Luke Owen sits down with William Fichtner…
To celebrate the home entertainment release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here in the UK (read our review here), we caught up with William Fichtner on the phone to talk about the movie, not playing Shredder and returning for the sequel. We also take the time to have a quick chat about working with Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, his favourite roles and the Internet’s perception of Michael Bay.
LO: How familiar with the series were you?
Well I have several nieces and nephews, and most of those kids grew up in the 80s. So I don’t think you wouldn’t know anybody who knew Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s so funny, check this out, I spent hours and hours over the weekend collecting old photos for my wife because she has a big birthday party coming up and in there, I found a photo of our oldest son who has just graduated college and he’s wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt! It must have been like the late 90s – I don’t even remember this! So it was big in the 80s and it was big in the 90s because even my own son knew about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I think you’d have to live under a rock to not know about them.
What attracted you to the project?
You know, it was Michael Bay’s company Platinum Dunes, and I’ve worked with Michael a couple of times. And even though Michael was not directing this, I know from working with him that there are certain commitments to excellence and big production values. You know, every project is different. You ask yourself, ‘who’s in it’, ‘what’s the story?’ Things like that. And that’s what I thought about Turtles. I liked the script a lot. But there was a lot of people committed to it from the get go that was so tremendous. Just everything about it felt… yeah. I literally made the decision very quick. Read it and was like, ‘I’m in’ (laughs).
There were some rumours that were bounded around in the early days of the project that you had signed on to play Shredder, but of course you’re Eric Sachs in the movie. Were the rumours true?
Yeah, there is truth to that. It was certainly something that we looked at and, to be quite honest, worked on. But ultimately at the end of the day, what was going to help the movie be a better film? And there were some changes made. And one of those was for Sachs not to be Shredder. So, believe me, it’s true and that was in the original mix.
Were you disappointed not to play Shredder?
Not at all, actually. Without getting into too much detail, I really understood why it might be stronger to separate [Sachs and Shredder]. And I’ve said this a million times, I’m such a producer-friendly guy. Because when we talked about making some changes on the film, and dial it in a little bit better and not go in this direction because we’re going to go in that direction, I ultimately felt it was a better movie. And that’s putting myself out of the equation. I just thought the thought process to separate Shredder from Sachs was a better movie.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a lot of negative reactions, especially from the fans and the Internet. What did you make of all that?
I don’t make anything out of it. I don’t really follow it. I’m not really one for reviews or critique. It’s nothing to do with me (laughs). It’s part of the nature of the beast. I’m not really a blogger so I wasn’t keeping up to date with what people thought about it. Because it has nothing to do with what I’m doing in the movie. My job in the movie is to get on set – and any day I’m on set is a good day – and thinking about what we’re going to do with it. And that was my focus, which it always is.
You’ve worked with Michael Bay on several projects as you’ve previously mentioned, who is no stranger to negativity and is often labelled as “The Raper of Childhoods”. Do you know what he makes of it all?
You’d have to ask him, I have no idea. Did you say “Raper of Childhoods”? (laughs)
Mostly by fans of Transformers.
Well I know a lot of kids who saw Armageddon and thought it was the best thing. And I happen to be one of them!
You are talking to one of them, I love Armageddon.
Right! So, I’m trying to connect Raper of Childhoods to Armageddon and drawing a blank. I think anyone who has that opinion has some issues and that’s their issue. I don’t talk to Michael every day, but I’d imagine he doesn’t lose any sleep over it.
The sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has already been announced (which will feature Bebop and Rocksteady) – is there anything you can tell us about it?
You know, honestly I don’t. I know they’re working on the script right now. I think we’re going to start shooting late April and I don’t know much more about it than that right now.
And you’re in for the sequel?
I am. And I look forward to whatever that is!
Stepping away from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for a moment. We’ve just passed the anniversary of the death of Heath Ledger, who you worked with on The Dark Knight. What are your memories of him?
Very brief. Because when we shot that bank sequence, I think it was day one and two of principal photography of an 8-month shoot. I had never met Heath before and, I remember getting on set a looking forward to [working with him] as The Joker. And working with Chris [Nolan] who is great. But what I’ll always remember is when he came on [set] and he had the make-up on, and from the first time he opened his mouth and shot the first scene, I remember thinking, ‘oh that’s really good’. That was just my impression you know. It was really good and I love where he went with the character and everything about it. I just thought it was a fascinating characterisation. And my only other memory was that he was a real gentleman.
You’ve worked on some amazing movies and TV shows over your illustrious career. If you had a gun to your head, what would you pick out as your favourite performances?
That’s… that’s a tough thing. There was stuff that I’ve done that I really wanted to do and, well there’s a lot of stuff that I want to do but don’t get to do. Off the top of my head, I would say Black Hawk Down, Go, and… The Long Ranger was my single favourite experience working on a film. I just nothing but seven and a half months of great memories. Just living in the American South West. It was just… amazing. But you know, there’s a lot of things and if you asked me that question tomorrow, I’d probably give you three different things.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now available to own on DVD and Blu-Ray, read our review here. Our thanks go out to William Fichtner for taking the time to talk to us!