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Actor Peter Fonda, Headed West to 'Yuma'

Actor Peter Fonda is probably best known for his role in the cult-classic road movie Easy Rider. His new picture, 3:10 to Yuma, is a Western — a remake of the 1957 film. Fonda, son of actor Henry Fonda, is author of the memoir Don't Tell Dad.

43:22

Other segments from the episode on January 11, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 11, 2008: Interview with Peter Fonda; Review of Los Zafiros' new music album, "Music from the edge of time."

Transcript

DATE January 11, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Actor Peter Fonda on "3:10 to Yuma," his new film, and
his career
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "3:10 to Yuma")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE: (As Ben Wade) So, boys, where we headed?

Mr. PETER FONDA: (As Byron McElroy) Taking the 3:10 to Yuma day after
tomorrow.

Mr. KEVIN DURAND: (As Tucker) Shouldn't have told him that one.

Mr. CROWE: (As Ben Wade) Relax, friend. Now if we get separated, I know
where to meet up.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: That's Russell Crowe and Peter Fonda from the Western "3:10 to Yuma,"
which was released last year and is now out on DVD. It's a new take on the
1957 film based on an Elmore Leonard story. The plot centers on the desperate
effort to get captured outlaw Ben Wade, played by Russell Crowe, to a prison
train at the town of Contention. The film is directed by James Mangold and
also stars Christian Bale and Ben Foster. Our guest, Peter Fonda, plays a
hard-bitten, veteran bounty hunter named Byron McElroy, who harbors a burning
hatred of the outlaw Wade.

In this scene from "3:10 to Yuma," McElroy and his posse are escorting Ben
Wade to the train. Wade doesn't hide his contempt for the Bible-thumping
McElroy.

(Soundbite of "3:10 to Yuma")

(Soundbite of horse hooves, spurs)

Mr. CROWE: (As Ben Wade) Byron acts pious. Few years ago, when he was under
contract to central, I seen him and a bunch of other Pinks mow down 32 Apache
women and children.

Mr. FONDA: (As Byron McElroy) Renegades. Gunning down railroad men and
their families, picking them off the road one by one, scalping them.

Mr. CROWE: (As Ben Wade) There was young ones running around crying and
screaming, no more than three years old. And his boys shot them all, then
pushed them into a ditch. Some of them was still crying. But I guess Byron
figured that Jesus wouldn't mind.

(Soundbite of neigh)

Mr. CROWE: (As Ben Wade) Apparently Jesus don't like the Apaches.

Mr. FONDA: (As Byron McElroy) Keep on talking. All the way to Yuma, right
up them steps to the rope, straight to hell.

Mr. CROWE: (As Ben Wade) Day I die, Byron, I'm getting sprung from hell.

Mr. FONDA: (As Byron McElroy) I'd feel the same if I come from the seed of a
drunk grave digger, the rancid womb of a whore.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Peter Fonda has a special fondness for Westerns, having seen his
father, Henry Fonda, in so many. And he's directed two himself.

As an actor, Peter Fonda's played a wide range of characters in a long
Hollywood career. He earned two Oscar nominations nearly 30 years apart, one
as a writer for "Easy Rider," the counter-culture classic he also starred in
with Dennis Hopper, and the other for acting in "Ulee's Gold." Among his other
films are "The Wild Angels," "The Trip," "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry," "The
Passion of Ayn Rand" and "The Limey."

I spoke to Peter Fonda last fall, when "3:10 to Yuma" was first in theaters.

Well, Peter Fonda, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. FONDA: Thank you.

DAVIES: You're at a point in your career where I'm sure you can kind of take
your pick of a lot of projects. Why did you pick this one, "3:10 to Yuma"?

Mr. FONDA: Well, actually I picked James Mangold. I like Jim's work, you
know, "Girl, Interrupted," "Walk the Line," "Copland," his first film,
"Heavy." This is a director you want to pay attention to. I knew it was "3:10
to Yuma" and I knew the original Western itself, and I love Westerns.

But Mangold wasn't keen on me playing the role. As friends of mine who work
with him say, `He thinks you're too laconic.' I said, `Oh,' so I met him. I
went right away and met him and he saw I had lots of energy and I went for the
gusto. Then I got the gig. And while we were prepping to shoot in Santa Fe,
New Mexico, I was in his office saying, `You dropped a line here, think it's
really kind of a cool line.' `Well, I rode it in here, sure as hell can ride
out.' I did like a John Wayne, `I rode it here, pilgrim, and sure as hell can
ride out.' He looked at me, dropped his jaw and said, `Oh my God, that's
perfect. Play it just like that. Make sound come to you,' meaning, in other
words, don't project for sound, make them come and catch you. Because I find
there's more power when you understate things...

DAVIES: Uh-huh.

Mr. FONDA: ...than when you overstate them.

DAVIES: Right. You know, it's funny you mention that line, because as I saw
the film, I thought `wow, that sounded like a little echo of John Wayne
there.'

Mr. FONDA: Well, and also...

DAVIES: A John Wayne moment in the movie.

Mr. FONDA: And I hate to give it away, but you can't miss it. When Charlie
Prince, played by Ben Foster--brilliantly played by Ben Foster--shoots me in
the gut, oh, no, he comes up to me, before he shoots me, he said, `Morning,
Pinkerton. Name's Charlie Prince. Reckon you've heard of me.' I said, `Well,
I've heard of a dolled-up whore named Charlie Princess. That you, missy?' I
mean, how more Duke can you get without adding "pilgrim" to it?

