Actor William Forsythe has a face as malleable as sculptor’s clay. He can look like a Southern hick or a New York hood, a royal prince or a conservative government agent. And even his own mother won’t recognize him under the four hours of makeup he wears as Flattop, the arch villain in “Dick Tracy.”
So portraying the up-tight FBI agent in “Dead Bang” opposite Don Johnson was a piece of cake. “After studying some pompous people in government, I realized this character was exactly what I imagine Richard Nixon was like at 28, so I went for it.”
Forsythe has built his career on playing characters so diverse he’s virtually unrecognizable from film to film.
“Climbing into the skin of a character is what it’s all about for me,” he says. “My objective from the beginning was to play so many different types the industry couldn’t label me.”
Forsythe, who grew up in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, landed his first professional job after high school in the chorus of “The Merry Widow” at the Harvard Club in New York. Dozens of regional and Off Broadway plays followed before he came to Hollywood where he struggled for four years until he got his first break in “King of the Mountain” with Dennis Hopper.
“When I found out I had a chance to work with John Frankenheimer in ‘Dead Bang,’ I said: ‘OK, so it’s not the greatest script I’ve ever read. It’s Frankenheimer! ' He’s been one of my heroes since those great live TV dramas he did in the ‘50s.”
Though he says working with Warren Beatty and Madonna in “Dick Tracy” has been “terrific,” he doesn’t think he’ll ever take another role that requires his face to be concealed under makeup. “I fight claustrophobia all day, and my face itches like crazy. But it sure puts me in the mood to play a killer!”