Peter Fonda
Photo by Gisela Schober

Peter Fonda: “I'll shoot first, right through the door.”

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Short Profile

Name: Peter Henry Fonda
DOB: 23 February 1940 (d. 16 August 2019)
Place of Birth: New York, NY, USA
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Fonda, looking back to the ’60s and your status as an icon of the counter-culture, was that attitude based on real political interest or was it just your way of interpreting Hollywood entertainment?

I like making people laugh – it’s fun to make people laugh – but at the same time you can disguise a real punch inside that laugh. We all have to become fighters. We all – all 6.2 billion of us on this planet – have to go to war against that machine, that immovable force, that thing known as 'big money' – the banks, Wall Street, the oil companies, coal companies, energy. And we have to do it because we find it in our hearts. Intractably you cannot take it from my heart. You can kill me and not kill the idea. And by the way, I’m not going to hide out in a mansion outside Islamabad. (Laughs)

Was the US right to kill Osama bin Laden?

Fuckin’ A, you bet. Because if we’d taken him, we’d be in a real political mess: “Now what do we do?” Because there he is alive and everybody’s going to try and get retribution and get him free. No, I’ll bet that the order was, “Kill that cocksucker. Right now. Kill that motherfucker and take his body. Measure it out, make sure we got the right dude, imprint him.” They washed his body, wrapped him in a sheet, slid him over the side. Fine. They were respecting his religion.

If you look at Libya and Gaddafi, how far should Western political power go to chase someone?

Should we be the policemen of the planet? No. Unless all of us, French, English, German, whatever divisions you want to see, is unity. Because we may speak different languages, but we are all humans; we are 99.9 percent exactly alike. Precisely. These are big words, exact and precise. Exactly alike. It’s the one tenth of one percent that makes all the difference. And we all have one thing in common: This is the only place we have to live. This is the best-looking planet that I’ve ever been on.

“This is the only place we have to live. This is the best-looking planet that I’ve ever been on.”

Was there a specific moment when you said, “I have to become a political environmentalist”?

In 1965, when through studying, I realized that we shouldn’t be concerned about running out of oil. In fact, we should be concerned about running out of oxygen. Do you know how many people want to sit down and have a conversation with me about the environment? Zip, zilch, nada. Nobody wants to talk about that. My porpoises, my whales, my turtles, they need the air. They need to breathe it. Seventy-three percent of our oxygen comes from the oceans. Little single cell diatoms, photo plankton with the sunlight on them, they create oxygen. It used to be fifty-fifty between the land and the oceans. Now we’ve taken away most of the plants on the land so all that’s left basically is the oceans. Keep my oceans clean if you want to talk to me.

I will try my best.

I’m not telling you that, I’m telling everybody that. I say it’s my oceans because then I’m personally involved. If I say the oceans, then I’m not personally involved. But I am personally involved. That’s why I went down to New Orleans to investigate the oil spill. I went down looking for my young ones dead on the shore; I went down to see that smoking gun myself. Then I was able to send that telegram, or that email, to our president. “You are a fucking traitor.” Saying that to the president! But we’re given the right to redress government. What better way? I use the word fuck because it cheeks people up. They’re not used to it.

So you’ve basically been living your whole life like this.

I lost contact with accepting authority, accepting the words of grown-ups, parents, when I was six years old. So from six to seventy-one, I have been refining my ability to strike out at fifteen hundred yards one in the head.

Here we go again with the gun metaphor…

But this may not have to be a bullet that does it; it can be an idea. Fortunately I work in a field that’s all about ideas and getting it out to lots of people. Now I don’t want to be the spokesman for anybody except my sea mammals, the porpoises, the whales, the turtles. I want them to have a voice, because most of us can’t hear their voice. I can. You may think, “God, that guy is a lunatic fucking actor.” But I hear all the trees exhale when the nitrogen from the rain hits them. “Somebody knows how to water us.”

Peter Fonda in cult film Easy Rider (1969), alongside Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper.

You received a lot of publicity recently for saying that you’ve been training your grandchildren in 'long distance shooting' as a result of your displeasure with Obama’s policies. That doesn’t fit together with the fact that you almost shot yourself when you were eleven.

In fact I was a month shy of my eleventh birthday, but it was an accident. Actually my family thought I was trying to commit suicide because my mother had just committed suicide, but they forgot that they told me she died of a heart attack. So everyone has their idea of who I am or what I’m doing.

But still: training your grandchildren in long distance shooting?

By throwing in a .317 McMillan, or a .45-70, or a .50 caliber Barrett, which is really reaching out and touching someone – I like that idea. With a .50 caliber bullet, if they really need to be touched. But what does that solve? Nothing. But, the idea is the bullet. So being able to hit your target at fifteen hundred yards, so the target doesn’t know the idea is coming.

Give us an example of this…

“I just had this thought! I should no longer use anything plastic. I should walk or bike instead of taking the car.” And so forth. It’s reverting, but if we all do it because the Chinese have to do it, it would make an effect. If suddenly we didn’t need to use the gas because we could use our muscles, we got on a bicycle and rode to work, to home. We don’t need them, because in this sense there is a 'them' and 'us'. I like to think about it all 'us'. It is all of us who must push against the giant and it is all of us who are the giant. How do you split that? This is where the bullet comes in handy.

So the bullet is a metaphor?

Yes. I don’t really care to teach my grandsons how to do that, but it was a shocking thing to say at that moment. What I want to do is have you think, “What the fuck is he talking about? Did you hear what he said? He’s talking about shooting things.”

Did you ever get a response from Obama after you wrote him the email calling him “a fucking traitor?”

Not a word. But I’m prepared. If they come knocking on my door, I’ll shoot first, right through the door. (Laughs)