Peter Fonda, Ben Foster Interview, 3:10 to Yuma

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down this week with Peter Fonda ("Ulee’s Gold,” "The Limey”) and Ben Foster ("X-Men: The Last Stand,” "Six Feet Under”) to talk about their new movie at the Los Angeles press day for "3:10 To Yuma.” The film, a modern take on the classic Western by Elmore Leonard from producing/writing/directing team Cathy Konrad and James Mangold, also stars Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, and Gretchen Mol.

In Arizona in the late 1800's, infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) and his vicious gang of thieves and murderers have plagued the Southern Railroad. When Wade is captured, Civil War veteran Dan Evans (Bale), struggling to survive on his drought-plagued ranch, volunteers to deliver him alive to the "3:10 to Yuma," a train that will take the killer to trial. On the trail, Evans and Wade, each from very different worlds, begin to earn each other’s respect. But with Wade’s outfit on their trail – and dangers at every turn – the mission soon becomes a violent, impossible journey toward each man's destiny.

Ben Foster plays Wade’s loyal, exceptionally ruthless right-hand man, Charlie Prince. Producer Cathy Konrad praises Foster for finding notes of filial devotion and pride in the young gunslinger. "One could have read the script and thought Charlie Prince is the baddest bad guy ever. But what Ben brought to it was an incredible vulnerability. Charlie loves his boss, loves working for Ben Wade. Ben injected this whole other dynamic to the relationship that added so much to the movie.”

To Foster, Prince’s violence is not only part of his nature, it is inherent in his circumstances and his time. "I’m playing a man who’s trying to rescue someone who means a lot to him,” he explains. "And it is the Old West and the morals of survival are a lot harsher. Life is cheap.”

Oscar-nominated Hollywood legend Peter Fonda joined the cast as the bounty hunter Byron McElroy. There is a tension between the bounty hunter and Wade that goes deeper than a simple conflict between authority and criminal. "I think they’re different sides of the same coin, remarks Fonda. "They’re both killers, only McElroy is supposedly working for the law and Wade is working on his own to bag all this loot from the railroad.”

Fonda, who made his own directorial debut with the 1971 Western "The Hired Hand,” applauds Mangold for an approach that suited both the genre and the story itself. "There’s lots of action, which is the way we appreciate things today. But also I think it’s a better way to tell the original 3:10 story, a better way to show character development. This is an epic western with a lot of punch.”

Peter Fonda and Ben Foster turn in terrific performances in "3:10 to Yuma” and we really appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about their new movie:

Q: Was it fun saddling up for this? Was it the genre or the character that appealed to you?

PETER FONDA: First genre, then character. I’d seen the original 3:10 to Yuma and I didn’t have to audition for the part. I had to prove myself which I guess in a form is audition. I knew a great deal about a Western and I knew that Jim Mangold had not shot a Western before, but also I thought that Cop Land had a bit of a Western idiom to it. Now, for me, a Western is a wonderful way of telling a story about us now without anybody knowing you’re doing that. And so, getting into that saddle in that manner was great because I got to be a part of that. I did have to prove to Jim Mangold that I was not too laconic for this role [laughs] because he was seeing Ulee Jackson and I said, "No man, I’m an actor.”
 
And I still got to play down and back and I believe playing a character underneath – low, slow and less intense – you create more danger with it. And my character, although not in the original motion picture, develops the character of Ben Wade very well, the Russell Crowe character very well. You know I play a stone cold killer so I’m on the same side of a coin but different coins as Ben Wade and perhaps Ben Foster and Charlie Prince. So saddling up, I can ride like the wind. I hate horses. No problem. I love Westerns. Motorcycles…well, Easy Rider was a Western but the motorcycle I rode was more like a phallic symbol where a horse doesn’t really get there if you know what I mean. What a horse does to a cowboy is put him right on the ground, you know, like a motorcycle does to a bike rider on the road. So it was a pleasure to saddle up for Jim Mangold, a director who I thought I would appreciate, and whose work I appreciated and now I appreciate more. He’s a man of great integrity on the set.

Q: You mentioned the Western was an analogy for how we are now. Can you expand on that point?

