why she’s done with mar­riage – and the truth about her bond with Robert Red­ford

Jane Fonda is as out­spo­ken, mis­chievous and po­lit­i­cal as ever. She talks to So­phie Hea­wood about racism, cos­metic surgery, men and the joys of work­ing again with Robert Red­ford.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

Jane Fonda has ru­ined me. I never want to in­ter­view any­one un­der the age of 80 again. Specif­i­cally, I never want to in­ter­view any­one who isn’t 80, and who doesn’t phone me for a catch-up call from a limo in Cannes, in which they are be­ing driven to the air­port, hav­ing gone to a deeply glam­orous film fes­ti­val party the night be­fore and now find­ing them­selves, as Jane puts it del­i­cately, “slightly hun­gover”. Jane isn’t even hugely in­ter­ested in Cannes these days, not like back in the day, “when peo­ple wore their own clothes and went there to talk about movies”.

No, she’s hun­gover in the limo, but wants to talk about the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment; about what she has re­cently learned of the mass in­car­cer­a­tion of African-Amer­i­cans in her coun­try and how it isn’t enough for white women like her to be empathetic. They have to stand up and make this stop, be­cause Amer­ica is a coun­try built on slav­ery and it isn’t over yet.

It’s a con­tin­u­a­tion of the con­ver­sa­tion that be­gan a few days pre­vi­ously, when I met her back­stage at The Ellen DeGeneres Show in Los An­ge­les. Jane was pre­par­ing to pro­mote her new film, Book Club, in

which she plays one of four women who have reached a cer­tain age, read Fifty Shades of Grey in their book club, and de­cided to do some­thing about their pas­sions. The link be­tween spic­ing up your sex life and com­mit­ting to end­ing gross in­equal­ity might not be an ob­vi­ous one, but she ex­plains that Book Club is about fe­male sol­i­dar­ity and women hav­ing each other’s backs, and so is much of her “fem­i­nist ac­tivism”. Even though, when she first got in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics, she had just starred in the 1968 erotic sci-fi film Bar­barella, “and I took a lot of heat on it from fem­i­nists. The new women’s move­ment was in its early stages and there was a lot of...” she adopts a com­i­cally stern voice, “‘How do you feel mak­ing a movie that ex­ploits women, like Bar­barella?’ You’d kind of want to say, ‘Well, honey, no­body forced me.’ But,” she con­cedes, “it wasn’t much fun to make it.”

Jane’s small, white, fluffy dog Tulear is perched be­side her. She ac­tu­ally wanted to name the dog Bar­barella, but her daugh­ter Vanessa, whose fa­ther, Roger Vadim, di­rected the film, wasn’t keen.

If Book Club is a sort of geri­atric Sex and the City, then Jane plays the Sa­man­tha char­ac­ter, a leop­ard skin­clad busi­ness­woman who sched­ules sex and won’t com­mit. “Vi­vian is sassy, she doesn’t want any emo­tional en­tan­gle­ments, and that was kind of fun.” Jane ex­plains that back in the early 20th cen­tury, “be­fore there were the Nielsen rat­ings or what­ever, the cen­sor, there were ac­tresses such as Myrna Loy, Bar­bara Stan­wyck and Mae West play­ing dan­ger­ous women – the parts they played were like guys. Then pu­ri­tanism crept in. But I think there are go­ing to be more wom­en­cen­tric movies, like Book Club, now. A lot of these movies are do­ing well, and I don’t think this is a phase – I think this is it.”

Jane Fonda was born in 1937, the daugh­ter of the ac­tor Henry Fonda, and while her life was so­cially priv­i­leged, her home life was agony, and her mother, Frances Ford Sey­mour, killed her­self in a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal. (Jane was 12 and only found out that her mother’s death was sui­cide from a movie mag­a­zine – no­body ever spoke to her about it.) Jane her­self was also sex­u­ally abused and in her mem­oirs she writes mov­ingly about the con­cept of dis­em­bod­i­ment – how it took her un­til the age of 62 to fully in­habit her own body.

Her mar­riage to Ted Turner had just ended, “and I was sin­gle again and I re­alised... I’m not scared,” she says of it now. “I was alone in the house, look­ing out through my own eyes and I could live in­side my own skin. It was a rev­e­la­tion. It was some­thing else.” How painful is it that it took so long to get her­self back?

“I feel very sad that so many girls are abused all over the world and that men don’t un­der­stand what it does to them. It’s not some­thing that hap­pens lightly, it can al­ter a per­son. And then you have to be very in­ten­tional about get­ting back into your own skin, but it can be done. It wasn’t so much that I felt sad about all the wasted time, be­cause I wasn’t fully au­then­tic, but on the other hand, why not in­stead just be proud of your­self that you got there and you didn’t stop try­ing?”