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: And Mangold let it go. He put it in there. I thought it was so
cool.

DAVIES: And there were things besides words here. I mean, you get shot in
this stage robbery, which sort of sets the plot in motion...

Mr. FONDA: Well, now you gave that one up.

DAVIES: Well, I think that's early enough that that's not a big revelation.
But your character is a guy who has felt a bullet before...

Mr. FONDA: That's true.

DAVIES: He gets taken to the town doctor in Brisby or what passes for a town
doctor in Brisby, and I wonder if you want to describe that scene because
that's quite a moment.

Mr. FONDA: Well, it is a moment. It's kind of interesting, too, and let me
get ahead of that for a moment by saying, in some of the screenings, people
have asked me, `Well, you got gut shot. How come you can walk around and live
so long?'

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. FONDA: And I said, `Well, I've taken lead.' And I really have.

DAVIES: You, Peter Fonda, have taken lead?

Mr. FONDA: Me, Peter Fonda, have taken lead. And while we were shooting, I
said to everybody, `Who else here on the set's taken lead?' Because Jim was
saying, `I want you to do this.' I said, `Unh-unh.' `This is as you wrote it,
he just grunts. It stings a bit and then your body goes into shock. And when
Alan Tudyk, who plays Doc, he digs it out of me, it's not that deep inside me,
because the bullet hasn't done that much damage. Number two, I will bleed to
death, but not before I get Ben Wade on that train to Yuma.

DAVIES: Now, the real story here is--well, a story we've got to hear is Peter
Fonda taking lead. When did you take lead?

Mr. FONDA: I got shot on my 11th birthday. A stupid shooting accident, and
the bullet went off right in front of--right close by. It was a pistol...

DAVIES: Who shot it?

Mr. FONDA: Me. And a bullet hit my rib cage and tumbled through the tip of
my liver, blew the top of my stomach and then went through the middle of my
left kidney, and I knew I was dying. It did sting at first, then I went into
shock, didn't feel a thing. And as I was being taken care of at the Ossining
Hospital in Ossining New York--at that time it was right next to Sing-Sing
Prison, interesting. You know the phrase timing is everything?

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FONDA: Here's the proof of that. As they were trying to trace the path
of the bullet, they kept running into my heart; and they felt, because there
was such much blood in my body cavity, that the bullet had pierced my heart,
or at least my abdominal aorta, and the heart being a muscle that pumps, as
the bullet was tumbling through, having hit my rib cage and, therefore, it's
starting to tumble, the heart was in the contracting mode and went tumbling by
the heart. Timing is everything. So I'm here telling you this story.

DAVIES: In a different timing of the heart stroke...

Mr. FONDA: Yeah.

DAVIES: The bullet catches the heart and you aren't here.

Mr. FONDA: Yeah, right. Yeah, well, you see--and my family thought I was
trying to commit suicide because my mother had just done that, the year
previous, not even a year before.

DAVIES: You were 10, but you didn't know at the time, I believe.

Mr. FONDA: No, I was told she...

DAVIES: She was living away...

Mr. FONDA: ...in fact, that she had died of a heart attack. And they forgot
that they didn't tell me, and I didn't learn about my mother's death. Every
five years something new came up. And it was a pretty rough time for me, up
till I was 25 and found out the really gruesome details.

DAVIES: You know, I may mangle the quote here, but I think it was Teddy
Roosevelt who said something like, `there's nothing more exhilarating than
being shot without consequence.'

Mr. FONDA: Huh.

DAVIES: Do you think taking a bullet when you were 11 changed your life in
some fundamental way?

Mr. FONDA: No, but it changed everybody's life around me in a very
fundamental way, as...

DAVIES: The way they saw you and cared for you, you mean?

Mr. FONDA: No--well, probably that, too. My maternal grandmother and my
sister were waiting in this very special little waiting room off the operating
room and the doctor, Charles Clark Sweet, came in, with all my blood over his
apron, and said, `I'm sorry, Mrs. Seymour, but there's nothing more we can do
for him. His heart stopped three times, and he's lost too much blood and he
stopped breathing.' So for 48 seconds my sister thought that her brother was
dead. And then one of his assistants stuck his head in and said, `No, we got
his heart started again,' and so hence I'm here talking to you in this
wonderful NPR radio show.

DAVIES: You know, I wanted to ask you, you know, your dad did Westerns. I'm
sure you watched them when you were a kid. I always find that when I watch a
Western it's a kind of film that really transports me to another place, I
mean, because we--you know, there's this gorgeous Western scenery, but it
takes us back to a time when there was more lawlessness, and you know, at
times, you know, capricious savagery...

Mr. FONDA: Was there more lawlessness than now? Or capricious savagery? I
don't know.

DAVIES: Well...

Mr. FONDA: I look at Westerns as I do some science fiction, if they're good
films, as a way of showing us today, showing ourselves without us knowing
we're looking in the mirror until maybe a few beats later, like maybe a couple
of weeks, maybe a year, where you see something and say, `My God, that was
like that scene.'

