Jane Fonda on Ted Turner’s diagnosis, G-CAPP, and her new HBO documentary

We caught up with the actress and activist, who is in town this week for two G-CAPP events

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Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda during a September radio interview

Photograph by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for SiriusXM

When Atlanta magazine caught up with activist, actress, and Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential founder Jane Fonda on Tuesday, she was about to embark on an Atlanta shopping spree with some visiting Native American friends she made at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, where she spent Thanksgiving 2016 protesting oil drilling beneath the Missouri River.

Fonda, 80, had a lot to talk about. She’s hosting the annual Empower Party fundraiser Thursday night at the Fairmont in West Midtown for for G-CAPP, her nonprofit that works to prevent teen pregnancy and promote adolescent health. And she’ll host the nonprofit’s first-ever YES: Youth Empowerment Summit with young people from across the state back at the Fairmont on Friday morning. Plus, she discussed her “favorite ex-husband” Ted Turner’s public disclosure on this week’s CBS Sunday Morning that he has been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, her riveting new HBO doc Jane Fonda in Five Acts, and her longtime friend, co-star, and fellow octogenarian Robert Redford’s retirement from acting.

The frankness with which Ted Turner spoke about his Lewy Body Dementia diagnosis during Ted Koppel’s interview on this week’s CBS Sunday Morning was very powerful and emotional for many of us here in Atlanta. I’m assuming this was not new information for you?

No. Ted told me about his condition a while back. People who saw my HBO documentary will recognize that he’s not the Ted we used to know. The energy isn’t there. It was pretty obvious that someone was wrong. I think it’s good that he’s said what it was and that it’s being managed. Through Ted, people will now have an opportunity to learn more about Lewy Body disease. Most likely don’t realize this is what Robin Williams [was diagnosed with postmortem after his suicide in 2014]. But in Robin’s case, it was misdiagnosed. They didn’t catch it in time to save him.

Robert McNeill, G-CAPP’s new president and CEO, is the first man to ever hold that position in G-CAPP’s 23 years. Earlier in G-CAPP’s history, putting a man in that role probably wouldn’t have happened, but as G-CAPP’s mission evolves, it makes more sense. Did you or the board get any gender-related push back?

No, no push back at all. Everyone was very enthusiastic. We had a search committee and everyone spent a lot of time on the hire. Everyone 100 percent felt really good about it. I’m really impressed with him. Robert is exactly what we need right now.

One thing you’ve always spoken about in regard to G-CAPP’s work is the importance of bringing boys into the teen pregnancy prevention conversation. That this conversation can’t happen in a bubble. Does having McNeill in place at G-CAPP help reinforce that?

Exactly. Having a man as CEO of G-CAPP makes it easier for boys to identify with G-CAPP and come in for services or programs. He will do a lot to ensure that our programming includes more boys. But it’s also about the impressive work he did for Boys & Girls Clubs, where he focused on taking a holistic approach to youth development. Where you don’t look at young people as “problems,” but look at them as “potentials.” Instead of “at risk,” put them “at hope.” When they’re “at potential,” they can become great. That’s why this year our fundraising is focused on youth empowerment. And he’s going to lead our expansion into South Georgia.

Let’s talk more about that expansion. With Georgia’s current lack of Medicaid expansion, we’re seeing more rural hospitals and health services shutter. But G-CAPP has this new TMI Georgia app that literally puts GPS-based health services into the palm of young people’s hands. When I launch the app here in Atlanta, I have health services and customer ratings for those services within a 0.7 of a mile from where I live. But for rural teens, this app can bring them connectedness and a potential lifeline to health services, right?

Exactly. That’s why this is so important. G-CAPP, along with the Jane Fonda Center at the Emory School of Medicine, we’re going to be looking into these rural communities that don’t have health clinics. As you said, the hospitals there are closing, so we need to pay more attention to those communities. While teen pregnancy rates in Georgia are dropping, STD rates statewide are rising. We’ve got to pay more attention to what we call dual protection, where young people are protected against both pregnancy and STDs.

Among the honorees at Thursday night’s Empower Party are Tom and Edwina Johnson. For those who are unfamiliar with the Johnsons’ impact, can you talk a bit about their support of G-CAPP over the years?

Tom became the president of CNN at the same time I was becoming Mrs. Turner. Tom and Edwina have always been very community-minded and very generous. They come from here, so they understand why this work is important in the state. They’ve always mentored young people, and we want to honor that.

On Friday, G-CAPP is hosting its first-ever YES: Youth Empowerment Summit, which is billed as a town hall conversation for young people and the adults who support them. What are you hoping to learn from these teens?

I’m going to be asking them, “What are the most important things adults can do for you?” and “What are adults not doing for you that they should be?” I want to tell them that no matter what the challenges are in your life, you can overcome them. I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk to them and take away whatever they want me to hear.

You gave the filmmakers behind the new HBO documentary Jane Fonda in Five Acts complete access. Why was now the right time to do this for you?

Susan Lacy, the director, is someone I very much admire. She created the American Masters series on PBS where she shepherded great documentaries for decades. She got tired of all the fundraising you have to do at public television, so when HBO invited her to join them, she went. I saw the documentaries she had done on Steven Spielberg and David Geffen and I was very impressed. We talked about it for a long time and how she saw it proceeding. I said yes because I knew she wasn’t going to make it just about a movie star. We started it many years back, before we knew who the current president would be. But the timing of its release right now seems to have had quite an impact on people who have seen it so far.

With the release of The Old Man and the Gun this fall, your pal and your most frequent film co-star Robert Redford is retiring from acting. Don’t get any ideas, OK?

(laughs) No, no. When we were shooting [the Netflix original film] Our Souls at Night, he told me that this film he’s just shot would be his last. We’re very different, Bob and me. He’s still going to direct, which is great.

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