She also links plas­tic surgery to sex­ual abuse and has said that when she sees the face “of a woman who has made her­self into a mask, I al­ways think to my­self... I won­der, I won­der”. She had her own breast im­plants taken out and has also had sev­eral facelifts, of which she says she is not proud.

As for #MeToo, is it also painful to not have had such a move­ment 50 years ago? Jane once again takes my neg­a­tive and turns it into a pos­i­tive. “I am very grate­ful to be alive through this,” she says softly. “I did not think I would live to see it. Yes. And I think that it’s go­ing to con­tinue, it’s not just a moment. I love the Time’s Up as­pect of it. We’re work­ing with women from all dif­fer­ent places. I’m go­ing to DC to lobby with do­mes­tic work­ers. The farm work­ers up in Bakersfield, [Cal­i­for­nia]. It’s all of us to­gether, hav­ing each other’s backs.”

This is why she made the film

9 to 5 in 1980, which be­came one of Hol­ly­wood’s high­est-gross­ing come­dies ever, de­spite its sub­ject mat­ter of the aw­ful way men treated women in the work­place. Jane wants to pro­duce a new ver­sion of the film, with younger ac­tors, who now find their work life even more pre­car­i­ous on zero-hours con­tracts. We dis­cuss the state of the labour unions in the United States. “All this is not so new for me. But it is for other ac­tors, and that’s why it’s a very valu­able thing to hear what women in other in­dus­tries have to put up with, women who are much more vul­ner­a­ble than we are.”

I have to say it: Jane Fonda looks stun­ning, immaculately coiffed and made-up, and with the poise and el­e­gance that has al­ways been hers.

It’s thanks to a life­time of fit­ness reg­i­mens, of which every­one re­mem­bers her videos, and also to the facelifts. But they, she says, were more about sur­vival in her in­dus­try than about van­ity. “They bought me an ex­tra 10 years.” Like it or not, it does seem to be true. How many other 80-year-old women cur­rently have a hit com­edy series on Net­flix (Grace and Frankie), as well as movies com­ing out, a doc­u­men­tary on their life about to hit HBO, and no signs of stop­ping any time soon?

Of course, this is all down to much more than surgery: it is the third act of a ca­reer that be­gan more than half a cen­tury ago and has in­volved two Os­cars for Best Ac­tress (and another five nom­i­na­tions) along the way. Cu­ri­ously, it is the fit­ness videos that peo­ple in some parts of the world re­mem­ber her for the most. In the States, there are still peo­ple who boy­cott Jane Fonda’s films be­cause of how deeply in­volved she got in protest­ing against the Viet­nam War. Not that any of that stopped her.

“I feel very sad that so many girls are abused all over the world.”

“Oh, I just feel damn lucky,” she says of her cur­rent re­nais­sance. “I re­tired for 15 years. I left at 50 and came back at 65. I was mar­ried to Ted Turner and Ted didn’t re­ally help me with con­fi­dence and things like that. [They are great friends now, how­ever, and he at­tended her 80th birth­day party last year.] So af­ter that I wanted to see if I could en­joy it again. But, at 65, I never thought I’d have a ca­reer. And a hit TV show. I’m 80! I keep pinch­ing my­self. I can’t be­lieve it! I didn’t think I would live this long!”

In Grace and Frankie, which is now ap­proach­ing its fifth sea­son, she and Lily Tom­lin’s char­ac­ter be­come ac­ci­den­tal, grumpy house­mates af­ter their hus­bands fall in love with each other. When I tell peo­ple I’m go­ing to in­ter­view Jane Fonda, a sur­pris­ingly wide range of peo­ple tell me how much they love that show. “I know,” she says, her voice drop­ping to an ab­so­lute whis­per. “We’re stunned. We did not ex­pect that. We’re try­ing to fig­ure it out!” she hisses.

She loves work­ing with her old friend Lily, “be­cause she’s a work­ing­class gal who grew up in a fascinating fam­ily. Peo­ple visit the set who were with her in ele­men­tary school. She is just so funny – and I’ve tried to learn that from her. But it just comes nat­u­rally to her.” Surely you’re funny, too, I say. “Oh no,” replies Jane, “I don’t have a nat­u­ral funny bone. I come from a long line of de­pressed peo­ple.” She laughs.

Hav­ing been mar­ried sev­eral times and lived with var­i­ous part­ners, and re­cently split up with her last boyfriend, the mu­sic pro­ducer Richard Perry (she de­scribes him as “a younger man” – she also wrote a blog about him hav­ing Parkin­son’s), Jane now lives in a gated re­tire­ment en­clave with her own house, but a shared com­mu­nity cen­tre with a pool and ten­nis courts “where I al­ways see one or two other res­i­dents who seem in­fin­itely older than I am, but they prob­a­bly aren’t. I never thought I would ever live there, but it’s great.”

