Peter Fonda loves
Westerns. By telling universal truths through stories
of the American frontier, the two-time Academy Award nominee
says, the genre gives moviegoers insights into modern
society without forcing audiences to take political
In 3:10 to
Yuma, a remake of a 1957 Western of the same name
helmed by Walk the Line director James Mangold,
Fonda plays bounty hunter Byron McElroy. With the
assistance of a local rancher (Christian Bale), Fonda is
commissioned to get outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) on
a train--the 3:10 to Yuma -- bound for a nearby
prison. Of course, Wade's gang has other ideas.
Fonda sits down
with us to discuss the film as well as his
involvement in the 2002 television movie The
Laramie Project and to reveal the surprising
influence gays had on Easy Rider, the 1969 film
that made him a cultural icon.
Russell Crowe and Christian Bale have a real
chemistry in 3:10 to Yuma.
There's a growth
that happens between those characters. At the beginning
you can see Ben Wade, the Russell Crowe character, has run
out of places to go. He's got his [gang], but he's
tired of it. [Eventually],you buy that Wade kills all
these people in defense of Evans [Bale], who he puts
down at the top of the film then becomes almost a guardian
for at the end.
Wade points out your character is not much
different than his--except your actions are under
the guise of the right side of the law.
It's not just the
black hats and the white hats. Of course, we mean it in
a different way than the actual color of the hat. We mean
good and evil. It's so difficult to actually pinpoint
good and evil--both in today's world and the
past--because there's good and evil in all of us.
Hopefully, we triumph more good over evil, but the
conflict is in our hearts. Not everyone has a truly
good heart. Down the road they're going to make some
bigoted or racist remark, feel some hatred, feel like they'd
lash out, or actually lash out or be hurtful, even
though they're not really hurtful people. They might
not even know they have that inside them. When you
watch something like the Western, it exposes those facets.
You might think Byron is a lawman, but I'm not. I'm
lawless. I'm as lawless as Ben Wade, but I don't see
Speaking of people lashing out in hatred, tell me
about playing Dr. Cantway in The Laramie
Project, the Matthew Shepard story.
I like getting to
be that character who delivers the story, the facts,
without judgment. Did the kid deserve it? No, nobody
deserves that. It was terrible. My nephew, Troy
Garity, did [2003 independent film] Soldier's Girl,
where he falls in love with a transgender person. We
watched it at Sundance together. He did an incredible
job, because he took the audience into an area they probably
didn't want to go. [His character] gets beaten up too,
because of intolerance, but he's not gay. The
perception is that he's gay, and we have no tolerance
for things we don't feel are right. What the fuck does
that mean? What's not right? I have a T-shirt--I like
T-shirt activism--that says "So Many Christians,
So Few Lions." We have intolerance in the weirdest
way. There are Christian rights who say [homosexuality
is] a sickness and can be cured. It's not a sickness, it's
just the way people are--gay women, gay men. It's just
the way they are. To say they are bad? To say they're
outside the norm? What the fuck is the norm? And who
are we to decide? We are who we are. If you can accept
that with people, you're making forward progress.
As Captain America in Easy Rider, you became a
sexual icon--including among gay men of the era.
Rider costar and cowriter Dennis] Hopper wanted me
to wear white leather. I designed the bikes. I built
them. I designed the costumes. When he wanted me to wear
white leather, I said no. I wanted to appeal to the
gay community. The black leather is going to carry
it--and this great phallic symbol. [Fonda motions
toward his crotch, a smile on his face.] Not
just the gas tank, but the whole goddamn motorcycle and
front end extending out. He thought I was nuts for saying
that, but I knew exactly what I was talking about. In
white leather it just wouldn't have been the same.
With black leather I can cross over borders!