. It might be something that could be between two other people saying something about your character. It's like, 'Awww, that's what they mean by that.' Well, you didn't get it the first time because you didn't see it the first time. Your eyes are open and you're hearing something for the first time. It's like watching a favorite movie. Watch it the fifth time in your life and it's, 'Oh, I never saw that.' It's the same thing reading a script, which is why I think it's invaluable to continue to read a script."
So you're not just re-reading your part, you're reading the whole script over again?
William Fichtner: "Well, you have to read everyone's characters, and the reason I say you have to is because what you get from that is you understand when a particular moment comes along. The script might come along and all of a sudden, something's happening between two characters and what they're saying is about to inform the next scene and the next scene is the scene that you're in so it's understanding the moment before and what's getting into it. You understand the storytelling. You understand exactly why Cavendish is showing up at this moment.
I'll give you an example in The Lone Ranger. In The Lone Ranger it starts off with Tom Wilkinson saying, 'We're bringing Indian killer Butch Cavendish to justice,' and then you've got the Lone Ranger's brother with all the Texas Rangers around going, 'Well, I heard he ate his own leg, and I heard this...,' and all this stuff. So it's all of that stuff that builds up to the fact of, 'Boy, talk about a setup, so when you're going to see the guy?'
I find that informative and fascinating to know. I mean, just think of that alone. Everything that they've said before the guy ever shows up on screen is great for me to know. All of that helps me figure out who he is."
Why do you think there just haven't been that many Westerns in recent years?
William Fichtner: "I don't know. I've never worked on one before. I'm not sure what the answer to that is."
Are you a fan of Westerns?
William Fichtner: "Oh, yeah. The Lone Ranger, the television show, is a little bit before my time. I was more like the The Rifleman and Bonanza, and then seeing Westerns when I was a kid that I can't remember any of the names. You'd seem them at the Bailey Movie Theater for $0.35 on a Saturday afternoon.
Well, they're expensive [to make]. It's not like, 'Let's get in the car and drive over to the mall. No, let's get like a dozen horses and...' I don't think that's just the only reason that they don't make them, but I don't know."
And speaking of logistics and horses, this was shot on location. How much did that help you get into the spirit? Would it have been the same for you as an actor had it been done on a soundstage?
William Fichtner: "No, no, no. I don't think they'd have made the movie. I don't know how you make a movie, a Western on a soundstage. Westerns are, for the most part, not going to give you the production value that we had the luxury of having. This is the fourth time I've worked for Jerry Bruckheimer. Your production values are as high as any place in the world. That's just what you get when you work on a Jerry Bruckheimer film. But iconic locations... I mean even the scene where I hopped out of a train on the empty saddle on that horse that's going 20 miles an hour to full blown gallop. How could you ever do that in a sound stage?"
How much of that stunt did you actually do?
William Fichtner: "I did that. We started working on that the day that I got to Albuquerque. Our amazing stunt coordinator Tommy Harper said, 'I got a stunt in about two and a half months and I'd like you to do it. You don't have to do it. If it doesn't work out, we can cut around it but if you do do it, we're going to have this shot where you've got this little speech and then you're going to turn. You're going to go right out the door and we're not going to cut, which means you're going to see that like did that guy just do that?' I did that. I jumped out of that train."
Did it take any convincing at all to get you to do it?
William Fichtner: "No, but you know what it is, movies like this when you work with people that are at the top of their game like the people that worked on The Lone Ranger, that stuff's not left to chance. We worked on that for two months, twice a week. I get there on a flatbed truck standing still and then going three miles an hour, five miles an hour, eight miles an hour. We didn't leave this down to a last minute thing of like, 'Hey, let's see how it works out.' Because I wasn't going to do that either. By the time the day came, I was ready. They let it rip."
Did you have any input into how your character was going to look?
William Fichtner: "When I spoke to Gore Verbinski the first time about being in the film, I said, 'The character's wild. He's wild.' I said, 'Gore, I'm not sure what you're thinking but I really don't want this guy to look like me,' and, of course, Gore knew what Joel Harlow was going to do with the character. Gore said back to me, 'Don't worry about that though.' He already had a real strong idea.
When I got to Albuquerque we did our hair and makeup test for the first day, which took probably about three and a half hours to get it all on. That's the sort of thing that I just look to Joel and I said, 'Thank you. This is a gift.' I mean talk about creating a guy that is like, 'Wow.'
I felt the same way with Penny Rose with the costumes. Butch Cavendish's look when he's dressed in all that hair and makeup on...talk about being fed by all these external things. Really, it gives you an emotional pop."
The character of Butch existed in the previous Lone Ranger stories?
William Fichtner: "I believe that is true, although I'm not really familiar with that."
So you didn't take a look at the old Lone Ranger series before tackling the role?
William Fichtner: "I tend not to do that because this is one of the few things, it may be the only thing I've ever worked on that really has a past history with it, but I knew after speaking to Gore Verbinski the first time, having a lengthy conversation with him, this is a story Gore wanted to tell. What I was interested in was what Gore thought. I wanted to tell the story that he wants to tell. I wanted to find the character that was in that script that Justin Haythe wrote. I wanted to find that guy. That tends to be more of my rhythm of how I go about things."
Can you talk a little bit about the cowboy boot camp and how that affected you, and physically how you handled all those days of training?
William Fichtner: "You mean when I'd read the script and saw the scene where I galloped in with my gang or I jumped off the train on a full-blown galloping horse realizing deep inside that I rode a horse for 15 minutes 38 years ago? [Laughing] Cowboy camp was slightly something that was on my mind. We went to learn. We went to learn and had a crash course, even though we took weeks and months playing around with this stuff. We went to learn what people lived with and who they were. I would do the same thing in any movie. Black Hawk Down, I want to know how you take that gun apart and put it back together. I want to know.
It's the things like that you want to get it right. And when there's that sort of a commitment to excellence, to getting it right and to have that sort of support with all those people, it's just great. We'd play with the guns and practice the stunt jumping off the train. I'd ride the horse. It was pretty fantastic and I didn't want to just walk in there every day and get on my horse and come back and have the wranglers take them. I'd said to my wrangler on that horse the first day, I said, 'Dutch, listen, you show me how do I take that saddle off? How do I take the bridle off? How do I put it back on? Don't dress him before I come. Let me do it.'
Listen, I'm not going to walk out of here and go buy myself a horse. I can tell you that right now, but I want to know. I want to know how to do that and I want, my horse whose name was RJ, he was from Montana. We're not going to be BFFs forever but I want him to know, 'I'm Bill and I'm on the horse, buddy. Let's be friends today.'"
(Photo © Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.)