7 Questions with Peter Fonda and James Mangold

photography by rickycphotography.com

James Mangold and Peter Fonda

When is the last time you saw a great Western? Not since Eastwood starred, right?
Brokeback Mountain doesn't count! I am talking about an all out good guys versus the bad guys shoot out—a cowboy showdown. This is the stuff the Western is made of. It’s a moviemaking genre steeped in the mythology of America, but few are memorable. However, a soon-to-be-released rework of 3:10 to Yuma may encourage moviegoers to take notice of the Western once again.

James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted) directs Peter Fonda (Easy Rider, Ulee’s Gold) in this rather brilliant revamp.  Fonda gives a first-class performance as bounty hunter Byron McElroy, who snarls his way through every scene. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are the other leading men in this film, which opens in theaters nationwide on Sept. 10.

Fonda and Mangold sat down with yours truly recently for seven questions for 7x7sf.com at Miwok Ranch in Tennessee Valley, Marin.

Peter, James, grand to see you. Welcome to the ranch, guys.

1. For starters, San Francisco, the Bay Area, what comes to mind when someone mentions San Francisco?

James Mangold: Is this the rapid-fire question section or the TV interview?

Yes. Yes. Memories of a naughty night, Peter? 
Peter Fonda: Drugs, sex, and rock and roll man. Sailing on my boat out in the bay and beating everyone at St. Francis Yacht Club. I love that part too.
JM: And some Bill Graham concerts of amazing proportion.  
PF: Absolutely. 
JM: ...that I’ve only listened to on recordings. 
PF: I actually got to go there. 
JM: Oh yeah? 
PF: But then I’m a lot older than you. You’re only a few months older than my daughter. 
JM: That’s right. We figured that out. 
PF: I just look younger than you though. 
JM: Well, yeah, that’s true. Well, that’s good healthy living. 
2. All right, favorite western movie—James? 
JM: Quickly I’d jump out and say Outlaw Josey Wales is the one that I never stop liking and watching. There’s millions for me. But Outlaw Josey Wales.
PF: There’s so many different ones, like, what’s your favorite song? 
JM: I know. It’s a horrible thing you have to pick. 
PF: I mean I love Searchers, I love My Dear Clementine, I loved Red River.
JM: Aren’t you tired of people picking the Searchers though? Doesn’t it get kind of boring? 
PF: I don’t know; I’d like to see it. I like watching that character and I mean he was mean and at the same time … jeepers, it’s just too many!

3. I am going to put you on the spot again. Favorite western actor? James? 
JM: Clint Eastwood.  
PF: Gary Cooper. I like Gary Cooper’s ethic that if I know what I’m doing, I don’t have to act. 
JM: That is good. 
PF: That’s pretty good. 

4. The movie that you watched growing up and at the time you thought, “I want to be that guy who makes this!”  
JM: Oh, oh. Oh. Well that’s easy. It’s easy. And it’s especially easy to say in Marin County. It was Star Wars. I was all like 13 years old, and it was a religious experience. I was on a trip, I was going to see Yellowstone Park with my aunt and uncle, and we were in Chicago when we saw that movie and then we set off on this camping trip together and I think I saw seven of the world’s natural wonders and never looked at them because all I was doing was thinking about what I had seen in Chicago on the movie screen.

And Peter, movie making was in your blood? 
PF: Nah, no, no. It’s not genetic at all. 

But was there a film, was there a moment you watched and thought, “Hey, I want to be that actor who does that!” 
PF: Oh. Yeah. Grapes of Wrath, Tom Jones. Definitely. What a great understated performance that was. John Ford, Greg Tolten, great cinematography, great acting, great directing, great script.
JM: That movie looks like it was made yesterday too. When you look at that movie... 
PF: I would love to tell that story. As an actor, as a director. I’d like to shoot a day of it.

One of the first movies you ever tackled was a western as director, right? 
PF: That was the first thing I did as a director, yeah. I didn’t intend to look for a western, I just liked them! And somebody gave me a script, I was in London, in fact, and I didn’t know what it was. I started reading it, and I was totally taken by it and I still am today. And that was quite a while ago.

5. A motorbike or a horse? 

JM: It’s just one or the other horse. 
PF: No just a motorbike, an Envia Gusta F4CC, thank you very much. Charge it please. 
JM: Check’s in the mail. 
PF: The Czech is in the male and the Pole is in the female! No. If you leave a horse for six months, you get back on it and it could bite you, they call it “going green.” A motorcycle doesn’t do that to me—just as long as you keep a charger on it.
You’ve never been bitten by a bike? C’mon!  
PF: Well I put bikes down. Parts of my body have been bitten by the road, but the bike didn’t bite me, you know? I get myself away from it.
JM: That’s not the right question to ask Peter. 
PF: You know, I blew out my right knee, I broke my neck the second time. Stuff like that. 
JM: Yeah, but you’re going back.

Now, the horse is listening to you ... 
JM: That’s OK. They’re over it. He’s Peter Fonda. If there’s anyone who asks, the answer’s motorcycle.  
PF: No, no. They’re the second dumbest animal in the world. The dumbest animal is the cow. Now where do you put the guy who gets on the back of a horse to chase down a cow? Where in the smarts does that one balance out? Either you have to be extraordinarily clever to make that all come together or hmm? …. Up in Montana, they still have cattle drives with the horses.

6. Perfect day off, how would you spend it? 
JM: Oh. Two ways. One is hiking with my family at the beach—just kind of in nature, in some way in nature. I mean in L.A., it would be in the mountains or in nature in some way. To me, just getting away, getting away from … you live in technology and movie sets, the thing you really cherish, certainly the older I get, is quiet.
PF: My passion is open-ocean sailing. 
JM: He goes even further! 
PF: I actually got to watch the America’s Cup and got to go sailing on Little Rosa and Elingue. Yeah. That’s not open-ocean sailing, but it’s traumatic sailing. Open ocean is quiet, as he says, it’s really in nature, it’s something unbelievable to experience.
7. Finally, your last supper, you can have three guests—dead or alive. Who’d be there? 
PF: This could get us in a lot of trouble even! 
JM: Graham Parsons, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. That’d be mine. 
PF: Well, knowing Graham and Bob, I’ll go with that.
JM: Bruce will just be the New Jersey. 
PF: Bruce Langhorne, who did the music for the Hired Hand. 
JM: Bruce Langhorne. Yeah, that’s a beautiful score actually. 
PF: I just said, I would go with Dylan and Graham Parsons. I knew, I knew Graham very well...I know Bobby. 
JM: We gotta talk about that. I didn’t know that. 
PF: Oh yeah. He and I used to sing songs together. 
JM: No way. 
PF: Yeah, he did “Wild Horses.” 
JM: Yeah. 
PF: He gave it to the Stones. 
JM: Yeah.

That would be quite the dinner party wouldn’t it? 
JM: Oh yeah. There would be good guitar playing after the drinks. 
PF: Graham was a really sweet guy. Wonderful-hearted fellow. He really was.

Guys, thank you for answering those 7 questions ….

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