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: And then you might think about it a little further and say,
`That's how my neighbor feels about life. That's what's happening to this
fellow down the road.' And I've seen some pretty darn good Westerns. My dad
was in a couple of them, extraordinarily good ones, character-driven like
"Ox-Bow Incident"...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: Character-action, like "My Darling Clementine," one of my--two of
my favorite Westerns there, others being "The Searchers," "Red River," you
know, and people don't give John Wayne enough credit for his ability as an
actor. And so when he got the award, the Academy Award, he said, `You mean
all I had to do was put a patch over my eye?' I thought that was a very funny
gig, and he was honest. Because...

DAVIES: That was for "True Grit"?

Mr. FONDA: Yeah. But you know--and the Duke learned how to play his
character a gazillion ways, and it worked, and remarkably well, you know, to
play the kind of character that was not usual for his role in "The Searchers"
or "Red River," you know? Those are great, great Westerns, but they also
carry a certain amount of quality to today's life, of conflict of father-son,
you know?

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: All those types of things. The conflicts of character in "Ox-Bow
Incident"...

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FONDA: ...the injustice of men, the lawlessness of the group madness.
They say, `We're going to hang these people regardless because they looked
bad.' Well, what did we do in "Easy Rider"? We didn't get knocked off because
we smuggled some sort of...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: We never said what that substance was--across the border. We got
knocked off because they didn't like the way we looked.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: We represented something they couldn't understand so they had to
kill it.

DAVIES: After you made "Easy Rider," I mean, which was just this enormous
success and an iconic film, you kind of had the world by the tail and you
chose to direct a Western, "The Hired Hand," which has kind of had a bit of a
comeback. I mean, it's at film festivals and art houses...

Mr. FONDA: Oh no, huge comeback.

DAVIES: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. FONDA: I'm making money with the film now.

DAVIES: Well, that's great and...

Mr. FONDA: But I didn't intend to direct it. It was a script that was given
to me in 1969 whilst I was dubbing "Easy Rider" into French, German and
Italian, and I read it, and as I was reading it, I saw all of it. And I
thought, `well, I'll produce this and star in it,' like I did with "Easy
Rider," except I wrote "Easy Rider," and Alan Sharp's script was just
beautiful. And as I saw each scene, I thought, how do I tell a director `this
is how I want you to shoot it'? Because that kind of takes away the
director's gig. Stage is an actor's medium, film is the director's medium,
and television's writers-producer's medium, and how do I do that? How could I
go against the director? So I thought, `Well, I better direct it.'

DAVIES: And I wanted to play a scene from it which I think really illustrates
that well. Let's listen to this. This is from "The Hired Hand," directed by
my guest, Peter Fonda, and we're going to hear--just to set this up--you play
this adventurer Harry, who is sort of tired of life on the road and he and his
friend Archie, played by Warren Oates, go back. Your character Harry decides
he's going to go back to the wife and child he...

Mr. FONDA: Go home.

DAVIES: Go home.

Mr. FONDA: And we know already from literature you can't go home again.

DAVIES: Right. And she essentially says, `You can work out in the shed and
do some chores'...

Mr. FONDA: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...`and we'll see.'

Mr. FONDA: Yeah.

DAVIES: And then right before the scene we're going to hear, he has heard
talk in town that his wife, Hannah, who is played by Verna Bloom, that she had
been sleeping with some of the hired hands while she was out there living
alone. In this scene, you're in the kitchen and you confront her with this.
This is from "The Hired Hand." Let's listen.

(Soundbite of "The Hired Hand")

Mr. FONDA: (As Harry) They said you slept with all your hired hands.

(Soundbite of crickets)

(Soundbite of thump)

Mr. FONDA: (As Harry) You hired men to sleep with.

Ms. VERNA BLOOM: (As Hannah) God, what do you know about it?

Mr. FONDA: (As Harry) How many?

Ms. BLOOM: (As Hannah) Does it matter?

Mr. FONDA: (As Harry) Of course it matters.

Ms. BLOOM: (As Hannah) You were long gone before anybody got into my bed,
and don't think that's because I was hankering after you. I wasn't. That was
as long as I could stand it. I walked about this room on nights like this
going crazy for a man, any man, didn't matter. And sometimes when there was a
man out there, he knew about it and he'd come in. And sometimes I'd have him
or he'd have me, whatever suits you. But not all of them, and not every time
I wanted to. And when a season's work was over, I'd pay him off, no matter
how well he'd worked or how well he'd pleased me. Because the man that's in a
woman's bed thinks he's her boss. And sooner or later they'd have tried to
move their tackle out of the shed and in here, and I didn't want that.
Because I'd already had one man in here and I didn't want another.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's Verna Bloom and my guest, Peter Fonda, from the movie
"Hired Hand," directed by Peter Fonda. It's a wonderful scene, and this film
really is about gender roles in the West...

Mr. FONDA: And never have you heard a woman face down a man in that way,
especially in the gender-driven West. That was remarkable stuff. That was
all on the page. We didn't change any of that stuff. It was just like
delicious.

DAVIES: Well, she is terrific. And, you know, there's another scene where
Warren Oates is sitting on...

Mr. FONDA: The back porch.

DAVIES: ...the porch.

Mr. FONDA: Yeah.

