Saturday, June 9, 2012

Alex Simon: Jane Fonda Makes Her Peace

Jane Fonda in Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.

Over her more than 50 years on the screen and in the public eye, Jane Fonda has worn more hats than any performer of her generation: daughter of Hollywood royalty (Henry Fonda), Oscar-winning actress, polarizing activist, fitness guru, best-selling author, Broadway star, mother, grandmother and wife, to three of their respective generation's most influential men (director Roger Vadim, activist/politician Tom Hayden, media titan Ted Turner).

Now in her 74th year (she turns 75 in December), Jane Fonda graces the screen again in director Bruce Beresford's Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, a generation gap comedy-drama about an uptight career woman (Catherine Keener) who, after leaving her husband, brings her two kids (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) to Woodstock, New York where her estranged mother Grace (Fonda), a former and current hippie, lives on a sprawling farm. Truth, reconciliations and laughter soon follow. The IFC Films release opens June 8.

Jane Fonda sat down recently to discuss her latest cinematic outing and her remarkable career. Here's what followed:

I know you weren't really a hippie during the '60s, so which part of Grace did you most relate to?

Jane Fonda: Being a grandmother. I have two grandchildren, a boy who is 13 and a girl who is nine and a half. The idea that Grace had never met her grandchildren, one of whom was approaching 20, was very poignant to me. I love films that make you feel good when you come out and there are not enough of them, in my opinion, these days. I like films that make you laugh and are also emotional. I had never played a character like Grace either, so for all those reasons, I liked it. I do know that people do tend to gain wisdom as they get older, not always, but often. The idea that Grace is sitting there with all this wisdom she's accumulated over the years with nowhere to put it until her grandchildren arrive, even though they didn't want it, was very amusing. Even if her wisdom was somewhat questionable. (laughs)

Related to that, your circle of friends in the film really idealize the sixties and all they represented. Do you remember that time as being "magical," so to speak, or were the sixties terribly overrated, as many people also seem to feel?

In the movie, it's idealized from a cultural point of view. But the sixties was really about discord and generational splits. I recognize the importance of that decade, having had one leg in the fifties, which I think is a time that has been much more idealized, with this idea that families were together and everything was well, and there were only good wars, when the reality was there was abundant racism and people were supposed to fit into tidy little stereotypes or you were an outcast. So to me, the fifties continue to be far more idealized. I think that the reason people idealize the sixties is because there was passion. People were passionate then. And a lot of it was passion about peace, about ending the war. A lot of it was also saying "Dad, mom, I'm not going to fit into your stereotype. I'm not going to be like you. So I'm going to grow my hair!" I think today young people look back and say "We don't feel that kind of passion and we wish we did." But what they don't realize is that there was a lot of pain that came with it, too: death, violence, all kinds of things. I'm old enough now that I don't idealize any time period. (laughs)

Do you feel that there have been any changes since then that have been quite as seismic?

I think the Internet, the technological stuff has changed everything. We can see it overseas even more, with the Arab Spring, and so forth. Every decade has its own aspects of change. Then it was drugs, the Pill and a war and now it's technology and globalization.

Do you feel that today's young people are starting to go back to the values of the sixties somewhat, with the Occupy Movement, and the like?

Somewhat, yes, but the main difference is there's no leader. In the sixties, you had all these organizations with leaders, most of them men. I married one, Tom Hayden. There were male leaders of the movement then and now there's not and people are really getting upset about that, but I think that's part of what makes it so beautiful. I think those people really are making a difference. That demonstration in Seattle when the World Trade Organization met up there, in many ways that was much more significant than anything that happened in the sixties. People's need to band together hasn't gone away, but the existence of Twitter and Facebook and the Internet has really changed the face of it.

Most of your big scenes take place with Catherine Keener, who plays your daughter.

Keener knew going in that I knew very little about hippies, so she brought all this amazing music with her, which I just surrounded myself with. She also brought a bunch of documentaries about Woodstock, which was very important and very helpful.

You mentioned earlier that you don't feel now like you imagine Katharine Hepburn felt at your age. Do you feel like the aging process has changed over the past couple decades?

Yes, I think older people, women in particular, have stayed young by remaining physically active and I like to think I have something to do with that, which makes me feel good.

You're still absolutely stunning, by the way.

Thank you! It's called good genes and a lot of money (laughs). So I think remaining physically active helps, although Katharine did too, but I think remaining in a relationship helps, too. I'm in love and I live with my lover and I don't think she had had love in her life for a long time. Maybe I'm wrong, but it sure felt that way.

You're appearing on Aaron Sorkin's new show The Newsroom this month on HBO. Tell us about that.

Well, it's just perfect television. It's just absolutely brilliant. I think it's going to have a huge impact on people, and on the news and maybe on the election. It's going to be very controversial. And it is just totally amazing. I'm so proud to have a small role in it, just three episodes. I play the woman who is owns the conglomerate that owns the network, it represents less than three percent of my annual profit, but the newsroom can make a lot of trouble for me. I know something about this, after all (laughs). I drew for some of the personality traits of Ted for the character, because he's very funny.

For the complete version of this interview, please go to


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