PETER FONDA: Yes. You mean how it works to show us in the now? It’s able to address things of character conflict – whether it’s conflicted stuff inside one character or confliction between different characters without telling you you’re looking at what’s happening today. Now there’s mayhem in the streets today in Iraq and there’s mayhem in the streets of Bagdad. Isn’t there? So in a way we’re looking at people who are stone cold killers. The man who just joined me, Ben Foster, is a stone cold killer. Serial killer – I think we’ve got some over there on both sides of that coin.
 
That way we discuss these entities and these ethics and these problems in today’s view in yesterday’s viewpoint and we’re not aware as an audience that that’s happening. We’re just taken up with the story. If audiences go out saying, "Dang, man that was a great way to say what’s happening on the streets of L.A.,” we’ve blown it because it’s supposed to be entertaining. It’s later on that you might think, "That does apply. That is applicable.” And I’ve said, and Ben’s heard me say this, that Westerns and Science Fiction films, really good ones, can also discuss the present in a disguised way but truly discuss what’s going on in the now of our lives.

Q: Peter, you’ve done Westerns in the past and you’ve directed a couple, why do you think the genre has fallen out of favor with audiences? Why do you think it’s so tough to get one off the ground today?

PETER FONDA: Well, you know what? I don’t think Westerns have necessarily fallen out of favor with the audience. I don’t think that the filmmakers are delivering as good a Western as possible. But then you look at The Unforgiven, you know. What a cool Western that was. Dances with Wolves.

BEN FOSTER: The Proposition.

PETER FONDA: Yeah, The Proposition, exactly. Thanks. It’s not really as dead as you think. It’s just the big studios don’t talk about it because they don’t know how to sell them. And they’re made, fortunately I think for the filmmakers, for a lesser budget which means you have to do more for less and that there the idiom ‘less is more’ really has to play and it can.

Q: Does it also have to do with the fact that the kinds of movie stars who easily inhabited those characters during the Western heyday don’t really exist as much now as they did in the 1950s? We don’t have the John Waynes or Jimmy Stewarts anymore.

PETER FONDA: We have some of them. You’d be surprised what we’ve got going in terms of actors. It’s writers and studios that aren’t quite sure about the idiom. But I do know what you mean about where are the Randolph Scotts, the Joel McCreas, and you know, Gary Cooper. Wow. And John Wayne, a terribly underrated actor. He was a great actor. I knew where he had to go from his character. And I liked Cooper’s idea of if you know what you’re doing, you don’t have to act. I thought that was very cool. And a Western character is a romantic thing, but there can be the good bad guy romantic thing and it could be the bad bad guy non-romantic thing. Here we’ve got…I’m a bad bad guy but you think I’m good because I’m a Pinkerton protecting the payroll stage whereas Charlie Prince is a really bad bad guy. [Laughs] Charlie Prince being Ben Foster’s role. Take it away, Ben.

Q: Ben, can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for your character? You brought a lot to that role that the screenwriters told us earlier was not even on the page. They credited you for writing your own role.

BEN FOSTER: Well that’s really generous. I would completely disagree. When I read the script, Charlie started showing up and it was just re-reading and re-reading and re-reading and then the picture becomes a little clearer after a while and that was isolating what he cares about most and what you’re willing to do for that. Prep work was as simple as just going through archival photographs which are looking at outlaws which seem to us to be rock stars. Arianne Phillips, our amazing wardrobe designer, has a rock and roll background so it was very easy to go down that path. I found a very similar leather jacket in the museum from that time – white leather all of it. So I tried to find the dance of it and that dance to me was more of a glam rock approach mixed with some documentaries on wild cats and how they deal with their prey and then just listening to the horse actually. It’s amazing how the environment will teach you more about the role. It’s not so much about constructing it and developing it and saying, "Okay, this is the thing I made. Look what I made.” I don’t really know what this is but I’m after it and it feels to be over here and you go there. It’s all very abstract. Kind of weirdo actor bullshit but that’s what I do.

Q: Did you have a hard time getting the character of Charlie out of you after this role was done?

BEN FOSTER: [Laughs] There’s a terrible joke about that but I don’t want to go there. I’ve said this before but I certainly don’t know exactly what I’m doing when I’m going in. You’re kind of in the dark in the swamp and you’re finding your way and you have to feel your way through it. When you’re done with the job, you’ve tracked some mud into the house, but I’m not going home as this guy every day. But yeah, it does take a while not to look at flesh so carelessly. I was happy to not kill anybody for a while.

