Q&A with Jane Fonda

A chat with the two-time Oscar winner

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Jane Fonda returns to town on October 4 for the Atlanta premiere of her new comedy Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, a fundraiser for the Fonda-founded Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention to be held at the Woodruff Arts Center. The two-time Oscar winner also has a new book, Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit; Making the Most of all Your Life, featuring interviews with many of her old local connections. gcapp.org

In your new movie, you play Grace, a pot smoking, tie-dyed hippie grandmother who still lives in Woodstock, New York. She’s estranged from her daughter and has never seen her grandchildren. What attracted you to the role? As I write a lot about in Prime Time, I believe in forgiveness, and this is a movie about forgiveness. People who have been estranged can come together and reconnect in a meaningful way. It’s an aspect of life that most of us don’t take the time to consider. I also loved playing a character who is still lusty, playful, and artistic. It’s a wonderful cast. We shot it on location in upstate New York, and we had a lot of fun doing it.

When you put on Grace’s clothes the first time and especially her long, curly gray hair, what ran through your mind? Oh, God, I wish my hair was like that in real life! I loved having that wig. The moment I put it on, I felt perfect. I felt transformed into Grace. I loved her clothes. The first time [costar] Catherine [Keener, who plays her daughter] saw me on set as Grace, she was shocked. She didn’t envision me looking that way. I see my character as a queen. A hippie queen!

Grace sounds like equal parts [Easy Rider actor] Peter Fonda and [ecoactivist and Mother Nature Network columnist] Vanessa Vadim. Did your brother and your daughter inspire aspects of Grace? [Laughs] Well, let me think about what you mean by that. Part Peter Fonda because he’s a hippie of course. Oh, and Vanessa with the chickens and the fertilizer and the garden? Yeah! I never stopped and considered that. I just had a tremendous time playing her. People who are estranged can come together after a period of time and reconnect in a meaningful way. That’s a beautiful thing that most of us don’t take the time to consider. After twenty years of not speaking to her daughter and never seeing her grandchildren, Grace looks up one sunny day from her potter’s wheel where she’s sitting outside, and there they are in her doorway. She had a premonition the night before. She’s a bit of a witch. She sees right away what it is they lack and what they need, and it’s love. She puts them in a place where they can bump up against forgiveness and love.

Since your character is a potter, you learned how to “throw a pot” with clay and a running wheel? Yes! And I was good at it too. I did lots of pots in one sitting. I wish I had the time to do more.

But you didn’t get time to glaze your pots? No, I didn’t. But it’s going on my bucket list: Learn to Glaze.

Did you and Peace, Love & Misunderstanding director Bruce Beresford discuss his filming of Driving Miss Daisy in Atlanta twenty years ago? You know what? I didn’t realize that he shot it in Atlanta. But we certainly discussed that movie together. He’s a wonderful guy, an Australian director who is terrific to work with.

For Prime Time, you interviewed one of my all-time favorite Atlantans: Rachel Rosen Lehmann, who died at age 105 in 2009. She once called me up to obtain the digits of a 104-year-old bowler she had read about in the AJC sports section and then invited me along to write about their date! What did Rachel teach you about aging? I’m in Los Angeles right now recording the audio version of the book, and I just got to that part of the manuscript! I love that Rachel described life as “starting an epidemic of love.” She was quite a character, and what a well-lived life! I learned a lot from interviewing her. Rachel never let her physical age define her. Her spirit was that of a teenager.

What inspired the fun, racy “The Lowdown on Getting It Up in the Third Act” chapter? It’s all very useful information. It’s all real. I wanted to put everything in there that I personally wanted to know more about; and, of course, sex was a big part of that.

You also write about the importance of acquiring a sense of humor on your life’s journey. You credit your ex-husband Ted Turner for helping you realize that. I’m thinking if you don’t have a sense of humor going into a marriage with Ted Turner, you have one as you exit? [Laughs] That’s absolutely true! We’ve stayed good friends too. There’s a lot of value in that.

You’ve had very good luck with film daughters. Felicity Huffman played your daughter in Georgia Rule, and Catherine Keener plays your daughter in this film. How was it working with her? I adore her. We remain friends.

When the film wrapped, Catherine gave you an iPod. What are some of your favorite songs on it? She gave me an iPod with 400 songs she selected for me. I love most music from classical to jazz to standards to pop. My boyfriend [record producer] Richard [Perry] and I love to play music that we can swing dance to in the evenings, so it’s come in handy.

What’s the status of your Poncey-Highland loft? It’s now being rented, so I stay in a hotel now when I’m in Atlanta. And does that feel weird! In a city that was my home for almost twenty years? And I’m living in a hotel. But the great thing is, the other day I stepped out of my hotel to walk my dog Tulea, and I hear this shout, “Hi Jane!” I looked up, and there was a friend in a car going by. Only in Atlanta. I immediately started getting really homesick.

 
*EXTENDED VERSION OF THE INTERVIEW THAT RAN IN OUR SEPTEMBER 2011 ISSUE

Photograph courtesy of JaneFonda.com

Rich Eldredge is one of our editorial contributors.
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