A Hollywood Ending
William Fichtner first auditioned at Farmingdale. Now he’s one of the silver screen’s leading character actors.
Award-winning film and television actor William Fichtner ’76 clearly remembers his first day as a student at Farmingdale State College. He had just moved to Long Island from upstate New York and enjoyed the initial vibe that set the tone for his two years at FSC.
“I loved the campus from the first day,” Fichtner recalls. “I remember thinking ‘I’d better do well because I don’t want this to end.’”
Fichtner still has fond memories of FSC, because it’s the place where people began recognizing his acting potential. An admissions counselor by the name of Don Harvey befriended him, and one day, out of the blue, Harvey suggested that Fichtner audition for a school play. He resisted, but eventually gave in. Ironically, he got the part — but the show never ran.
Harvey then took Fichtner to his first Broadway show, which helped determine the course of the rest of Fichtner’s life. “It was mind-blowing. A real pivotal event,” he says.
Fichtner graduated with an Associate degree in Criminal Justice, then headed to SUNY Brockport to get his BS. He needed a fine arts course in his junior year and took an improv class. There he was influenced by a professor who echoed Harvey’s sentiment that Fichtner should act.
“She said, ‘Listen, I don’t say this often, but I really think you should do this.’”
Soon after, Fichtner was accepted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts — but his confidence still hadn’t reached the level of his talent.
“I was the one getting there at 21 years old, and had never done acting outside of taking a few classes at Brockport. I always felt a half-step behind everybody around me.
“The odds are stacked against the fact that you’re ever gonna work.”
But Fichtner persisted, and hired an agent who told him he’d need 10 years to develop his craft. He worked hard, and his doggedness finally paid off — when he was 36 years old. From stage roles and TV soap operas to his first film took 15 years.
Today Fichtner is known as one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors, with more than 50 films to his credit, numerous stage appearances, and a current role as Adam Janikowski, a wheelchair-bound ex-stuntman, in the CBS comedy Mom. His film credits include Armageddon, Black Hawk Down, The Dark Knight, The Perfect Storm, The Lone Ranger, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He won a Screen Actors Guild award for his outstanding performance in Crash. Fichtner is a character actor of the highest caliber.
“I never felt like I was in a particular category. I always gravitate to odd characters to play, and because of that I think I’ll work forever.” He added: “Soon I’ll be playing father and grandfather roles.”
Fichtner’s portfolio now includes a film of his own, titled Cold Brook, which was more than a decade in the making. He co-wrote, produced, directed, and stars in the film, which he has been showing at film festivals to great acclaim, including the Woodstock Film Festival, where Cold Brook won the Carpe Diem Andretta Award. Fichtner describes the film, shot in Buffalo and Cortland, New York, as a story of “finding friendship, doing the right thing, and learning how far you will go to help a stranger.”
Fichtner co-wrote his buddy movie with friend Cain DeVore and co-stars with his Hollywood “brother,” Kim Coates, whom he met while filming Black Hawk Down. Coates is best known for his role in Sons of Anarchy, a gritty TV drama about a California motorcycle gang.
“The one thing all the people I know in the business have said is, ‘You did it!’ Not many people can say that,” Fichtner says about his cinematic achievement. “I hope this is the beginning of the rest of my life. I can’t wait to make another one.”
Fichtner not only recalled his first day at Farmingdale State College; he mused about his final day, too, knowing that without his FSC experience he wouldn’t be acting or making films.
“It was an awareness that something remarkable had just taken place,” he says. ”I thought the rest of my life had better be as good as those two years were. It was a place of mind, body, and heart expansion.”