“I didn’t really have the time to go through whatever process I go through as an actor. I just didn’t have the time for that… So, when it came time to be on set, I knew the rhythms I wanted.” – William Fichtner on Directing ‘Cold Brook’
Actor William Fichtner just added another two hyphenates to his name: writer and director. The long-time character actor has made his directorial debut with, Cold Brook. The film, which he co-wrote alongside Cain DeVore and also stars Kim Coates, is the story of two regular small town guys who do everything they can to help a complete stranger and, in doing so, stumble into an extraordinary adventure.
Fichtner, who is always great in every role, has terrific chemistry with his off-screen friend, Coates and it’s worth watching the film just to see these two banter back and forth.
In this interview, Fichtner talks about the film and his biggest learning curve as a director, working with the cast and his worst audition ever.
I watched the movie last night. Really, really nice work.
William Fichtner: I appreciate it. Thanks, man. A long time in the making.
You and Kim Coates together were just the best. It’s like one of those friendships you want to have in real life.
William Fichtner: Well, actually, we do and that’s why I made the film. In 2001, I was over in Morocco, we were getting ready to shoot Black Hawk Down and our last Delta guy showed up. And we still had a week of training to go. And Kim Coates walked on set and I’m like, “Yeah, I know that guy. Yeah, I like him.” And he walked on. I said, “Hey, Kim.” And then he said, “Hey Billy. Where are you from?” I said, “Buffalo.” He said, “Go Sabers.” I’m like, all right, that’s it right there. There’s my buddy. I met my best friend when I was 44 years old. We came back to LA. I found out he only lived about 10 minutes from me.
And I would say about like three or four years after that, I went to another friend of mine and I said, “You know what? Coates is such a great actor and we’re buddies.” I’m like, “I have an idea for a story. I want to make a film. I want to make a film that’s just for him and I to be in. A film about friendship and doing the right thing.” And that’s where really it all began. I mean, the story literally was born out of the desire to make a film for these two friends.
Did you always know that you were going to direct it?
William Fichtner: Well, from the very beginning I thought, well of course I would direct it. I mean, it’s not, honestly, it’s not even like I thought, “Oh, I’m going to direct this.” It was almost like an unspoken given. I thought, as it developed and we wrote it, I just, I didn’t want to put it in anybody else’s hands.
The one big surprise was I always thought, “Geez who would I get to produce this?” And by the time I met producers that loved the script and wanted to hop on board, I had already figured out like locations and people and hotels on where we would shoot. And it’s like it dawned on me one day, “What do you mean who’s going to produce that? You’ve already produced half of it!” I was meant to wear all the hats from the beginning.
You’re acting in it, you wrote and directed it. Obviously you have a vision of how you want scenes to go. Did that make it harder on yourself, acting wise? I know like for me I would be like, “No I want to do that again. You guys are great, but I stunk.” You know what I mean?
William Fichtner: Well, I do know what you mean and I have to tell you, in the world of like indie film and everything, there just wasn’t the time, Lance. Everything was five pounds of bologna in a two pound bag. Every single day.
Thank God that I had spent the time with Cain DeVore writing this over the years because the truth about it was, I never really had the time to think about my own… I didn’t really have the time to go through whatever process I go through as an actor. I just didn’t have the time for that. But I knew it, obviously for years. So when it came time to be on set, I knew the rhythms I wanted. I knew the feel that I wanted to get of this small town feel.
I banked on a lot of things that I knew would be there. I banked on the fact that I knew the character of Ted. I banked on the fact that with Kim Coates, that there was a lot of shorthand that I wouldn’t have to worry about. I knew that. I’d worked with Kim after Black Hawk Down. I knew when we got on set, that part of this, if we were crunched on time, let that camera roll. “Do we have enough for two or three takes? Well, then don’t cut. Let’s just reset and do it again.” Because we could do it that quick. I knew that I would trust in him that he would, he would… He’s that guy and I’m this guy and we’re going to find it.
And believe me there were an awful lot of things when the film was shot and we wrapped it and everything, and I just said, “Oh please God, tell me I got everything.” Because I really threw up a few Hail Mary’s up to the heavens going, “Please tell me. We got everything.” So it is what it is.
The movie looked great. Was there a big learning curve for you as a director?
William Fichtner: Well, the biggest curve literally happened in the first day or two. First of all, I’ve teased myself over the last like two years finishing the film, taking it to festivals and everything. Let me tell you something, I got a PhD in the last two and a half years working on this. I mean, there were so many avenues. And many in post-production that I never wanted to go down but had to in order to complete the film.
But as far as directing goes with actors on set, you’d think that, you being an actor, you’d think that what I’m about to say to you was an obvious thing. But not really. But being onset, every actor hears something in their own way.
I knew just innately, right then and there being an actor that you have to find the language that each individual actor can hear. When you talk to Brad Henke, it’s a whole other way than when you talk to Robin Weigert. Robin is incredibly… Maybe one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And when she asks you a detailed question that’s four minutes long, you better have a detailed answer because that’s what she hears. And that’s her process. And Brad’s way more of an emotional guy. And Harold Perrineau, with the role of Gil, I would just try to lead Harold down to the top of a cliff and say “If somewhere over the top of that cliff, if you jump off is the answer. And I trust that you can find it.” And Harold was always willing. Finding an actor’s language for a director is just key and that was the biggest surprise for me.
I assume you were involved heavily in casting. Did you sit in a room and audition actors?
William Fichtner: No, not for probably the top 10, 12 roles in the film. Kim knew Harold and I loved Harold and so reached out to him through that. I had worked with Brad before.
My wife was the one that helped me find Mary Lynn [Rajskub] and Robin [Weigert] because it was very difficult finding the two wives. And it’s not like I didn’t know a lot of actresses. But it was the summertime and they were all with their kids on vacation and it was tough. We’d already started shooting the film. I needed the two roles for the wives. I was kind of freaked out. We started with them in like 10 days. I said to my wife, Kimmy, who plays Vicky, the waitress in Junior’s joint, and I said to Kimmy one day, I’m like, “I don’t know what to do.” She took the hotel notepad and she wrote down two lists, one for the character of Mary Ann. One for the character of Rachel. On the top of each of those lists where Robin was on one. Mary Lynn was on the other. Kimmy watches everything and she just sees everything. She’s on top of it. She said, “These two actresses right here, you want to get them. They’re amazing.” And I knew them, but I didn’t know them, know them and I hadn’t worked at them. I went out to both of them and they were in Buffalo a few days later.
What’s been your worst audition?
William Fichtner: My worst audition. It’s a great, great question. I’ll never forget it. Never forget it. I was living in New York and I came out to LA and I was seeing a director for this action film. And I felt like I had a little bit of a cold coming on. So I went to the local pharmacy. I literally just flew out and then I had to go to this audition like at seven o’clock at night. And I went and I picked up some a cold medicine. I think it was like Tavist D or something. It’s not important, but whatever. I took a couple of these cold medicines. By the time I got to that meeting, like two hours later, I was flying.
And I mean, I was so high from this cold medicine. I literally was sitting in the waiting room and I was sweating. I had a drip that fell off my nose and I remember thinking to myself, “You should probably leave right now, Bill, because this is not going to go well.” And I thought, “No. I flew all the way out. I can do it. I can do it.” It was the worst I’d ever, ever. I did the audition and the director just stared at me and went, “Can we take that down? About 300%?” Yeah, never forget that one.
Cold Brook is now in theaters and available on most streaming platforms.