Peter Fonda is not a satisfied man, despite the critical and popular success of a career spanning more than three decades. He does not want to be judged by his past roles alone, and he is not willing to state that his best may be behind him.
“I can’t stand the idea of retirement,” Fonda said during a telephone interview Sept. 28. “Films like Waking Ned Devine, which I absolutely loved, give me hope. In that movie there were actors in their 70s in great parts. A lot of this business is about adapting, something I think I’ve done decently over my career.”
The direction Fonda has decided to take, beginning with Ulee’s Gold in 1996, has brought him more satisfaction than at any other point during his career.
“Working with actors and directors that are fiercely independent has brought a breath of fresh air into my career,” he said. “I’ve definitely got my second wind. I feel like I could work until the day I die.”
So when Fonda had the chance to work with the acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh on The Limey, he jumped at the chance. He was ready to do anything in order to work with Soderbergh. True to form, Fonda transformed himself into the horribly disreputable character of Terry Valentine. The joke that circulated around the studio during production was that while Terrence Stamp’s character was “the limey,” Fonda’s character was “the slimy.”
“There’s that scene where we first meet Valentine’s love interest coming out of the pool,” Fonda said. “He says something to the effect of `Your mom was right in how pretty you would turn out,’ implying that he not only may have been harboring romantic feelings since this woman was a young girl, but he probably also had a relationship with the girl’s mother. I loved making The Limey, despite my aversion to my character. I think it’s definitely an entertaining film.”
Fonda chooses roles with the idea of what actors and directors he will get a chance to work with rather than the individual merit of the character’s personality.
“I was in Escape from L.A. for the sheer fact that I’d get to work with John Carpenter,” Fonda said. “I mean, c’mon man, this is the guy who made Halloween. Plus, it had Kurt Russell in it, who’s been my friend for a while.”
Despite his amazing and diverse career, Fonda still has a list of directors and actors he would like to work with. He’s looking for people that will take his career in another direction.
“(Directors) Sam Raimi, Terry Gilliam and Rob Reiner would have to be at the top of my list for guys I’d like to work for,” Fonda said. “As far as actors, I got to go with Bruce Willis. His presence is amazing. The Sixth Sense was the best thing I’ve seen in a while.”
Fonda is working on a children’s film, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, based on the popular British book series, Thomas the Tank Engine. His co-stars include Mara Wilson and Alec Baldwin, and the film is directed by Russel Means.
“I’m ecstatic that I’m doing a children’s film,” he said. “It feels like I’ve wanted to do one forever. It’s great to finally get that desire satiated.”
There is little Fonda has not done. Only one family has two members who have performed in films included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest U.S. films of all time. That distinction belongs to Peter and his father, Henry Fonda. The AFI honored them for their roles in Easy Rider and The Grapes of Wrath, respectively.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that people will always associate me with my role in Easy Rider,” Fonda said. “I don’t feel typecast at all, and even if some may consider me to be, I don’t believe that it’s necessarily a bad thing.”
Fonda does not feel that he is in his father’s shadow. To him, acting is not genetic, and it requires far more than sheer talent.
“Talent is God’s gift to you,” he said. “How you develop and refine that talent is your own choice. I’m sure my father had some influence in my career, but it was mostly my own choice.”