Sitting at a corner table in Spot Coffee on Delaware Avenue, William Fichtner is not only happy to be back in Buffalo but he’s savoring each and every moment.
In town for a quick meeting with Tim Clark of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission, the 60-year-old actor is getting ready to shoot a movie that he co-wrote and is starring in. He teases the plot with a knowing smile: “It’s about doing the right thing.”
A couple strolls by to pick up their order. The bearded barista has called out their names more than a few times already, projecting his gruff voice above the din.
“That guy is the loudest barista I’ve ever heard,” Fichtner says. Then to the couple, “Josh you better get your coffee.”
The man laughs. His wife seizes the moment. “I’m so glad to see you back in your hometown,” she says.
“Thank you. Happy to be here.” As the couple leaves, Fichtner leans forward in his chair and whispers, “That right there. That’s Buffalo.”
Fichtner has a self-described eternal love affair with his hometown city. It began when he was a young boy, growing up on Lucy Lane in Cheektowaga. It grew as he developed what would become lifelong friendships with other kids in the neighborhood. And it deepened as he sat with his father at War Memorial Stadium and watched the Bills play.
“I remember sitting with my dad at The Rockpile watching Jack Kemp. We’re talking mid-'60s. I was 8 or 9 years old. Ups and downs, it doesn’t change. I am a forever Bills fan.”
Last season, Fichtner came back for a home game against the Cleveland Browns with one of his sons. It was cold and snowy, he says. Everyone was tailgating around him and five minutes after he stepped out of the car, he had a beer in one hand and pizza in the other.
"That’s Buffalo," he says again.
Name: William Fichtner
Current location: Los Angeles
Previous location: Cheektowaga
Loves most about Los Angeles: His home, friends, and his "very cherry" 1970s Road Runner
Loves most about Buffalo: The fall, Mothers restaurant and old friends
Fichtner genuinely enjoys interacting with anyone and everyone as he makes his way throughout the city. He’ll happily stop for a cellphone picture and respond heartily if someone shouts to him from across the street. After all, these are his people. This is his city.
“I’m drawn to the feeling of coming home,” he said. “Going back to Cheektowaga is like walking into Cheers, where everyone knows your name. I still see all the same people I graduated with from Maryvale High School.”
When he was 17, Fichtner headed to SUNY Farmingdale to get his associate degree in criminal justice. Then he attended SUNY Brockport for his bachelor’s degree. An admissions counselor at Farmingdale had introduced him to theater a little bit, but he says acting wasn’t even on his radar. While at Brockport during the beginning of his junior year, Fichtner was informed that he was short one fine arts course. He ended up taking an improv class.
“The professor of the class told me she thought I was – and she didn’t want to use the word – a natural,” Fichtner said. “She said I should seriously consider acting. That was like telling an English major they should consider going into astrophysics. I had no reference point for it. But I ended up taking a few other theater classes before I graduated. My girlfriend at the time bought me a copy of 'How To Be A Working Actor,' which I think you can still buy today. And I just thought, I’m going to move to New York City.”
Fichtner attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and got his first role in 1987 as Josh Snyder on "As The World Turns." He’s been in a wide array of television shows and movies ever since, including blockbusters such as "Crash," "The Perfect Storm," "Go," "Black Hawk Down," "Armageddon" and "Contact." Most recently, he narrated ESPN’s 30 for 30 film, "Four Falls of Buffalo" and stars on the CBS sitcom, "Mom."
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a movie that put me on the map, so to speak. I’m a character guy at heart and probably considered that way in this business. I have a feeling if you ask people about who I am as an actor, they’d talk about my body of work rather than just one film. There’s not a job I’ve ever done where I don’t stop, look around and think – I love that I’m here.”
Sitting with Fichtner in a Buffalo-based coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon, it’s easy to forget he’s a famous actor. He still has that earnest, blue-collar look and feel about him, the same one he never lost when he left Buffalo all those years ago.
“There’s an honesty and realness to Buffalonians that I will always appreciate and identify with. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And that’s my work ethic. It’s how I am as an actor. It’s how I am as a person. We are the city of good neighbors. It’s who we are. And I love that this is the place where I’m from.”
If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email LynsD21@gmail.com.