has been making movies for more than 40 years, but he still takes an almost childlike pleasure in surprising audiences. At age 65, there is no doubt that he's the same man who shocked the establishment and, in the process, changed American filmmaking, as one of the creators of the counterculture classic Easy Rider
. TVGuide.com got a chance to talk to Fonda about his role in the Hallmark Channel's Supernova
(a sci-fi thriller about the sun's possible explosion and decimation of mankind, premiering Sept. 5 at 8 pm/ET), and his experience shooting the recently wrapped comic-book adaptation, Ghost Rider,
starring Nicolas Cage
TVGuide.com: What kind of research did you do for Supernova?
Peter Fonda: Preparing for it wasn't hard, because I'm into astrophysics; I kind of feel like an amateur astrophysicist myself. I read Scientific American and other magazines, and I watch NASA feeds all the time. That stuff is really fascinating to me.
TVGuide.com: Is that why you were interested in the role of Dr. Austin Shepard?
Fonda: Well, the character was described in the script as some guy nervously stuffing his face with junk food and sweating about what he thinks is going to happen. But I decided that if I'm an astrophysicist with a passion and an interest in the sun, then I should be out there in the sun — so I decided to play him as a surfer. When the director, John Harrison, and I were e-mailing back and forth, I said, "If you're doing any shots of my car, I want to have surfboards on top of it and I want surfing magazines and surf posters in my observatory." He loved the idea.
TVGuide.com: You also played a doctor in 2002's The Laramie Project. Considering the mostly rebellious characters you played earlier in your career, are you surprised to be cast in these sorts of parts?
Fonda: Actually, one of my first parts in a Hollywood production was as Dr. Mark Cheswick in a picture called Tammy and the Doctor, with Sandra Dee. I was 22 and they weren't really ready for what I was doing as an actor.
TVGuide.com: Is that why you eventually did your own thing with Easy Rider?
Fonda: Well, I wrote Easy Rider in '67, which was five years later. But before I wrote it, I knew I had better change my scene because I was going places I really didn't want to go. They wanted me to become the next Dean Jones for Disney. I didn't want that. So as soon as the offer came through for something offbeat, which was from [director] Roger Corman for The Wild Angels, I said yes. It was for a lot less money and my agent was kind of upset, but I said this is perfect. Roger Corman taught me everything I needed to know for Easy Rider.
TVGuide.com: Will there be any homages to Easy Rider in Ghost Rider [in which Fonda mentors Cage's supernatural vigilante motorcyclist]?
Fonda: Well, the chopper in the film is a lot like the design of my Easy Rider chopper, but not the same paint job. The shape, the rake, the high bars and the sissy bar in the back.... It's not a replica, but it's pretty close. It's called Grace and from that I create the Hell-Cycle.
TVGuide.com: Did you go back and look at the comic to inform how you should play the Mephisto character?
Fonda: I had read a few of them before, but I thought regardless of what the guy who wrote the comics had designed here, it was up to me to put it on the screen. As it was, they let me play totally against part. Let me tell you, nobody has played the Devil quite like I do. Oh, man, I loved it. It was really cool.
TVGuide.com: Do you approach something like Ghost Rider differently than you approached, say, your roles in The Limey or Ulee's Gold?
Fonda: I do the same amount of work, but they are definitely different types of characters. Ulee was a real character with real problems in real time. When I play the Devil in Ghost Rider, they've airbrushed gold into my hair. So whether I'm playing a beekeeper from North Florida, a scumbag record producer from L.A. or the Devil, each one presents a really cool opportunity for me to go to different places. And I've never repeated a character. That's what makes it fun for me.