Two-time Academy Award winning actress, writer and political activist Jane Fonda – with her adorable dog in tow – stopped by SFTV for what turned out to be one of The Hollywood Masters’ best-ever guest appearances. Fonda sat down with Stephen Galloway, executive features editor at The Hollywood Reporter, to talk about her exceptional life and career, and what keeps her going as she approaches her 78th birthday.
After taking a 15-year hiatus from acting, Fonda reignited her career with Monster-in-Law in 2005. “I never did anything strategic career wise, until Monster-in-Law,” says Fonda, who accepted the role alongside Jennifer Lopez at the age of 65 as a way to become recognizable to younger generations. Fonda discussed her most current endeavor, a Netflix series co-starring Lily Tomlin called Grace and Frankie. “To be able to play a vital, vibrant, sensual, feisty person at my age in a medium that is the most populist, is of great joy to me … And I might add, when does a 78-year-old woman come back and create a new career?” When it comes to staying passionate about one’s work, Fonda (who will turn 78 in December) expressed the importance of remaining curious. “It’s more important to be interested than to be interesting,” she said. “If you can stay interested and curious you’ll always be young.”
The Influence of Her Father, Henry Fonda
Fonda was candid and emotional recalling working with her father, famous actor Henry Fonda, during his final role in On Golden Pond, for which he, Katharine Hepburn and Fonda were all nominated for Academy Awards. “He wasn’t the kind of man where you say I love you. And he didn’t say I love you,” said Fonda. In the famous “diving scene,” she described how the dynamics between the characters she and her father were playing mirrored their real life relationship. Fonda said, “It was so important to me that he exhibit emotion. So I wanted to do something that we had not rehearsed, and I waited for his close up … I reached out and I touched his arm … Tears came to his eyes, and he was ashamed to have the camera see it. So he hid. But I saw, and it meant the world to me.” Fonda attributes her activism to her father, who often took roles where he stood up for the underdog and for fairness and justice. This lead to her seeking out films and roles with strong social and political messages, such as Klute, Coming Home and China Syndrome.
On Activism and Acting
When asked if being an activist made acting harder for Fonda, she responded that it actually broadened and deepened her perspective, making her a better actor. “Because you’re looking at causes of things that are deeper than just some Freudian stuff about the individual psyche … Just for example, the character of Klute … Why would she become a call girl? … I’m not sure I would’ve asked that question or known the answer if I wasn’t becoming an activist and a feminist [at the time].” Looking at the broader societal scope of things is what “activism brought to me, that I didn’t have before,” said Fonda. She made the connection between acting and activism by saying, “[When you act,] you have to try to see the world through other people’s eyes. And the moment you start doing that, your heart opens. And when your heart opens, you start caring more. And so for people whose heads are screwed on right, that can lead you to wanting to do something about it.”
Take Time to Develop
In early adulthood, Fonda was accepted into legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg’s private acting classes at Actor’s Studio, with no real ambition of becoming an actor at the time. She was close to quitting when Strasberg asked her to do an exercise in front of the class. He told her she had a lot of talent and Fonda said, “It felt like the top of my head came off and birds flew out … From that day on, I woke up knowing what I wanted to do. And there’s nothing greater than knowing what you want to do.” But she reflects, “I became a star right away and it really was unfortunate, you don’t want that to happen.” In rocketing to stardom so quickly with her early films such as Cat Ballou, Barefoot in the Park, and Klute, her time studying and developing foundational acting techniques under Strasberg was cut short, and she voiced feeling less equipped, wishing she could have gone to Julliard. After fifty years and a successful career outside the Actor’s Studio, she is proud to admit that – at her age – she now has an acting teacher.
Look out for Fonda in her most recent role in Paolo Sorrentino’s 2015 film Youth, starring upcoming Hollywood Masters guest Michael Caine.
The Hollywood Masters interview series examines the careers of Oscar-winning filmmakers, major artists and successful executives, with The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway and is presented by LMU School of Film and Television.