'Finding Steve McQueen' Star William Fichtner Shares Stories Of Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, And More

A serious, timely question: Who on Earth doesn't have love for William Fichtner? The actor brings it every time, no matter the size of the role – which, as he recently told us, is not something he cares about. Whether he's one of the stars or only on screen for a scene or two, he always leaves an impression. Now, he's one of the leads of Mark Steven Johnson's playful heist movie Finding Steve McQueen, a true story about an eclectic gang of criminals stealing Richard Nixon's illegal campaign contributions.

Throughout his career, in addition to showing a wide range in a wide variety of films and TV shows, he's starred in movies that are already proving to stand the test of time. The Dark KnightGoBlack Hawk Down, and the works of Michael Bay: those movies aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Recently, we spoke with Fichtner about his experiences on those films and his collaborations with Christopher Nolan, Michael Bay, Sir Ridley Scott, and others.

Below, take a trip down memory lane with the one and only William Fichtner.


Based on what most actors who've worked with Michael Bay have to say about the man, there's no experience like the Michael Bay experience. The speed, the yelling, the scale: it's total Bayhem. Fichtner has been pulled into Bay's orbit a few times, including ArmageddonPearl Harbor, and the Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and he has a blast taking direction from the notably vocal filmmaker:

[Laughs] Oh, Michael... Oh, Michael. I have to tell you, and I mean this, I'm not a trash talking guy, so you're never going to get that, but I wanna say this – and I really mean this – I love being around Michael. Yeah, he's a little nuts, he can be a screamer, but Michael is hanging out in another world with his vision on things. Boy, you got to give him the credit for it. Listen, I remember at the time we were shooting Armageddon, that's when I met Michael, and sometimes when a big movie comes out, there's two of them at the same time. Like, there's two big volcano movies. I remember when Armageddon came out, there was Deep Impact, which came out within weeks of it. A lot of great actors in Deep Impact, and a couple of my good friends in that, and a very good movie. But it is interesting, Armageddon stood the test of time. Flip around on your TV right now and you're probably going to find it somewhere. Michael knows how to make movies like that.

Bay also knows how to make movies like that at a remarkable speed:

He flies. I remember there was a scene we had to do defusing the bomb. They set this bomb off in this scene, and Michael came over and said, "Yeah, shut the bomb off, we're going to get the shot like this. Can you guys do this? Come on, I gotta blowup the astroid over there." We were literally like, "Okay." "Ready? Roll camera. Come on, come on!" I remember finishing it, thinking, "I don't know about this. Does it really look like we just saved the planet?" Go watch the movie, and it looks better than when we did it. So, something happened [laughs].

Black Hawk Down

When it comes to making a big movie, Ridley Scott sounds like a calm and collected master chess player with all the right moves in his head. There's no question he's a master of his medium, but according to Fichtner, he's also the coolest of the cool:

I think Ridley Scott is the epitome of just cool. He is the calmest person I've ever been around on a set, and this was a big film. Ridley was as smooth as ice and such a gentleman and so nice. You know, you never have a sense around Ridley you aren't getting it right. Ridley set it up in a way to just do your thing, and he captured it. That was hard, man, especially [for] the Delta guys. We were in Morocco and things would change everyday. Because you're playing a Delta guy, you'd be running in the background in any scene. Guys were getting a month off here and there for the five and a half months we were there, but all the Delta guys – me and Eric Bana – were there the entire time, except for one week. I got one week to come back.

It was just great being around Ridley, and it was such a highlight experience. In fact, I remember we shot Black Hawk Down in 2001, and I met one of my all-time best friends, Kim Coates, and it was me, him, and Bana. The film I just shot, I wrote that for me and Kim Coates and play co-leads in it. Back up about five or six years ago, maybe 12-13 years after Black Hawk Down, I'm living in Prague for three years and Coates came over, visiting me and working with me on this project. We were walking down the street, checked out this restaurant, and who's walking out as we're walking in? It's Ridley Scott, who's getting his scarf on in the cold, and he looks up and just stared at us for a couple of seconds and went, "Get the fuck out of here!" [Laughs] What a gentleman. I'm so happy in my lifetime, and hopefully again, I had the one time to get to work with Ridley Scott. He is the epitome of awesome.

Finding Steve McQueen

Fichtner, who shot the Mark Steven Johnson pic over two years ago, says his fondest memories from the set came from the characters and the other actors. The role lets Fichtner be a little flashy with his slick period outfits, but also the chance to hang out around some classic cars. Fichtner himself is a car fan and has raced in the past, having won the 2011 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, but being around those period cars and sets, that's something the actor can't get enough of:

I think beautiful old cars are automotive art. We had some fun, cool cars on that and driving around in a Cadillac, it's the joy of when you shoot a period film. That early '70s thing, that was my time. I mean, I was in high school then [when the robbery happened], so I don't remember this happening because I was too busy playing hockey and doing other things. Yeah, it's cool. I'll tell you one thing, I hope one time in my life I get to play a role from the '50s. I just think that'd be so awesome, and very few people get to do that. With the sets, the cars, and the whole thing, it was great and a part of the joy of putting things together is creating the world.