DAVIES: Right. Your buddy. And this is the scene where she's sort of again
mulling over this idea that women have physical needs, too, and she met her
needs, and Warren Oates kind of--they talk about this, and then the scene ends
and this is where the director comes in and we see that he has his hand on her
foot...

Mr. FONDA: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: Tell us a little about making that scene. What was going on there?

Mr. FONDA: Well, you know, once again a delicious scene. Once again about a
woman and her needs and a man. Warren played wisdom, as far as I was
concerned, and he deserved to be with her because he understood her better
than my character did, and in talking about them in this interplay between
them, she says, `You think I'm hard, don't you? I probably am.' And he says,
`Well, that's not for me to decide, ma'am.' And you don't see what he does.
You just see--his shoulder moves a bit, because I play it in a closer shot,
although we did it in a master. I didn't want you to see what it's doing
until the reveal is coming back out of that shot, you see him take his hand
off her bare foot, and that's a very tender thing to do. It's very, very
personal to touch somebody's bare foot, pull it off.

And interesting thing about that is we're shooting and, you know, it was a
long scene, and I wanted to know we had enough film in the camera always, and
there was this music. And I yelled, `Would you just turn off the radio?
We're working out here. Who's listening to music?' It was rock 'n' roll. And
then we start again. And I was apologetic to the actors, and we'd start going
again. This very quiet, very intense scene, and then comes this rock 'n' roll
through. I said, `Dang it!' And of course, I used much heavier language.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: `Turn off those radios!' I can't--this is--mm, mm, mm, mm' and
then third time, I just listened to the music and I realized what it was. It
was the soundtrack from "Easy Rider."

DAVIES: Coming from where?

Mr. FONDA: About five miles away, across the river from us, was a drive-in
theater showing that movie, and the wind and stuff was just carrying that
music into us, and it was just like--that movie is paying for this one,
because I didn't pay myself anything to act, direct and produce the show; I
did it for free.

DAVIES: So what did you do about the "Easy Rider" score over this tender
interaction between these actors?

Mr. FONDA: I just waited till the show ended. Then we started working
again.

DAVIES: My guest is Peter Fonda. His new film is "3:10 to Yuma."

You know, you got an Academy Award nomination for "Ulee's Gold," which is just
a terrific film, and if anybody in the audience hasn't gotten around to it
yet, it's a wonderful video rental.

Mr. FONDA: Thank you. Thank you very much.

DAVIES: You play a beekeeper and a widower whose son is in jail--his wife has
died, obviously--his son is in jail, and his son's wife is strung out on
drugs, and the grandchildren are staying with him. It's a really kind of
powerfully understated performance, I think. Yeah.

Mr. FONDA: Interesting. That's what the critics were remarking about a lot,
this incredibly understated performance. I thought to myself, `Well, where
the hell were they when they saw "Easy Rider"'? Because what did I do in that
film?

DAVIES: Oh, it's exactly...

Mr. FONDA: Wow, man.

DAVIES: I was going to tell you...

Mr. FONDA: Far out.

DAVIES: I hear Captain America a little bit in that...

Mr. FONDA: Beautiful man. That's far out. Well, throwing away lines is the
way I like to do it. You know, punching up too much, you tend to overplay it
and it becomes predictable. When you play it down low and slower, it becomes
less predictable. Something that John Wayne--we were talking earlier--learned
how to do very well.

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. FONDA: And he has that kind of voice and he talks that way, but remember
how he walks. He has a certain kind of walk. He was taught how to do all
those things. Because he was a beautiful young actor when he was a young man
and people saw that, and whoever it was that helped him through that taught
him how to walk a certain way by having him turn his feet in just a little bit
and put its toes down first--that gave that special walk to him--and teaching
him how to speak slower. So all the notes I make in my script, `Slow it
down'...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: `Play it stated. Don't ask a question, make a statement.' All of
these little notes that I give myself, which is my trick as an actor that I
do.

DAVIES: Yeah, the pacing in those scenes are really great. You know, one of
the things--another thing that I like about that film is the way your
occupation as a beekeeper is a really important part of it. And what's
interesting about that is, you know, this is a film about difficult
interactions among very troubled characters, but in real life we spend a lot
of our time working. We don't just have these interior...

Mr. FONDA: True.

DAVIES: ...angst among people, and this film really shows your character,
Ulee Jackson, struggling with the physical and financial demands of his
beekeeping business, and you really learn a little bit about beekeeping.

Mr. FONDA: True.

DAVIES: And I think that gives this a sense of context that really makes it
all work.

Mr. FONDA: Victor Nunez wrote a brilliant script. When I read that script,
I was in tears at the end, and I looked up at the roof of my cabin in Montana
and I literally said, `I'd like to thank the members of the Academy.' But I
said to Victor, I said, `Well, his name is Ulysses, isn't it? And in Ulysses,
wasn't Ulysses' wife named Penelope?' And in "Ulee's Gold" my wife was...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: ...Penelope. And who was the young woman who was causing all the
trouble? Helen, my daughter-in-law. Helen of Troy.

DAVIES: Of course.

Mr. FONDA: So this is--I said, if you're a conduit for that great mythology
from Greek history, if you're in that bit of a thing, grab hold of that braid
and take onto it because that's where I'm going.

