I needed the archetypes, but I wanted to play around with them, too.
The most wonderful actor, however, was Jason Robards, an actor of European cut, so gentle and responsible. Truly superb.
Fonda, of course, was a myth for me. The first few days on the set, he asked me disconcerting questions about details: "Which hand do you prefer that he drinks with? How does he tap the ash from his cigarette?"
I sensed that there was something on his mind that he wasn't expressing, so I took him aside and I told him that I wanted him for the role because he was an extraordinary actor; a legendary character who I'd admired forever. And how could I allow myself to suggest little bits of behavioral business to an actor of his stature?
Fonda responded, and this is verbatim: "Dear Sergio, I belong to that old generation of actors who never allowed themselves any initiative; who only left that for the director alone, and the only initiative taken was at the level of deciding - from the (Olympian) heights of one's superstardom - whether this or that movie was worth doing. Once committed to a project, however, one put oneself entirely in the hands of the director. In my long career, the only person I've ever shot (and then just once - in the knee) was my old friend Jimmy Stewart. Now yhou want me to exterminate an entire family. Since I like your films, you must know what you're doing. I accepted this part enthusiastically, but I want to leave all responsibility of my role up to you, so that if it's a success, all credit goes to you, and if it fails, you'll be the only one to blame."
Fonda was humble; professional as they come. He knew instinctively how to play for the lights, the camera... Just where to stand...