16. June 2015

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A native of Buffalo, New York (and a longtime Sabres fan), William Fichtner has appeared in scores of television shows and feature films, including Black Hawk Down, Crash and The Dark Knight. He spoke with the Czech Film Commission about working and living in Prague.
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How did you get involved in the production? I was working on The Lone Ranger and I got a call from my agent, who said, “I have this pilot I want you to read.” The writer was Ed Bernero, who had been a show runner for a long time on Criminal Minds and had co-created Third Watch. The script was extremely well written and I really liked the character. My agent told me right away that the show would shoot in Prague. I had been here with my wife about nine years before and we just loved it. But it’s not the sort of thing I wanted to do solo. I didn’t want to work here and have to commute to see my wife and my two boys. So I told my wife Kymmy, “I’m not going to this unless you’re up for the journey. Either we all go or I won’t do it.” So we decided we’d all go. What impression did that decision have on your friends and colleagues? Were they aware of where Prague is? Sure. It’s true that most Americans don’t know much about Eastern Europe. I’ve heard so many times about how Europeans think Americans don’t travel the world enough. But we also live on a different continent, in a huge country that has multiple mountain ranges and two oceans. You can go to California and drive 13 hours and you’re still in California. More and more filmmakers are aware of Prague. There are more and more shows happening here. For film production, this place is only going up. It has to. It’s too beautiful, and if there are incentives to be here, why would anyone not roll those dice?

What factors influenced the decision to shoot in the Czech Republic? I’m sure incentives are big factor for any production, but they’re not the only thing. For one, this is the most beautiful city in all of Europe, in my opinion. It’s as beautiful as Paris or anyplace else. Then there are the sound stages at Barrandov. I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re just massive. And we had the incredibly great fortune of working with Stillking Films. I met many, many great friends at Stillking. We had an awesome crew. Listen, I love American crews. They’re incredible. But the Czech crew here that I worked with was every bit as professional as the guys at home. In Prague, there’s a work ethic and culture of making it happen.

Could you imagine shooting anywhere else? I’m not sure I would have felt the same way about any other city in Europe, to be honest. After the first season, one of our executive producers told me, “We’re seriously contemplating taking the production to Sofia, Bulgaria.” I said, “That sounds fantastic. Have a great time. Tell me how it goes, because I’ll continue with the show if we’re going back to Prague, but I won’t be moving to Sofia.” That’s no disrespect to Bulgaria. But I’ve found a rhythm here with my family and I didn’t want to go anyplace else.

What were some some of the locations you shot? We shot on Charles Bridge, of course. That’s like being in another world. We had an entire episode that took place inside of an old bank [the former ČSOB building on Senovážné náměstí]. It’s incredible. We were there an entire week, and every day I just had to walk into a different room or up a staircase. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “When this shoot is done just turn this place into a museum!” We did another episode where we shot in this underground tunnel system [at the former wastewater treatment facility in Prague 6]. Or at Slapy, just a half-hour’s drive outside of town, in the forest on these high cliffs with the river down below. So beautiful. One episode called for an old soccer stadium that was abandoned and overgrown. The location guys found precisely what Ed had written, an old stadium in Brno. We were all like, “Did they build this for us?” It was perfect. But one my favorite locations was an old [ČKD] building in Prague 9. Like a warehouse. They dressed the interior up like a NYPD office. Prague doubles for lots of other locations, but Ed did focus on taking part of our storyline to Prague, which was really wise. Prague is not a city where you’re short on color or location. Within a few minutes’ walk you have so many different looks.

What is your impression of the Czech film professionals you worked with? The Czechs are amazing. I was fortunate to get to know some of them 12 or 13 years ago in Morocco on Black Hawk Down. We had the same prop master, some of the ladies in the wardrobe department. Our Czech stunt team came over and trained just as hard as we all did. By the time we left, we were really great friends. I’ve made a lot of friends here. The gentleman who picked me up from the airport, Ondřej, is a dear, dear friend for life. I see him almost every day. I drag him to an awful lot of youth baseball. My son Van plays on a local Czech team from Troja. I don’t think Ondřej had seen baseball before in his life, but he has now.

You’re speaking of Van’s little league team. The baseball community has been one of the highlights of our time here. It’s been the best baseball experience that I’ve ever had. The coaches and the parents on our little team, we all travel together to tournaments. The team is made up of local kids who live in the area, so they’re mainly Czech. The kids speak a little bit of English. Van speaks a little bit of Czech. But they all speak baseball.

What other rituals have become a part of your life here? In the last two weeks, I’ve been going to the gym a little bit extra every day because we’re going to all our favorite restaurants to say goodbye. I’ve got the best trainer in the world over at the Cybex gym at the Hilton. Nadja and Sandra run the gym and they’re amazing. I walk to the gym every day, rain or shine, snow, sleet. I walk across the bridge and down the river bank past the boats. I’ve been doing this for two, three years. Every morning, those boat captains there, they don’t know my name and I don’t think they speak much English, but they’re like, “Dobrý den!” Because they see that same guy every day. The restaurants: the food scene here is just stupid good. I’m dear friends with the manager, Lada, over at La Finestra. We went there the very first night we arrived. I threw my wife’s birthday party at this new restaurant, Field. That’s a gastronomic experience. And there’s Sansho, which is so good. Paul, the owner, just opened a place that’s a bar and meat shop called Maso a Kobliha — ‘meat and doughnuts’. You have got to try it. At least once a month, all of our friends here, parents from the International School of Prague, where Van goes, we go to the James Joyce pub on Thursday night. We could be 30 of us in there, ordering their “sexy curry” and Pilsener. On a Sunday night, I have no problem getting a dozen guys to watch American football at Caffrey’s, on Old Town Square. The mighty fine bartenders there will flip that television on and get the NFL as soon as we walk in. Letná Park has become a ritual. Me and Van go there, throw a football, soccer ball and baseballs. Even a frisbee. There’s a spot up there that is the best view in all of Prague, where you can see the river bending around Old Town and all the bridges. It’s just incredible.

Would you come back? Absolutely, and mainly because of the fine people I got to know and work with. When you go on location to work far from home, the people you work with can make or break your experience. It makes a difference every day when you walk on set and the sound guys, the camera crew, the set decorators, everybody is all top-notch. I’ll take that away from here as much as anything. I really hope I get a chance to come back and work some day. That would be a gift. Go Sparta!