DAVIES: You know, I thought we should talk a little bit about the Steven
Soderbergh film "The Limey," which you starred in, which is a great film,
where you play Terry Valentine, who's this very successful record producer,
made a lot of money from '60s records. Kind of an odious character, right?

Mr. FONDA: That's a nice way. I would have used the--"scumbag" is the
phrase I'd use. You can cut it out. It's no problem for me.

DAVIES: No, I think that will pass. But I thought we could hear a cut of
this, and this is a scene where you are--one of the things you do is date
women much, much younger than yourself.

Mr. FONDA: Yeah.

DAVIES: And here you're playing the stunning young woman played by Amelia
Heinle, who has this unusual name of Adhara, and she's popping out of the
swimming pool...

Mr. FONDA: Right.

DAVIES: ...in this incredible home you have in LA. So let's listen. This is
from the film "The Limey."

(Soundbite of "The Limey")

(Soundbite of splashing water)

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) Adhara. I remember telling your parents,
`If you're looking for a name, you can't go wrong with a constellation.'

Ms. AMELIA HEINLE: (As Adhara) Well, I used to hate it. Now I like it.

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) Well, it could be worse. They could have
called you Reticulum, Pleiades.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) God, you're beautiful. Is there anything in
this world that you want or need?

Ms. HEINLE: (As Adhara) Well, I want to know why you've got a scary man in
your house.

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) Gordon? Ah, he's been with me for years.
He's not as tough as he looks.

Ms. HEINLE: (As Adhara) Then what good is he?

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) Have you heard of loyalty?

Ms. HEINLE: (As Adhara) Yeah. I'm loyal to things that make me happy.

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) Am I a thing?

Ms. HEINLE: (As Adhara) Well, you're certainly not a person.

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) I'm not?

Ms. AMELIA HEINLE: (As Adhara) No. You're not specific enough to be a
person. You're more like a vibe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FONDA: (As Terry Valentine) God, I'm glad we're having this little chat.
Come here. Get out of the pool.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's Peter Fonda and Amelia Heinle from the film "The Limey."

Well, that's fascinating little look at this character that you're playing.
The interesting thing, of course, is that he knew her parents...

Mr. FONDA: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...and helped named her. And now he's dating her.

Mr. FONDA: Right. Is that sick? That is truly sick.

DAVIES: But, you know, I read so much about just what a loathsome guy this
is. But when I actually saw the film, you know, you play him with this easy
charm. I mean, he could be likable.

Mr. FONDA: Actually, the fellow who wrote this script, Lem Dobbs--and he's
married to one of my daughter's best friends--I took all the kids out to
dinner quite a few years before we shot that film, and Lem reached across
table and said, `You know, I'm writing this screenplay for you.' And I thought
in my mind, `Oh, yeah, well, I'll believe that when that script crosses my
desk.' And when it finally came across my desk, I said, `Whoa!' And I came to
Lem and I said, `Lem, is this how you see me, as this scumbag record producer,
this guy who's just totally evil in a way?' He said, `Oh, no, no, no. That's
not it. But I've seen you go through stuff that's so bad and you come out
like the rose and you just do it with such grace even--no matter how bad it
is, you can take it through and come out gracefully.' And I thought, `Well,
I'll go with that,' you know. I'll take that bit of the character and run
with it.

DAVIES: Right. Well, in this film, I mean, the limey is not you. It's this
English ex-con who comes looking for you, because you had dated his daughter
who has died, and he...

Mr. FONDA: At my hand, basically.

DAVIES: Yeah. At least, that's certainly his suspicion and wants to--it's
about a kind of gathering confrontation with you. And, of course, he's played
by Terence Stamp and is just so effective and scary...

Mr. FONDA: Sure.

DAVIES: ...and real. Just talk a little bit about your interaction with him.

Mr. FONDA: Oh, there's a foreground of that that's just absolutely
hysterical. I met Stamp--I was in Rome. My oldest sister was getting
married, and I went to Rome, the only member of the family to go there, to
give her away, to, you know, be her, like her father. And after that wedding
I was just cut loose for a while, and somebody came up to me and said, `Look
it. There's this festival in Taormino, Sicily. And Fellini's going to be
there and Terence Stamp and we'll pay you $10,000 cash to go down there.' And,
wow, you know. In 1965 10 grand was a lot of dough. That's still a lot of
dough. And I thought great. And Fellini and Terence Stamp on top of this,
this is a good show.

Well, Fellini didn't show. Terence and I were there, and of course we got
smashed every night. And we would do this little crawl. I'd call it the
swimming--my version of the swimming man. And we would go from one person's
backyard to another, just crawling over walls and falling into it, and these
people would have those little roll-away bars they would come out by the pool
in the daytime and be rolled under something at night. And they all had, you
know, booze on there, wine and stuff. We'd roll on them away and just drink
their stuff and sit on the wall looking at the eastern Mediterranean with the
sun...

DAVIES: Unbeknownst to the property owners.

Mr. FONDA: Oh, absolutely.

DAVIES: Wandering in and helping yourself.

Mr. FONDA: Yeah. Helping ourselves and getting smashed. And then, in that
one moment, watching the sun come out of the eastern Mediterranean, we
promised each other we would make a film together. I just didn't know it
would take 38 years.

DAVIES: And you did, right?

