By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
Ask different people of different ages what first comes to mind when the name of Jane Fonda comes up, and you’ll get many different answers. When I went around asking, I got: member of Hollywood royalty (daughter of Henry, sister of Peter); political activist (remember when right-wingers called her Hanoi Jane?); former wife of Ted Turner; star of “Klute”; star of “Barbarella” (woo hoo!); star of those workout videos; longtime advocate for women’s rights; recurring character on “The Newsroom.” There are so many faces of Jane Fonda out there, and now, at the age of 76, and brimming with energy, she has no plans to slow down. She’s in the midst of filming the new Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” opposite Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston. And she’s part of a huge ensemble cast in the comedy “This Is Where I Leave You,” playing the over-opinionated, proud-of-her-buxom-figure, very funny matriarch of a dysfunctional family that, after the father dies, is forced to reunite for a week. Fonda spoke about her work in film and TV last week at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q. What made you want to do this particular movie?
A. It was well written. You go with the word. You go where the words are good, and the words were good. And it was a character that I understood. I thought she was funny, and I wanted to play her.
Q. What was the shooting situation like, with everybody crowded into that house for four months?
A. In the beginning it really felt crowded. We filmed in a real house, and there were a lot of people, between the Shiva [traditional Jewish mourning period] and the guests. Plus it was a big cast. But after a while we all looked so forward to coming to work that the place didn’t seem small anymore. We all just kind of found a way to fit into each other. It was really great. We loved coming to work.
Q. Many of your ’60s comedies were stage adaptations, and in some of them you seemed a bit stiff. But in this one you achieved a sort of looseness.
A. I think I’m a better actor, in general, than I was. It took work, in my life. I mean, I left the business for 15 years, and during that time I did a lot of work, on myself, a lot of healing. It didn’t hurt that I was married to Ted Turner, who taught me how to laugh. So yeah, I think I am looser now.
Q. You’ve been very busy with television recently. What has the main difference been between doing television and doing a movie?
A. Doing a television series is like doing a Broadway play, in this sense: One of the great things about doing a play is you get to go really deep. You do it over and over and over, and you discover new things and new dimensions. Now, in a television series, it’s not the same scenes over and over, but it’s the same character, so you keep discovering new things and trying new things. It’s not like you do a movie, where it’s over, and that’s that. I enjoy television very much, plus I like to work. I love going to work every day, and I like to deepen and grow the character. So it’s a real thrill for me. Now, when I was starting out, you would NEVER do television if you were a movie star. That was DEATH to a career. But that’s not true anymore, especially if you’re an older women. Television is much more forgiving and welcoming to older women. And of course some of the best writing in the business is happening on television. So I feel really blessed to have gotten a TV series like this.
Q. You became a French icon in the ’60s, and you speak fluent French. Have you done many French-language movies?
A. I did a movie in French about three years ago, “Et si on vivait tous ensemble?” (released in the U.S. as “All Together”). I’d wanted to do another film in French before I died, because I’d done four. I still want to write a novel. So I’ve been working on that.
Q. Is there one role you’ve played that’s closest to your heart?
A. Different ones for different reasons. For instance, “Klute,” for which I won my first Academy Award, was a great movie and a wonderful character. But then “Coming Home” was the first movie that I conceived of and, with others, produced. So that’s very special. I won my second Oscar for that. But it was very hard to get that movie done, and the fact that I won, and Jon Voight won, and the writers won – even though it was mostly improvised – that has special resonance to me because I came up with the idea. But then I produced [and acted in] “On Golden Pond,” and to be able to do that movie with my dad was something very special for me.
“This Is Where I Leave You” opens Sept. 19.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
The many talents of Jane Fonda
By Ed Symkus