Interview: Jane Fonda on her ties to Atlanta, working with Tina Fey, and her new Netflix series

The two-time Oscar winner hosted an Atlanta benefit premiere of This is Where I Leave You
Jane Fonda stars as the matriarch of a dysfunctional family in This Is Where I Leave You
Jane Fonda stars as the matriarch of a dysfunctional family in This Is Where I Leave You

Courtesy Warner Bros.


Jane Fonda returned to Atlanta last week, hosting the North American premiere of her new ensemble comedy-drama This is Where I Leave You as a benefit for the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential, the nonprofit she founded in 1995. (Check out our recap of the event here.) In the film, the two-time Oscar winner grounds her adult children for a week, a bequest from the family’s now-dead patriarch. The movie, in theaters Friday September 19, also stars Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, and Adam Driver.

During a lunch break from the set of Fonda’s upcoming Netflix series Grace and Frankie, costarring Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston, Fonda, 76, discussed both projects, her Atlanta homecoming, and the motivation for her latest book, Being a Teen.

What attracted you to Hillary Altman, your character in This is Where I Leave You?, a woman who flashes her son and discusses her dead husband’s penis size at the dinner table? You have zero experience with complex family dynamics, after all.
[Laughs] I have a lot in common with Hillary. My children will testify to that. She’s a woman who has porous boundaries. She shares too much information. It’s a wonderful movie where you cry and you laugh. The cast is fantastic. I was in awe of the other actors. I know how to improvise in a drama. Most of Coming Home was improvised. But improvising comedy is a whole different animal. You can either do it or you can’t. It’s not something that I’m good at. In this movie, I’m surrounded by people who are brilliant at comedic improv. It was a fascinating experience for me.

How was it having Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, and Adam Driver playing your children?
I loved working with everyone. And Adam Driver is the most exciting new young actor I’ve ever worked with. I am a fan of Girls and now a huge fan of his. He’s doing Star Wars right now. He’s going to become a huge star. He’s amazingly talented.

In Grace and Frankie, you and Lily Tomlin play the wives of Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, who announce they’re divorcing you both to marry each other, now that gay marriage is legal in so many states. What can you tell us about Grace and her reaction to learning that her husband is gay?
Oh my God, it’s traumatic, are you kidding? After 40 years of marriage? It’s an interesting series. There’s a lot of pathos. She’s having her life upended after 40 years by this and yet, it’s also funny. It walks this very thin line. Like Orange is the New Black, it has elements of comedy and drama. This is also about women getting older and having the rug pulled out from under them. Suddenly, they have to ask themselves, “Who am I?” What kind of future is there for them? And there are adult children involved. We have a wonderful cast playing our kids, who have to deal with this strange thing that’s happened. Right now, we’re shooting a scene where my character’s two children and Lily’s two children are having dinner with the two fathers. It’s very funny but it’s also very awkward.

Do you find working with Lily again, 35 years after 9 to 5, that you’re able to pick right back up where you left off?
Absolutely. We’re friends, so I see her socially. But it’s a joy to work with her, and it’s very easy. Our characters are two women who don’t like each other. At all. In the beginning, at least. We’re thrown together and it’s fun to explore how they handle that. We’re very different as characters and as friends. But we get along great.

I would be remiss if I didn’t inquire about your third 9 to 5 co-star and whether a certain country singing amusement park owner will eventually join you two on Grace and Frankie. Anything to report?
We have to create an identity independent of 9 to 5. That would be damaged in some way if we brought Dolly in. If we get picked up for future seasons and if Dolly was available, it would be Dolly playing Dolly, I think. It would be these two women running into Dolly Parton.

The Newsroom returns to HBO November 9 for its six final episodes. Was it difficult for you to say goodbye to your character of cable news executive Leona Lansing?
It really was. Aaron [Sorkin] has done a great job in the third season of wrapping everything up. Fans will be pleased. He’s such a genius.

In your latest book, Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More, you cover everything from body image to when is the right time to have sex and even eating disorders. A criticism was perhaps best articulated by a Facebook friend of mine who recently posted, “Why the hell is a 76-year-old writing a book for teens?” A lot of people across the country are unaware about your work on teen pregnancy here in Georgia. Would you care to field that Facebook query?
I’ve worked with teens for 30 years. I had a children’s camp in California for 15 years. That’s really where my understanding and love for adolescents began. G-CAPP is almost 20 years old, and I started the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at Emory. I can’t say that I did everything right when my own children were adolescents. I think you teach what you need to learn. Subsequently, I’ve learned a lot. And a lot of learning has been through our work at G-CAPP over the years.

Variety is honoring you October 10 for your work with young people. As you begin planning G-CAPP’s 20th anniversary, what are your thoughts on your work with adolescents?
I’m very honored to be among a number of women, including Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez, and I’ll be able to talk about G-CAPP. I’m going to fly the CEO of G-CAPP out too. It’s a great opportunity to tell our story.