Mr. FONDA: No, 33 years actually. Thirty-three. Yeah, we did it, and they
were delicious characters for both Terence and myself. And Steven used
stuff--Steven Soderbergh, the director--used stuff...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: ...from our own pasts and put them in the present of this...

DAVIES: Actual flashbacks of old movies, right? An old film that he had
done, right?

Mr. FONDA: Yeah, "Poor Cow," and for me an actual story from my book, "Don't
Tell Dad," about hitting a deer on the highway on my motorcycle. And it
was--being able to do those things inside that character and tell that story
inside the character's own idiom, that was a tremendous thing. It was a
revelation to me, and I loved it. That was--you don't often get to do that.

DAVIES: You know, it's interesting that you tell the story with Terence Stamp
back from the mid-'60s and recall it so vividly, because, you know, in a lot
of ways you are an iconic figure of the '60s. I mean, "Easy Rider," you know,
it's just a huge part of American culture. And you know, you don't look so
different. I mean, you're still really thin and you're wearing the shades.
How much is the guy that made that film...

Mr. FONDA: Well, actually...

DAVIES: ...still in you? I mean, how much of you changed?

Mr. FONDA: These are corrective lenses.

DAVIES: OK. That's one difference.

Mr. FONDA: But from way back when, I was wearing them because my father
hated me wearing these dark glasses. They were aviators, just like these, and
so I would wear them just to bug him. And having done that then in life and
then putting that in film, like "Wild Angels" and "Easy Rider," I have no
vanity about having to wear glasses. So I need to wear glasses now, but
people recognize me with the glasses, and if I smile, it's a dead giveaway.
If I don't have the glasses on, they don't see me, but I feel more comfortable
behind the glasses. When I'm on screen, I don't get to do that, unless I've
written the role.

DAVIES: A lot of us--I mean, I'm 54, and when I think about things I did in
my 20s, I sort of connected with some of them, but they don't define who I am.
At age 28 you made this film "Easy Rider," which is this iconic film in
American cinema, and I'm wondering what it's like to kind of have so much of
who you are be associated with this thing you did decades ago.

Mr. FONDA: Well, you know, at first it was--well, at first, about 10 years
into it, I was a little bit bored about it and annoyed that they weren't
seeing these other things that I'd done. And then I'd realized it had gone
beyond what I thought it would ever do. I knew it was shaking the cage, and I
knew it would be successful. I did not realize it would become an icon. It
would become one of the top 100 movies of 100 years, that AFI award.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FONDA: That all kinds of things were put on that film around the world.
The motorcycle, which I built. I built the motorcycles that I rode and Dennis
rode. I bought four of them from Los Angeles Police Department. I love the
political incorrectness of that. But, you know, there's no subtitles that
says, `These are LAPD cop bikes,' you know? And five black guys from Watts
helped me build these. This is very politically incorrect, and Watts in 1968
was not a place for a white boy to be, let alone have them help me build these
motorcycles. And that motorcycle's become an icon. Me and that flag on my
back has become an icon. And, by the way, I got the idea for a flag on my
back from a John Wayne movie about the Flying Tigers.

DAVIES: Oh, really?

Mr. FONDA: And I thought, `That's a great image. Sometime I'm going to use
that.' And so many years later, I thought, that's when the image--but it's not
that flag. It's going to be the US flag. I'm going to carry this flag across
the country. This is going to be tough for the audience to try to get around
this, who I am carrying this flag. And that was a moment there for me to have
done that, and not realizing that that motorcycle, that image of the flag, and
then me carrying it and what I was in the film, that that would become iconic,
and I now have to live with it. In a way that's better than I thought it
would be...

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FONDA: ...because it means so much to so many people. Far be it from me
to say, `Oh, you know what? I've done--that was my eighth film, I've done 70
since then, you know?'

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: Give me a break. And there's people who say, you know, `Oh, I
loved "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry."' I mean, they have their special ones and
their favorite ones and it's great, too, but eventually most of the questions
will come out about "Easy Rider," and I can't get annoyed about that. That
means something to an actor, to a filmmaker, to a screenwriter, that that
which you've done when you were 28 still carries as much weight.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: Let's get back to our interview last fall with Peter Fonda.

You grew up in a Hollywood family, and everyone acting...

Mr. FONDA: Not really.

DAVIES: Well...

Mr. FONDA: No, we did not know we were a Hollywood family...

DAVIES: Because your father was so distant, right?

Mr. FONDA: Well, not that part. We didn't know we were a part of Hollywood.
These people would come to the house--The Duke, Jimmy Stewart, Ward Bond,
Randolph Scott--you know, they were just people.

DAVIES: When you're a kid, you don't know.

Mr. FONDA: No, we didn't go to movies. The first movie I saw, other than
the little home movies of the Castle Films newsreels and stuff like that, was
a film my father did called "Chad Hanna." But I didn't--I mean, he looked like
my dad, but my dad couldn't be in a circus with Linda Darnell. He was out in
the Pacific fighting the second world war, so I'd wondered who was that guy
who sounded and looked like my father. So as a little guy I went pounding on
the screen, `Daddy, daddy, daddy,' and my mother had to take me out of the
screening room and explain to me that wasn't my father, that was Chad Hanna.
I went home. I wondered, `Why are all these pictures of Chad Hanna around our
house?' You know? Why is Chad Hanna posing as my father, you know? I don't
get this. This wasn't really something I could really put together, and we
never saw him in any of the family films. That was because Chad was operating
the camera.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: He wasn't in the shots. And at a break at school--his break from
the war, he came home on a leave. And he came to the school to pick me and my
sisters up, and I didn't know. I just saw the big black Buick limo that was
the family car and out stepped Chad Hanna. Well, I beat feet, dude. I hid in
the bushes, and I was such a skinny little kid, I could get way inside the
bush and nobody could get to me. Now, think about my father's point of view
in this. Even though he...

