William Fichtner relives the thrilling danger of Armageddon!
Before there was Transformers and Bad Boys II, there was Armageddon! Michael Bay's epic sci-fi disaster thriller wowed audiences upon its initial release in the summer of 1998, and now the classic film is finally making its stunning Blu-ray debut this April 27th. Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and an all-star cast set out to destroy an asteroid the size of Texas as it hurdles towards earth at 22,000 miles per hour in this blurring action-packed drama that doesn't stop moving for a second. We recently caught up with actor William Fichtner, who stars as Colonel Willie Sharp, to reminisce about this ground shaking film. Here's what he had to say:
What did it mean to be a part of this film upon its initial release? And in what regard do you hold it know?
William Fichtner: Even at the time, Armageddon had a look and a style that was unique. Michael Bay created something new. He committed to something, and he wasn't going to let it go. It was a Jerry Bruckheimer production, so we knew we were going to get the best of everything to make it. It was going to be the best it could be. Period. The best thing to say about Armageddon is that there have been so many big action films. There have been a ton of other movies that were similar to Armageddon. But Armageddon has stood the test of time better than all of them. It is still out there. They still play it constantly. There is a younger audience that was five or six when that movie came out. They know all of the people in it. So it plays. Parents of young kids watch it. The bottom line is this: It was a big popcorn movie on a Saturday afternoon. And after all this time, it has really hung in there.
No single shot in this film lasts for more than 3 seconds, most clocking in at 1 to 1 and a half seconds. Did that at all affect the way you approached playing Colonel Willie Sharp? Do years worth of classical training just go flying out the window on a set like this?
William Fichtner: It doesn't affect your acting at all. It is a process; a directorial choice. You can't think about that. You can't try to get the line in quicker. You can't think of it in terms of a 1.8 second sound byte. The editing doesn't affect the way you play it at all. You play the scene as shrewd as you can under the circumstances, whatever it is. In Armageddon, everyone has their own story. The world they came from. The Roughnecks. The military dudes. You just tell your story, and Michael puts that together. He'll tell the story, and accelerate it at the speed he wants. That's his choice. As far as how it affects us as an actor? I never once thought about it.
Did you have to act against a wall of cameras? Or did you have to shoot more film than normal, as every one of these 1-second shots is from a different angle? Was this a longer process than most movies?
William Fichtner: I don't remember how many different cameras he had rolling at any given moment. Now that you mention it, I do remember days where there were an unbelievable amount of cameras rolling. I don't remember how many. I don't remember Michael ever saying, "Hey, act it this way so we can get another camera over here!" He'd tell us to just play the moment, and that he'd figure out a way to capture it.
How intense was this shoot? Because it seems to me that you guys would have to shoot far more footage than your average film, and Michael Bay has a reputation for pushing his actors to the extreme.
William Fichtner: I will tell you something. Some of those scenes had us crawling under huge beams of steel. You have to hurry when you are doing something like that. You want to just get out of there. I remember them shooting stuff on the shuttle. The interior of the shuttle was on a soundstage at Disney, and it was being operated on a gimble with hydraulics. You had to make sure your seatbelt was fastened, or you were going to get bounced around. Really bounced around. You felt like you were in a big rocket; they got it rolling. That stuff is exciting. It's really cool. Its part of the magic of making movies. I loved all of that. It helped the acting. You didn't have to wonder, "Gee, what would I be thinking about right now?" I knew exactly what I was thinking about, because they made it feel like I was there.
Bay was allowed unprecedented access to shoot in restricted areas of NASA and at Edward's Air Force Base. What was that experience like for you, and what do you feel that authenticity lent to the film?
William Fichtner: I will tell you. I had the pleasure of working on a Jerry Bruckheimer production three times in my life. I have said this expression many times, but it really is soup to nuts. Jerry has an amazing relationship, I would image, with the department of defense. Here is a guy that doesn't settle for anything less than the best that he can get. And it shows. I have worked on Black Hawk Down with him. Armageddon. If we had a scene in the script where we were supposed to be shooting on the launch pad of Cape Canaveral, guess what? We were shooting on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. We weren't on Hermosa Beach, shooting behind the smoke stacks, trying to make it look good. That stuff is amazing. To have access too that? It was just incredible. I remember, Michael was on the gantry, and the actual shuttle was sitting on the launch pad when we shot. Michael pulled out this big boom box. And he put some inspirational music on. He had it playing as we walked across the gantry to get to the ship. He didn't have to do that, but it gave us a real feeling in the air. I really appreciated that. Everybody feels that. It takes everything to a higher level. We also had a lot of great actors. Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, and Steve Buscemi. There were some amazing folks that were there the whole time, and that doesn't hurt either.
Michael Bay really did assembled an all-star cast for this film. What was it like being a part of this iconic ensemble?
William Fichtner: I remember that everything about it was a good time. I loved being around Bruce. He was very inclusive with all of the guys. He was very generous. He really put himself out there for everybody. I have a lot of good, warm memories about that.
At the time, killing off Bruce Willis seemed like a pretty bold move. What did you think about the ending of the film when you were shooting it, and why do you think it still resonates so strongly with audiences today?
William Fichtner: You hit the nail on the head. This does still play today. It's a ride. It strums at the heartstrings. You have Bruce's relationship with Liv Tyler. You know what? You never know when you are working on something. I have worked on projects where you think to yourself, "This is going well." Then it doesn't turn out quite that well. Armageddon felt good, and it is good. Obviously, there have been a lot of big budget movies in the past twelve or thirteen years, but I don't think those movies have the mileage that Armageddon has.
How realistic did you guys attempt to make this scenario? Did you ever study the actual science of it? Or did you strictly want it to be a flight of fancy that didn't need to adhere to any form of reality?
William Fichtner: You can't worry about that. We're all members of the Screen Actors Guild. Nobody's trying to figure out the physics. "What the Hell are we going to do?" That said, there is plausibility to it. Looking at the film, you definitely feel as if this could happen. Bombs go off all the time. We have flown into space. Spaceships go up all the time. We've landed on the moon. We didn't have to go out and find something new. I don't know what the specifics of this situation are, but when I was reading the script, I thought this sounded like a really good, plausible plan to me.
How much real astronaut training did you go through in anticipation of this project? And have you been able to retain any of that information?
William Fichtner: How much did I really have to learn? We had to fly shuttles. We had to diffuse bombs. We had electricians there to tell us which wire was which. There were some technical aspects that the Rough Necks had to learn. How do you get down in a rock like that? I think a lot of that was individual to whom we were playing, what our part was, and what we specifically had to do. If you have a moment, and it deals with some sort of technical aspect, I would want to know the specifics of it. I never felt short changed working on Armageddon. I can tell you that. When you are on a Jerry Bruckheimer film, they really want you to know your stuff. And it shows. For sure.
You are currently filming Drive Angry. How crazy is that movie going to be?
William Fichtner: This is what I will say about Drive Angry. Its not only one of the best times I have ever had, its possibly one of the best roles I have ever had in a film. I love working on it. I think the director, Patrick Lussier, has a great, wonderful vision. I just started working with Nicolas Cage on it. He is such a joy, and he is awesome in this role. I have a couple of weeks left on it. I go back to Louisiana tomorrow. And I just can't wait to see this one. I am so happy to be a part of it. I think it's going to be a real rocket! It's in 3D. Once you get to know the story, it's going to be something else.
Armageddon arrives on Blu-ray this Tuesday, April 27th, in stores everywhere.