PETER FONDA SHOWS HIS “HIRED HAND”

How did you hook up with Langhorne? I know he used to be a session guitarist for Bob Dylan, and played on “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Blonde on Blonde.”

Fonda: He was producing an album for me, “Got to Get You Into My Life,” through Hugh Masekela’s label. At the time I told him about “Easy Rider,” and he told me he thought I ought make that film. Then I came back to work with him again, up comes “The Hired Hand” and I knew who was going to score it. If he were to walk in right now and you didn’t see Bruce, you would feel his presence. He just emanates love and kindness, in addition to being a virtuoso on like 50 string instruments. I took him over to Hawaii once, he heard the slack-key guitar and went full-on Hawaiian! But he lives in Venice now, and he also makes a great hot sauce – Brother Bru-Bru’s Hot Sauce.

Bloom: There are so many things about this movie that are perfect, and Bruce’s score is one of them. You can’t imagine any other score with this film.

And it was his first film score, right?

Fonda: Yeah. Universal told me, “You can’t just hire your friends, man.” But the word “virtuoso,” applied to musical instruments, means something. Like if I want a full string section, he’ll go play fourteen different violins and violas and cellos. So I have one man I have to pay who can do all this work for me! Then they were okay with him.

And by the way, on Bruce’s picking hand, his thumb, his index and middle fingers are all stumps. They were blown off in a rocket accident in his backyard when he was a kid. But he had already been playing, so he had the surgeon sort of shave them down a little so he could still finger pick. And that National steel guitar that he favors, and we favored very much in the film because it has such a beautiful tone – how did he get there? He used old electric guitar strings, and this muted picking. So there’s a reason his playing sounds like no one else…jeepers, what was the question? Sorry – I was into a whole other thing for a second there.

Doesn’t matter. Let’s talk a little about Hannah, Verna’s character. She’s really sort of an early feminist, independent, strong but also sexually liberated.

Bloom: Well, it’s what I said before – that role was a gift. I have never had a role as good as Hannah anywhere, and I mean in the theatre, too. She is a character who really stands on her own, which just in that regard is completely different from about ninety percent of the roles you saw at that time, and still see for women today. You could pick her up, remove her from the film and she would still be there as a real person, not an appendage of some guy or a background to the action.

Fonda: She is the axis, and we all turn around her.

Bloom: Alan Sharp was so far ahead of his time in writing that character. It’s not false modesty; I really do feel that he did half my job for me. I am not, unfortunately, the kind of actor who can be really good no matter what. I always rise, or sink, to the level of the writing. When I’m working on something that’s mediocre or bad, I’m mediocre or bad. I’m only as good as I know I can be when I have that extraordinary material. And a terrific director, by the way. Peter doesn’t give himself enough credit!

Fonda: I was just a kid…

Bloom: A very talented kid, and he never got his due as a filmmaker. I hope that he will now, in every way.

Peter, what did your years working with Roger Corman teach you about directing?

Fonda: Working with Corman taught me how to make a movie for nothing. It also introduced me to Richard Bruno, our costumer, who did brilliant work on the film. This was a low-budget project, but he went in there as if it was the top tier of Hollywood. And in fact he went on to win two or three Academy Awards.

It sounds like you gave everyone a lot of freedom in making the film. In the DVD documentary, you say at first you didn’t want any montages, yet Frank came back to you…

Mazzola: He was pissed off at me. He came right in and said ”I told you no fuckin’ montages, Mazzola!”

Fonda: I just couldn’t see it just yet! But then he showed me the light. It was too beautiful.

Bloom: Now, I have to talk about Oates. Have to. That’s the only thing that makes me sad about everything good that’s happening for the film now…

Fonda: Yeah, Warren took the big hike in ‘82.

Bloom: I would give anything for him to be here. This guy was the most amazing actor. I mean, I was a fan of his long before I had the privilege of working with him. Stanley Kauffmann used the word “perfect” to describe my performance, but I have to use the word “perfect” to describe Warren’s. He was one of those actors who was always there for you. Always. I was amazed by what he did. And I don’t recall him ever having an opportunity after “The Hired Hand” to play a part like that, that tenderness that Arch has.

It’s a kinder, gentler Warren Oates you see in this film.

Bloom: But that was him. I mean, the other side that we see in, say, “The Wild Bunch” – that was Warren, too. But the kindness and the tenderness, the openness and the compassion were also part of Warren. I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Arch.

Fonda: Neither could I, and he was the first actor I cast. I didn’t even know him, just watched him work. I also watched him, on one set, sidle up to some pretty background extra and become Wile E. Coyote, too!

Get the rest of the interview in part five of PETER FONDA SHOWS HIS “HIRED HAND”>>>




Posted on November 4, 2003 in Interviews by
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