DAVIES: So you literally don't know that this guy is your father?

Mr. FONDA: He's Chad Hanna.

DAVIES: Right. I know that you've written about the difficult relationship
with your father in the book that you wrote, and I'm wondering, were you
determined--maybe this is obvious, but to have a different kind of
relationship with your kids, and...

Mr. FONDA: I thought about that, for sure, but I tried not to do the
comparative, because it would have been too easy for me to fall into just
overdoing it then, to overcompensate for what I didn't have. And
unfortunately, what I didn't have colored me more than what I wanted to do in
life.

DAVIES: What do you mean, what you didn't have?

Mr. FONDA: Well, what I lacked in a family was not something I could make up
for in my own family as well as I would have liked to have done. Having said
that, my father was not a mean person. No. He never hit me, really. He
spanked me once. He just didn't know how to show love. We didn't understand.
He was incredibly shy and so he would show love through anger or deep silence
with angry looks. And his background in religion was Christian Science, so
you know, if you have a problem, you don't have a cold. It's something wrong
with you and God. And, man, you know, we got measles and stuff like that, and
it was not that we really had an illness, it was something wrong with us and
God. That quickly shut me off from organized religion right away.

DAVIES: Mm.

Mr. FONDA: And I didn't realize that my dad could sit next to somebody on a
bus and talk their ear off, a stranger, but when it came to us, he couldn't do
anything. He was most comfortable on the stage, creating character, because
in character he could do all this talking that he couldn't do in his own life
with his own family.

DAVIES: You know, I was--if I've heard this--I've read that later in your
life, when you had an active and successful career in film, that he would
sometimes congratulate you but never in person, through an agent or through a
note?

Mr. FONDA: Well, yeah to a degree. When he came to see "Easy Rider," he was
not so sure about it. He said, `Well, son, I'm not sure this is going to
play. We don't know where you're going.' I said, `Well, Dad, yeah we do.
Dennis says, "I'm going down to Mardi Gras. I'm going to get myself a Mardi
Gras queen. Oh I can't wait to get some hands on that food."' `Well, that's a
little thin, son, I don't know.' I said, `Well, Dad, why don't you just take
the trip with us? Why don't you just look--discover what we discover, because
that's what we're up to?' `I don't know, son. That's asking the audience to
do an awful lot.'

But he was from a different era of film.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. FONDA: And he was used to a certain kind of storytelling. Even though
his films are remarkable, it was a different way of doing it, because we
didn't have these grandiose speeches or stuff. It was just us. And, of
course, it was a tremendous success. Tremendous success. And he was proud of
that, but he didn't know how to tell me.

Then he worked for me one day in a film I directed, another Western, but it
was a modern Western. Fifty one, "1951," with Brooke Shields. She was
tremendous. He worked one day for me, and about a week and a half afterwards
he sent me a letter, maybe the fifth letter he ever sent me in his life, and
in that letter he was grousing about the beard he had because it wasn't as
good and so forth and so forth. Then he said, `You know, in my 41 years of
making motion pictures, I've never seen a crew so devoted to the director.
And you're a very good director, son. And I love you very much. Your dad.'

DAVIES: And your dad saw that thing that you had with the crew, and that
meant a lot to you?

Mr. FONDA: Yeah. and then after that I realized he hadn't seen "The Hired
Hand," so I screened that for him, and his comment up there was, `Well, that's
my kind of Western.' So that was great, you know.

And at the end of his life, he was dying, he opened up his eyes. He'd been in
some sort of another place and he looked at his fifth wife and, blinking his
eyes, one eye closed, open, blinking like a drunk trying to find the right
part of the path to walk down, his big blue beautiful eyes. Didn't say a
thing to her. Looked at his first born, my sister, Jane, blinking his eyes,
didn't see a thing. And then looked at her husband, then Tom Hayden, whom I
referred to as the "commie pervert." Didn't see a thing. And then looked at
me, both eyes opened up and he said, `I want you to know, son, I love you very
much,' then laid his head down and died. And that pretty much took care of
any problems I would have had with my father. They just passed, right away.

DAVIES: Huh. Wow.

Mr. FONDA: And it wasn't a problem in my life anymore.

DAVIES: You know, I did want to ask about your daughter Bridget, who did
pursue acting and is really good at it; and wondered, you know, having been
through the business, did you have any particular hopes or fears for her
getting into acting?

Mr. FONDA: Man, you were leading me into some of the best stories. You're
leading me right in. This is so cool. And we're walking arm in arm and she
said, `Dad, I want to be an actor.' `Don't you ever say that again.' `Dad!'
`It's a verb, not a noun. Where are you going to study acting?' `UCLA.' I
said, `No, that's Tanning 101, and USC's Theory of Tanning 101. If you really
want to get into this, you go to Princeton, Yale or NYU. I'd advise NYU. Get
into every student film you can. Take off-campus courses in acting because
this is a job. You work at this. It is a noun.' And she did that. And she
understood, this is work.

