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Why Colonel Willie Sharp From Armageddon Looks So Familiar

While many critics hated Michael Bay's big-budget disaster film Armageddon, audiences flocked to see it on the big screen and made it the highest grossing movie of 1998. Big-name stars like Bruce Willis, a ridiculous Aerosmith track, and tons of late '90s CGI destruction made up for some nonsense science that some felt ruined the ride.

Armageddon may have captured a lot of attention for its flashiest elements, but the movie remains a favorite because it's full of fun moments and engaging dynamics between characters. The film's middle section revolves around teaching Harry Stamper's (Bruce Willis) ragtag crew of oil drillers how to survive and complete their drilling mission in space. Accompanying Stamper and his team is astronaut Colonel Willie Sharp, whose shifting loyalties complicate but eventually aid the successful completion of their task.

Colonel Willie Sharp may not be a starring character in Armageddon, but the actor who plays him, William Fichtner, might look familiar. Here are some of the biggest film and TV roles Fichtner has appeared in over the years.

Fichtner made the mistake of crossing De Niro in Heat

William Fichtner's early career was defined by bit parts on TV shows and soap operas, while his first film roles were often unnamed characters. However, one of his breakout roles was as Robert De Niro's backer and eventual betrayer in Michael Mann's 1995 crime drama Heat.

In Heat, career criminal Neil McCauley (De Niro) tries to plan one last big score to help him retire after an armored car robbery goes awry. Complicating McCauley's next robbery is veteran detective Vincent Hanna's (Al Pacino) investigation and a double-cross by money launderer Roger Van Zant (Fichtner).

While Fichtner only appears in the first half of the film, he does an excellent job of providing a foil for the soft-spoken criminal mastermind played by De Niro. His inevitable demise after betraying De Niro foreshadows just how deadly the famous bank robbery and showdown with Pacino will play out in the movie's last act.

William Fichtner stole his scene in Crash

Paul Haggis' Crash, a controversial exploration of racial tensions in Los Angeles that won best picture in 2006, featured many standout performances. Don Cheadle was a strong lead for the ensemble cast, Matt Dillion was nominated for best supporting actor, and even Ludacris, who carjacks a district attorney with his partner, left an impression on viewers. With Sandra Bullock, Terrance Howard, and Michael Peña filling out the rest of the main cast, it was hard for anyone without top billing to make an impression in this ambitious film.

However, William Fichtner manages to distinguish himself in his one big scene in the movie. Fichtner plays Jake Flanagan, as media relations assistant to district attorney Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser), who meets with detective Graham Waters (Cheadle) to discuss a shooting that resulted in the death of an officer. Flanagan delivers dialogue that outlines the challenges that the legal system presents Black Americans. However, the discussion is tinted by his self-serving desire to improve the public's perception of the DA's office. The exchange is a complex exploration of an issue that was as difficult to unpack in 2004 as it is today, and Fichtner does the scene justice with a sinister but charismatic performance.

Fichtner helped introduce the Joker in The Dark Knight

Throughout his career, William Fichtner has excelled in making tiny roles in huge movies matter, and one of the best examples comes in The Dark Knight's opening moments. As Christopher Nolan's defining Batman film begins, a gang of masked thieves goes through the motions of an elaborate bank heist, while the bank manager (Fichtner) sits calmly at his desk.

Eventually, Fichtner pulls a shotgun out from under his desk and fires back. After taking out one of the criminals, the manager is gunned down and watches as the remaining thieves load up the bank's stolen cash and eliminate one another. When Fichtner's heavily accented manager tells that last assailant that he won't get away with the theft, the Joker, played by Heath Ledger, is revealed to the audience for the first time.

While playing opposite the Joker's first appearance would be enough to make Fichtner's role in The Dark Knight memorable, audiences were so intrigued by his character that it became a major point of speculation. Fans wondered out loud on Reddit if the bank manager would appear in the third film as the Riddler or the Mad Hatter.

William Fichtner played Allison Janney's disabled husband on Mom

While some of Fichtner's most prominent roles have been in film over the last couple of decades, he has recently become a regular fixture on the CBS sitcom Mom. On Mom, Fichtner plays Adam Janikowski, a former stuntman who uses a wheelchair after a work-related snowboarding incident paralyzed him from the waist down.

Fichtner first appeared on the show as a recurring character in the third season before getting bumped up to series regular when he married Bonnie (Allison Janney). Mom, which brought together Janney and Anna Farris before Farris' departure in 2020, was created by Chuck Lorre, who previously produced The Big Bang Theory, Roseanne, and Two and a Half Men. Not a bad pedigree.

While Mom may seem like a departure from the serious roles that Fitchner has played in the past, the actor has stated that he enjoys the environment and his costars. Fitchner told CBS, "Working with Allison is the true highlight of being on Mom." 

Let's hope we see more of him in the seasons to come, but even if we don't, we're sure he'll pop in to steal the show in a blockbuster or two every year.