“I KNOW when some people see this movie, they are going to say, ‘Oh, she is just playing herself.’ But it’s not true. I was never a hippie in the ’60s, I didn’t know anything about that aspect of the cultural landscape. I barely knew about Woodstock. It’s true!”
That’s Jane Fonda, talking about her character in the coming movie, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, a title that could accurately describe Fonda’s various personas and reinventions over the past fifty years.
THE MOVIE, co-starring that great actress Catherine Keener, is about a long-estranged mother and daughter—the mother is still an organic, free-love, pot-smoking flower child. The daughter is an uptight, about-to-be-divorced lawyer. They come together one summer, and life changes. The themes are forgiveness, acceptance and moving on. Especially, forgiveness of parents.
Jane told me, in a lively phone conversation last week: “If you cannot come to forgive your parents, accept them as human beings, how can you accept yourself and go forward in life? How can you truly be free? It’s nice too, if your parents forgive you, as well. But they have had their journey, the focus should be yours.”
As to her character in the movie, Jane laughs. “It was Catherine Keener who really filled me in on that period. She gave me documentaries about Woodstock. She played the music. I’m not kidding you. In those years I was living in France with Roger Vadim. It was before I became an activist against the war, and there was nothing hippie-ish or light about that. I was serious. No flowers in the hair!”
Of Catherine, her co-star, Jane is full of praise.
“You know, she is part Cherokee. There’s some other things in there—Irish, Lebanese—but the Cherokee is so strong, to me. She is of the earth. She always seeks the light, she is grounded in nature, like an animal. She’s a fascinating woman and the quintessential independent actress. Totally fearless and sure of herself, true to the work. If it’s not right, she just won’t do it, say it. Until it is right.”
I told Jane I thought she herself was pretty quintessential, real and right-on in her acting style. “I wish I agreed,” she countered with a slight chuckle.
Jane adds that her long flowing locks, flecked with gray, and her sweeping caftan-ish outfits and barbaric jewelry, were her choice—with help from Ms. Keener. “I wanted to be a hippie queen, not a hippie hobo.”
WE HAD fun talking about some of Jane’s earlier films. “After Tall Story, I had determined I’d never make another movie. I didn’t want to play another cheerleader. I was depressed over comments about my appearance—my chest was too small, my jaw was too big. Then, Walk on the Wild Side came along, and I thought, ‘Okay, she’s a hooker and her name is Kitty Twist. This might be interesting.’” (It was! With Capucine as a languid call girl, Barbara Stanwyck as a lesbian madam, and Laurence Harvey as a improbable cowboy, the movie flopped but has achieved well deserved cult status. Not in the least for Fonda’s funny, sexy, garter snapping Kitty Twist.)
Jane thinks Barefoot in the Park holds up well. And she was astonished when I mentioned that in Period of Adjustment she had reminded me of Marilyn Monroe, in Bus Stop. Jane said, “Really? Wow. Any comparison to Marilyn is a compliment. Did you know that was Tennessee Williams’ only comedy?” I replied: “Well, his only intentional comedy. We all remember The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” (The play became the movie, Boom!) Jane and I had a big laugh over that.
Jane has two scripts she is anxious to do. She will appear in Aaron Sorkin’s new series Newsroom, and also in the Lee Daniels movie The Butler, in which she plays Nancy Reagan. “Everybody thinks I am going to be disrespectful. I’m not. She was a powerful First Lady and wonderful wife to Ronald Reagan. I’m going to play it fair and square.”
THERE’S a lot on her plate, this woman who has been counted out so often, whose career was said to be over because of her anti-war work, whose career was over for ten years during her marriage to Ted Turner.
“I am 74 years old,” says Fonda. “I am the same age Katharine Hepburn was when we did On Golden Pond. It’s incredible to think that. Once, on the set, I was brushing out my hair or something, and Kate came over and took my cheek between her fingers and pinched and said, ‘This is your box, your package. This what you present to the world. What do you want it to say?’
“At the time I didn’t know how to answer her, but I knew what she was getting at. I wasn’t terribly concerned about my appearance, my style. And that drove her crazy. I mean, she was so self-aware, image-wise. It’s only recently, the last ten years that I’ve been able to get it. I always used to think being too conscious of yourself, of how you presented yourself to the world was wrong. During the years I was at my peak, when I should have been into beauty and glamour and all that, that’s not where I was. I didn’t care. Only when I stepped back into work, did I think, ‘I’m going to get into my skin.’ It was hard to own who I am. And it has been nice, for me, for it to happen when I’m older. I mean, Kate always owned herself! She accepted and embraced the skin she was in. And now, I do, too.”
So, who is Jane Fonda today? “I’m a 74-year-old woman who is sending a message to people behind me, mostly women, but some men as well. You don’t have to give up. You don’t have to accept a downhill battle—you peak at midlife and then decline into decrepitude. And boy, is it okay for women to have muscles, be fit, have relationships, sexual and or emotional. It’s a staircase, you’re evolving. It’s external and internal. I think I’m a messenger. I think I’m a messenger of hope.”
Peace Love & Misunderstanding premieres in New York on June 4th, at a gala for Gloria Steinem’s Women’s Media Center. It opens nationally on the 8th.
This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 5/10/12