Another joy of working on Finding Steve McQueen for the actor? Meeting costume designer Melissa Vargas (Hearts Beat Loud). When Fichtner got to work on his directorial debut, Cold Brook, she was one of the first people he called.


When Fichtner first heard the name Officer Burke over the phone, it almost sounded as if he heard the name of an old friend of his. The oddball cop is a "character" in the truest sense of the word, and a character Fichtner relished playing (which shows in the movie):

[Laughs] Burke...oh boy, wow. I remember when I met [director] Doug Liman, and he wanted to me read with him, and I said sure. You know, when you read stuff, you find a rhythm with it, and sometimes it takes a little longer to get that rhythm. Sometimes you just find a rhythm and feel like the first time you read it, you looked at it, you might be onto something that's right down the road where it needs to go. I felt that way about Burke in Go.

You know, Doug had a camera on his shoulder in the bathroom scene we're putting the wire on, and every day, the space was so small, like the scene in the car with Jay [Mohr] in the backseat. It was an intimate thing with Doug always around with this camera on his shoulder. It's a funny thing, I was flipping around a few months ago and Go was playing [on cable], and there's nothing dated about that film, I didn't think so. It's so good. The cast of characters are so good in it. Everybody has a beautiful rhythm, and you gotta give credit to Doug, who put all the pieces together and made something as wonderful as that film is. You know, the older I get, the less I tend to watch things I'm in. I'm not one of these people who sits down and goes, "Oh man, I want to watch some movies I'm in." [Laughs] No, but Go is one I popped on a couple of months ago and thought, "What a cool movie."

The actor sees it as "a timeless slice of life," which couldn't be more spot on. Those young characters having the wildest time of their lives will always remain relatable to generation after generation:

The only thing I remember from way back when when Go came out...it did well, but not as well as it should've done. I remember it was marketed for a teen audience, but everyone in their 30s and 40s were the ones who really got it, because they all remembered what it was like when you were 18 and absolutely fearless. I just remember thinking, you should reach out to people of all ages, because everyone who watches Go from start to finish, it either takes you back or you're living in that moment right now. It's a brilliant movie, and one of my favorite things I've ever worked on, for sure.

The Dark Knight 

Fichtner is as cool as ice in the opening of Christopher Nolan's comic book epic. Most bank managers in movies tend to stutter and sweat their way through robberies, but not Fichtner's shotgun-toting bank manager. The actor is only in the opening of the two and a half hour crime movie, but it's an unforgettable scene the actor recalls shooting fondly:

A good friend of mine who produced Memento, Aaron Ryder, is really close with Chris Nolan. I didn't personally know Chris, but my friend Aaron called me and said, "My buddy Chris Nolan is making this film, and he has this role at the beginning of the film, and he'd love to talk to you about it." I said, sure, I'd love to speak with Chris about it, so we had a phone call conversation about it. He told me all about the role, how we meet the Joker for the first time, and all of this. I said, "Just do me a favor, send me the scene." I read the scene and got right back to him, "Absolutely." It's one of those things, you can never know, and it was the same thing with Crash. I remember at the time my agent going, "It's just this one scene, this one part," which often times doesn't mean a lot to me. I don't really care; it's what it is.

Chris' description of who the guy was, what the scene was, what was happening in this moment, what kind of bank it is, and what kind of bank manager he was, in one conversation, Chris just shared a lot with me about what he thought was happening here. Like a Ridley Scott, some of these directors who are just amazing – they don't have a million things to share with you on the day. They tell you things that put you down the road. There's a big trust factor and they let you go.

I remember the first two days – and I think it was the first two days of principal photography – is when they shot that scene with the IMAX cameras in the bank. Chris had all sorts of people around him, and the special effects guys were incredible. I remember when I was walking with the shotgun and shooting, they asked, "Where are you going to aim?" I said, "Over here," and in take one, I fired that thing, and when I fired it, something blew up and I thought, "Holy shit. These guys are good!"

It was also the chance, on the first day of principal photography, to meet Heath [Ledger] that day. I had never met him before. I remember one thing... He was pretty quiet with his headset on, thinking about whatever he was doing and his process, but I remember when we started rolling the cameras and the camera was on him, I thought, from one actor to another, I was watching him going, "I love, I love what this guy is doing right now. He's dialed into what this role is," and it was really cool. That was a good memory, and may he rest in peace.