After several successful years appearing in various television (“Fame,” “Hill Street Blues”) and film (“King of the Mountain,” “The Lightship”) William Forsythe made an impact on filmgoers everywhere as escaped convict Evelle Snoats in the Coen Brothers comedy “Raising Arizona.” This led to featured roles in films like “Weeds,” “Dick Tracy,” “Out for Justice” and “American Me,” in which he gives one of my favorite performances – that of JD, a Caucasian gang member who acts Chicano. He continued to find success with roles in films like “The Waterdance,” “The Rock,” “Blue Streak” and “The Librarians,” which he also wrote. He also had a memorable turn as Al Capone in the television series “The Untouchables.” He recently completed a stint on the acclaimed HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” and will soon be seen as former boxer Jake LaMotta in the “Raging Bull” follow-up entitled “The Bronx Bull.” While promoting his current film, “Happy in the Valley,” Mr. Forsythe took some time to answer some questions. We traded blizzard stories (I was in the middle of one when we spoke and he had just dug himself out of one the week before) for a few moments before he talked about his new film, “Boardwalk Empire” and what could be next for him behind the camera.
MIKE SMITH: Introduce us to your character in “Happy in the Valley,” photographer Stewart Fox.
WILLIAM FORSYTHE: What kind of introduction would you like? He’s pretty “balls to the wall!” What I think is amazing about Stewart as a character is that he’s a guy that has basically lived on the very bottom of the Hollywood scene. He worked his way up and rose to the top of his profession. He’s now fallen back down.
MS: What about the character drew you to the project?
WF: What drew me to the project is that this guy has seen it all in the course of his life and he’s been at the top of his game. And now, at this point of his life, he’s back at the very bottom. He’s become bitter. He has a drinking problem. He has a drug problem. And what really drew me to this picture is that you have this world that is really seedy and ugly as the backdrop. It’s really a story about his epiphany. One of the main things is that this guy, who has been everywhere, really learns that he needs to go back to the beginning…to where it all began. It’s such an uplifting story, especially for a film that’s set in the porn business.
MS: Stewart is described as “The World’s Greatest Erotic Photographer.” What exactly does that entail?
WF: I think it entails different things that occur during his life and career. In the beginning he was touted as one of the great photographers. He did very classy shoots…very classy and erotic shoots. But at this point in the game…as the porn world goes from film to digital….it’s like boxing is being replaced by crazy cage fighting…this world that he once knew has changed. In order to support himself he has to take himself to the bottom of the industry. He makes money but the amount of dignity he can take home with him is literally none.
MS: You’ve had such great success in both film and television projects. Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
WF: I love to make movies. Movies are my favorite. I love to take a story and tell the whole story from beginning to end. I enjoy television too but basically every week you get handed new pages and you don’t have a lot of control about where the story is going. And there are so many types of films. I’ve done my share of big studio pictures. But when you take on a beautiful independent film like “Happy in the Valley” you can see the magic happen…it’s the closest thing to the old feeling I used to get on stage. It reminded me of going off and doing summer stock.
MS: Speaking of getting pages and finding out you’re no longer on the show, do you miss the experience of working on “Boardwalk Empire?”
WF: I had a great time working on that show and I miss all of the people involved. The one thing about “Boardwalk Empire” – to the man and woman – is that people were dedicated to putting out something special. And that is not as common as it used to be. And that aspect of it I miss. But I knew….when I entered “Boardwalk Empire” everything was rolling along fine…but I knew the minute that I killed those two girls that I had a thunderbolt hanging over my head. And it’s true. You do find out on the day. They hand you your pages and you’re dead!
MS: You wrote the film “The Librarians” and you’ve produced several projects. Do you ever see yourself sitting in the director’s chair?
WF: I do. I’ve had a couple offers and I certainly have a lot of scripts that I’ve written. So yes, I do.
MS: Any word on when “The Bronx Bull” will be released?
WF: I’m not sure on the exact date. The last time I spoke to the producers they were shooting for late spring. They’re hoping for an initial theatrical release of 20-25 cities but they haven’t set a release date yet.
MS: Thank you again for your time this morning.
WF: Thank you. And stay strong in that blizzard, buddy!
“Happy in the Valley” is out February 26 in rental stores, retail chains, including 180 million homes on Video On Demand throughout North America.