And later in an interview I read, the interviewer said, `Well, of course, this
is in your genes. It's in your genes.' `Oh no, I work at this.' I thought,
`All right!' Because it is something we do. It's not genetic. Just because
my father, my sister, myself, and my daughter--and my son's a cameraman--are
in this business, it's because of proximity. But proximity'll only carry you
so far. You have to have the goods. They may say that's a great selling
point to have a Fonda in the film, but man, if you're not a good actor, no
matter how many films you've done or how many parents you've got in this
business, you don't get that shot. And Jane stepped up to that plate.

I started working at it when I was 13. I wrote my first play when I was 13
because I did not want to play a fair young maiden in another show of the
"Pirates of Penzance" because I was at an all boys boarding school and
somebody had to play a fair young maiden. I was a skinny little
effete-looking guy and I was so embarrassed about this because I was almost 10
pounds when I was born. In my father's movie--I can't remember what he was
making--but he went hooping and hollering around the set, I'm told, saying,
`Oh boy I have a fullback for a son.' Well, guesss what, I was almost 10
pounds when I was 20. So that was a disappointment walking out the door.

DAVIES: (Unintelligible). Right. Right. Well, it's been great talking to
you, Peter Fonda. Thanks so much for coming.

Mr. FONDA: Thank you very much for having me on the show.

DAVIES: Peter Fonda. His Western with Russell Crowe, "3:10 to Yuma," is now
out on DVD.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ed Ward on the new DVD documenting Los Zafiros, "Music
from the Edge of Time"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

They were world music before there was world music. They were bigger than The
Beatles, in Cuba. You probably never heard of Los Zafiros, "The Sapphires,"
but they're remembered to this day in their native land, and now there's a
film about them, "Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time," out on DVD. Ed
Ward has seen it, and has this report.

(Soundbite of Los Zafiros performing in Spanish)

Mr. ED WARD: I'm not a fan of Cuban music, but when I read about a Cuban
group that had incorporated elements of calypso, bossa nova and doo-wop into
their sound and was offered a chance to see Lorenzo DeStefano's documentary
about them, curiosity got the best of me. I'm a sucker for great harmonies,
and I was intrigued. What was the story here?

Havana's Trillo Park was--and is, apparently--a place where musicians hang
out, and it was there in 1961 that Miguel Cancio, a professional musician
since his teens, ran into guitarist Manuel Galban and decided to put together
a singing group. Soon, they were joined by three other young men: Ignacio
Elejalde, Leoncio "Kike" Morua and Eduardo "El Chino" Hernandez. And after a
few rehearsals, they discovered they had something going that nobody had ever
done before in Cuba.

(Soundbite of Los Zafiros performing in Spanish)

Mr. WARD: Their not-so-secret weapon was El Chino. Tall, skinny, handsome
and possessed of what Galban insists was a natural countertenor voice, he was
able to mesmerize audiences with his emotional delivery. The other singers
wove in and out and occasionally took the lead from him and, along with their
amazing improvised choreography, the live show was a sight to behold.

The comparison the film makes to The Beatles isn't a coincidence. Los Zafiros
arose during the Cuban missile crisis, at a point when ordinary Cubans had no
idea if their young revolution would succeed or not, and were afraid of both
the Russians and the Americans dragging them into war. Their rise to the top
was simultaneous with the elation Cubans felt after the crisis was defused.

The Beatles also arrived during a period of great uncertainty, almost
immediately following John F. Kennedy's assassination, and their success is
often keyed to Americans needing something to feel good about. Both groups
were swept away by cultural and political forces they hadn't created
themselves, and both found themselves celebrated--and running away from girls
with scissors wanting locks of their hair.

Both groups, too, fell apart. For Los Zafiros, it was after a 1965 tour that
took them to Berlin, Warsaw, Paris and Moscow, playing to packed houses. They
were even offered a tour of America, but turned it down. Back in Cuba, they
recorded some more, but even though they were tightly connected--El Chino had
married Miguel's sister, for instance--they had come too far too quickly.
Several of them began to drink too much, and Miguel had decided to emigrated
to Miami, something he was apparently able to do fairly easily but wasn't an
option for the others. Ignacio and Kike died in the early '80s, and El Chino,
wracked by alcoholism, finally passed away in 1995.

This story would be emotionally wrenching enough, but the film frames it with
another story: Miguel's visit to Cuba after 30 years to reunite with the
other living Zafiro, Manuel Galban, and revisit the haunts of his youth. As
it turns out, Los Zafiros are still remembered by everyone, and one of the
most amazing scenes shows a Zafiros tribute band, Los Nuevos Zafiros, playing
in Trillo Park with Miguel and Manuel singing along with them. Also singing
along with them off to the side are three little girls of about six who seem
to know all the lyrics.

(Soundbite of "Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time", performed in
Spanish)

Mr. WARD: Like I said, I'm no fan of Cuban music, but it's impossible not to
be moved by "Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time." The lush colors of
Cuba, the old entertainers remembering the lost comrades of their youth and
the absolutely unique sound of the group weave a spell that will stick with
you long after the credits roll.

DAVIES: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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