She does yoga and Pi­lates and has even made a whole new series of work­out videos, “and their la­bel is Prime Time, as they’re for older peo­ple. I can’t do the orig­i­nal work­outs any more, be­cause I’ll hurt my­self,” she ges­tures to her hips, “as I have joint re­place­ments.” In fact, she says her main form of ex­er­cise these days in­volves jump­ing into things “be­fore I re­ally know what I’m do­ing. It’s called a leap of faith and it’s my main form of ex­er­cise. It’s what keeps me young, too. That’s my new work­out. When you take a leap of faith you don’t al­ways land in the right place, but you sure do learn things. It’s good for the heart.”

Which is why she re­cently made a speech at the United State of Women Sum­mit, and asked to bring Pa­trisse Cul­lors, the co-founder of Black Lives Mat­ter, with her. “What I said was, when Trump was elected and white supremacy was ex­posed, I re­alised that, as a white woman, the lens

“A leap of faith ... it’s my main form of ex­er­cise. It keeps me young, too.”

through which I was look­ing at race was too nar­row. I think a lot of Trump’s elec­tion had to do with white supremacy and anger at a black pres­i­dent. I was stunned at how close to the sur­face racism in the United States is, and I needed to un­der­stand it bet­ter, so my in­ten­tion right now is to try to un­der­stand more pro­foundly what it means to be black in the United States.

“And so I started study­ing. I started read­ing books and I read Pa­trisse Cul­lors’ book, and I read Ta-Ne­hisi Coates. I read The New Jim Crow

[by Michelle Alexander]. So I talked about what I’ve learned, specif­i­cally about mass in­car­cer­a­tion. I’m a white woman and this is some­thing that we white women have to know: you can’t just be em­pathic, you have to be very in­ten­tional. We have to con­front racism. We have to stop this. Not buy into the lies that we’re told about how the prison sys­tem stops crime. No, it cre­ates crime.”

At the week­ends, she leaves Los An­ge­les to go knock­ing on the door of Trump vot­ers. “When you’re talk­ing to them you can’t crit­i­cise Trump. All you can do is lis­ten to what they care about and what they’re afraid of, and then maybe tell them some­thing they don’t know. Be­cause we’re all in our bub­bles, in­clud­ing me.” Do peo­ple recognise her? “I was in Bakersfield last Satur­day and knocked on 30 doors. Only one per­son saw me com­ing and said: ‘Grace and Frankie!’ It was a kick! No­body else knew who I was. I just say: ‘I’m Jane.’ They don’t need to know.”

She has also been act­ing with

Robert Red­ford again. I tell her that I re­cently watched Bare­foot in the Park, the 1967 film where she and Robert are giddy new­ly­weds in New York, and then went to Net­flix and watched Our Souls at Night, in which she and Robert re­united in 2017 to play wid­owed grand­par­ents who get to­gether to end their lone­li­ness. I tell her it was a re­ally beau­ti­ful night of cin­ema, to see these two ac­tors come back to­gether with their war wounds, their egos bruised, their hearts more hon­est in later life. To my sur­prise, Jane’s eyes start to water. “Ohh,” she says softly. “It moves me that you say that.”

She has said that she was al­ways in love with him when they worked to­gether, but they were al­ways mar­ried to other peo­ple. He said re­cently that he had no idea she loved him. Do they keep in touch? Send texts? “Oh no. He doesn’t text, num­ber one; two, he’s a loner. So that’s that.” She says she won’t ever fall in love again. “I love men. I’m not done with men, but I’m done with mar­riage and dat­ing.”

Jane is un­im­pressed by the ro­mance in many mod­ern films. “I’m not a big mouth opener on cam­era. Ev­ery time I see a love scene with young ones, they come at each other like this…” she mimes a big wide-open slob­ber­ing jaw, “... and I’m think­ing, well where does the fun come in? Be­cause the fun is the sen­su­al­ity of lips. And then slowly mov­ing be­yond that. But not try­ing to swal­low each other.” She gig­gles. “I would not want to go right into a tongue kiss, quite frankly.”

And then Woody Har­rel­son walks past the dress­ing room. Jane sends some­body to get him back. “I want to hug you!” she says, stand­ing up to greet him. “I saw Three Bill­boards [Out­side Eb­bing, Mis­souri] again last night be­cause I had a house guest who hadn’t seen it. You’re so good Woody!” she says.

“You’re so good, Jane!” says a glow­ing, goofy Woody. It’s like watch­ing a pea­cock hug a panda.

They both have to go off and be on the telly, and I am left with the sense of hav­ing just been vis­ited by grace and great­ness.

Book Club is in cin­e­mas from Au­gust 16.

“I was stunned at how close to the sur­face racism in the United States is.”

Jane is a staunch ac­tivist and has cam­paigned for is­sues in­clud­ing abor­tion rights. More re­cently she has worked with the Black Lives Mat­ter and Time’s Up move­ments (bot­tom, left and right).

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