Two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda is still shaking things up at 74. Jane is not only a recurring guest star on HBO’s The Newsroom (premiering June 24), but she also co-stars in the film Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, a three-generational culture-clash comedy/drama in which she’s a lifelong hippie still working out issues with her angsty daughter (Catherine Keener). Reciting poetry and astrology in tie-dye outfits and chanting to the moon: “Oh, incandescent orb of loveliness. You are woman,” Jane is entertainingly radiant—and she didn’t let me down in person, either.
Hi, Jane. Your character is quite disarming in all her flaws and free-spiritedness. Was it fun riffing on your own persona?
It’s not my persona. I never was a hippie, never wore tie-dye. I lived in France during the Woodstock era, and when I became an activist, it was less peace, love, and flower children; it was more on-the-ground movement-building kind of stuff. In the film, I say, “My water broke while Jimi Hendrix was playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.'” I didn’t know what that meant. Catherine Keener brought me some documentaries, and when I saw him do that, I thought, “No wonder my water broke!” It was mind-bending.
I like the film’s message of forgiveness.
It’s terrible to die without forgiving. Parents are doing the best they can. It’s important to see them as people. They’re flawed. Both my parents suffered from depression, and they had their own demons and issues, and they did the best they could.
You’re also in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom as a flinty CEO.
It’s brilliant. I lived with a businessman for 10 years, Ted Turner. I know the importance of bottom line. She’s beholden to her stockholders, and she’ll fight something that’s going to threaten her bottom line regardless of her personal feelings.
Similarly, you’re playing tough cookie Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’s upcoming The Butler. How can that be sympathetic?
I can totally understand a woman whose life was devoted to enhancing and protecting her husband. She was a ferociously powerful and devoted first lady and wife. And I admire that. It’s a beautiful script. It’s only a cameo, but I’ll be as hopefully faithful to her as I can. I think I can look like her. I spent three years living in a house that Reagan built when he was married to Jane Wyman.
Way back in the 1960s, did you think you’d never burst out of the chirpy comedies Hollywood stuck you in?
Yeah, that’s why I went to France—to get out from Hollywood. I did Barbarella. [Laughs.] It wasn’t politically correct to like Barbarella, but now that I’m a real feminist, and I don’t have to be politically correct, I can say that I find it totally charming. And if I hadn’t done that, none of the paparazzi would have pictures of me to sign! Every third picture is from Barbarella.
I hope you realize by now that your longevity is the result of sheer talent.
It sort of astounds me because I did not play by the rules. I started to become a star, and then I disappeared to France, living in an attic with a French director who barely spoke English, Roger Vadim. I became a controversial activist. I quit the business when I was 49 and came back at 65. So I’m kind of amazed I’m still around. When I quit the business right before I met Ted Turner, I didn’t ever want to come back. During those 15 years, I never missed it for a minute. But as I was finishing my memoirs, I realized I was a different person and I would be able to find joy in acting again, and in fact, I’ve found more joy than ever before. I think I’m more relaxed and present. I usually played uptight characters that needed to be loosened up and blown open. Now I’m a character who’s loosening other people up!
Have legions of young people found out about you thanks to your renaissance?
The critics hated Monster-in-Law. “Why did Jane Fonda choose this popcorn movie for her comeback?” Duh. Young people came to see Jennifer Lopez and discovered Jane Fonda. I can walk down the street, and I see a group of young girls recognize me and get excited. I know how it’s going to go. “My God, I saw it 15 times.” I know it’s not Coming Home or Klute or Julia. It’s Monster-in-Law. People love that movie. I don’t think I could have done it if I hadn’t spent 10 years with Ted, who taught me to laugh.
You do believe in forgiveness. Speaking of your relationships, would you ever fall back into letting yourself become putty in a guy’s hands?
That’s over. I’ve learned that a real relationship is one where you love your partner without giving up yourself. People say, “You fall in love.” What’s wrong with that sentence? “Fall”! You want to stand on your feet and come to the other person as a whole person, not fall into them. It took me a long time to get there, but I’m there. That’s the message of my life—hope. You can be a robust, full, happy person even at the advanced age of 74. Your body may be falling apart, but your heart isn’t, your mind isn’t.