Q: Did you do most of your riding?

BEN FOSTER: Yeah. I had a great stuntman who had to do some of the more active stuff which interacted with [the camera]. Actually the first take on the first day of our shoot ended in an accident. There was a devastating death of a horse and a rider was thrown. We had a Russian arm attached to a Mercedes with a camera and they were playing chicken and the camera actually pierced the horse. There was too much dust, they couldn’t see, and the camera went into the horse. So for those shots, you let the professionals do that.

Q: Jim Mangold said you were a very fast learner using the guns.

BEN FOSTER: I spent a lot of time with the guns.

PETER FONDA: I would watch him all day long. Drawing and putting them away. Twirling them and putting them away. Drawing and cross-drawing them. Backdrawing them. It’s that kind of practice that makes you feel comfortable with it because as he said in an earlier time, that gun is an extension of your arm. I believe that’s also an extension of your character and how you use it or don’t use it.

BEN FOSTER: Absolutely.

Q: Ben, did you shoot this after 30 Days of Night or before?

BEN FOSTER: Right after.

Q: What was it like going from that fictional universe to a more natural based character?

BEN FOSTER: Well I get bored easy. I like to play in all the corners so I enjoyed the vampire territory certainly but getting to play with these guys here, getting to play with Fonda, Christian, and Russell out in the desert and developing and finding Charlie was one of the great joys of my career or life for that matter.

Q: Of all the action sequences you were involved in, what was the most fun for you guys?

PETER FONDA: Well I don’t think about it as fun. I think fulfilling maybe, interesting, and I try to make it that way every day I go to work. It works for me in that way. I would have liked to have been in the last scene in Contention because that was incredibly cool action that was going on. This is me at the audience watching it. And back somewhere in the back of my mind as a filmmaker, "Hmm. That was tasty.” I would have like to have been part of that taste. But then I got to play a very tasty character too myself so I can’t say one way or the other that there was a fun scene. It was a very difficult shoot. I always bitched about the coldness but as soon as I heard ‘action,’ "What cold?” As soon as ‘cut,’ "Damn, bitch, bitch, moan, moan, bitch, bitch.” So there wasn’t a fun moment for me. There was work. Work is what I have the pleasure of doing. I get paid for it. How many people go to work loving what they’re gonna do? Now if there’s money in the bank and film in the camera, what time do you want me there? If there’s no film in the camera and not a lot of money in the bank, hmmm, when you see me, I’ll be there. So, that love is what I have of the work. Any particular moment or day, some are more fun than others, some are more difficult than others, but I always got to work.

Q: Was there a difference in the reception you got after Ulee’s Gold compared to Captain America?

PETER FONDA: Well you know what’s interesting about Ulee’s Gold, all the press said what a remarkably understated performance and I wondered where the hell were they when I did Easy Rider. What did I say as Captain America? "Wow, far out man. That’s beautiful. Here, try this.” And then the last line, the most imperative line in the film which I loved is "You know what, Billy? We blew it.” I threw that away. Now that’s understated performance. [Laughs] You know, Ulee Jackson, I got to go places with that. I knew where it was gonna take me but wow, understated? Where were they for Easy Rider? Far out.

Q: What do both of you have coming up next?

PETER FONDA: I have a children’s film. Well it’s not that. I have a family film. It’s a fairy tale fable. It’s a very interesting film. It’s a remarkably interesting film called "Handful of Beans.” Normally I would not say, but they’ve just sent the deal memo over. I could wait for the cash in the holding tank, but you know…

Q: Is that a Jack in the Bean Stalk?

PETER FONDA: Oh no. It’s a modern day film but it’s contrapuntal in its timing. There’s stuff that seems anachronistic but for a younger audience and for people to get into it, it won’t make a difference. I like the time warps they play. I think we have to go. I’m very sorry to do this because I love yakking and talking, especially about something I love doing.

Q: Ben, what are you doing next?

BEN FOSTER: I’m going to be going to Belfast I think in a couple weeks and shooting a film called Fifty Dead Men Walking which is a true story about a man and the troubles between the IRA and the British government. [Based on the novel of the same name about the true story of a British secret agent inside the IRA]

"3:10 to Yuma” opens in theaters on September 7th. Checkout a whole slew of great clips from the film below
 

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