Jane Fonda inherited her Hollywood name from her father, the great 20th-century actor Henry Fonda. But she has written the script for her own life very much herself.
A two-time Oscar winner (for “Klute” and “Coming Home” in 1971 and 1978, respectively), Fonda, 81, is still an extremely busy film and TV star. She’s also an author, TV and film producer and stage actress; her role in “33 Variations” on Broadway won her a Tony Award nomination in 2009.
Fonda helped launch the fitness craze with the video “Jane Fonda’s Workout” in 1982; it remains the top-grossing home video of all time. She’s also been outspoken about her political views – most memorably as an activist during the Vietnam War. But it’s her long and prolific career that she’ll focus on during her talk “An Evening With Jane Fonda: A Celebration of a Storied Career” July 7 in Overture Hall.
The winner of three Golden Globe awards, Fonda was honored in 2014 with the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, about the same time she played media mogul Leona Lansing in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” on HBO. More recently, she’s starred alongside Lily Tomlin in the Netflix comedy series “Grace and Frankie,” and took on a saucy role in the 2018 movie comedy “Book Club.”
Fonda celebrated her 80th birthday in December 2017 by raising $1.3 million for her nonprofit, the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential, which works to lower the teen pregnancy rate in the state of Georgia. And she helped raise nearly $1 million for the Women’s Media Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that she founded with Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan in 2005.
The State Journal spoke with Fonda this spring.
This interview had to be rescheduled three or four times because of your very busy schedule. Why did you decide to add this speaking tour to what is already a very busy life?
Fonda: I like to go to other parts of the country. I find I learn a lot when I go to different cities, mostly during the audience Q&A. That’s my favorite part – the Q&A – because I learn a lot. I like knowing this country. I like going to different parts and hearing from people.
Also, I’m being paid, so that’s part of it. And “Grace and Frankie” will be just finished, so I’m able to do it.
What’s the format of your talk?
I do a lot of public speaking on different topics, and I enjoy that. In this one, I’ll be on stage being interviewed by a local media person (WISC-TV’s Charlotte Deleste) talking about my career – which is fine, because I’ve been at it for 60 years and I have a lot of good stories and people enjoy it.
The fascinating 2018 documentary about you is titled “Jane Fonda in Five Acts.” Can you talk about the fifth act?
I’m not in a fifth act – that was how (film producer) Susan Lacy decided to structure the documentary about me for HBO. But I’m not in a fifth act. I’ve divided my life into (periods of) 30 years. I’m in the latter part of my third act. There will probably be an epilogue. (She laughs.)
How have you stayed so active and busy?
Age is a number. I’m 81. If you’re 81 and you’re healthy – my bones are falling apart and I’m getting joints replaced faster than I can remember, but I’m basically healthy – 81 can be busy and vibrant. I work out regularly. You can be 81 and not be healthy…then 81 becomes a whole different thing.
…My dad, when he made “On Golden Pond” (the 1981 film co-starring his daughter) – and he died five months later – was five years younger than I am now, and he seemed so old, because he was sick. So it’s all relative. What I have going for me is health, and I feel very blessed.
The other thing is – when I started my third act, at age 60, I thought, “Oh my God, this is it. It’s not a dress rehearsal. This is reality – I’ve got about 30 years left, and what am I supposed to do with it?” Third acts are important.
So, very intentionally – I knew that in order to know how to move forward in my life, I needed to know what the first two acts had been like. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. I had to find out where I’ve been, who am I, really? Not according to what other people think or what my parents wanted – but really, who am I?
I spent five years researching, analyzing and writing my memoir. And that informed how I wanted to live the last third of my life. ... For example, we never can determine how we’re going to die, obviously. But I hope I die in my bed. I hope that I’m surrounded by family and loved ones. OK … so that means I have to deserve their love. So I have to work on that between now and then. I don’t want to die with a lot of regrets, so I have to be sure that how I live these 30 years will allow me to end up with as few regrets as possible.
So these years are informed by the fact that they’re going to end soon, but it’s made me live in a very intentional way. I just have a different kind of attitude and approach. The way I move through life is different than many people who are 81 years old. And that didn’t just happen. I was much older when I was 20 than I am now. I was an old woman at 20. Picasso said it takes a long time to become young, and I know that’s been true for me.
And staying fit?
I work with a trainer, but my workouts are functional – allowing me to go up stairs without having to hold on to somebody. Allowing me to get in and out of cars with greater ease. Allowing me to remain independent.
You know, you get a lot of aches and pains when you get older. So you work on strengthening the muscles that will keep your skeleton and everything in alignment, so that you will reduce the aches and pains and stay strong. That’s the kind of workout I do. It involves weights, it involves resistance bands. It involves walking, but everything is much, much slower than it used to be.
What’s next after your speaking tour?
Interesting you should ask! I’m having my right knee replaced. And then I’m going to be traveling around the country. I work with organizations that go door to door in working-class communities and disadvantaged communities, and talk to people about what matters to them, and about what we’re going to do about the problems they’re facing. … Health care. Money. Wages. I work with an organization that’s trying to increase wages for tip workers, where they can keep their tips but they can (also) keep their minimum wage, because they’re barely making ends meet. I work a lot on working-class issues.
What message do you have for the next generation of women?
Well, I think just living these days is harder than it ever has been, especially if you’re not privileged – the challenges are just huge on every level. And psychologically, just because the world we are in now, it’s very hard to grow up. It’s extremely hard to be young and to grow up, and to become independent.
In a way, I feel lucky I lived during the times that I did, because I think people have a lot of challenges today, parents and children. One thing I would say to young people is that, if you feel confused and anguished, and you don’t know who you are or what you want to do, that’s normal. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t rush it. Just try to stay healthy, don’t engage in risky behavior if you can avoid it, and just one step at a time. It’s very hard to be young. It can get easier when you get older. Don’t rush it — just one step at a time.