When activist-actress Jane Fonda founded what is now the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential (GCAPP), the state had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. Two decades later, that rate has fallen by 50 percent. In a recent phone conversation from her home in Los Angeles, Fonda, 77, reflected on GCAPP’s challenges, her return to acting in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, and her favorite ex-husband.
Shortly after you started GCAPP, you addressed Georgia’s teen pregnancy problem at the Capitol, where you receive a lukewarm reception from some lawmakers. Today, the success of the nonprofit means that people who once snubbed you are now asking for your help. Is that gratifying?
It is. It’s a different time now. People are more aware of the problem. The people on the front lines understand that the way to tackle teen pregnancy prevention is through programs that have been proven effective. When I first started, we only had tools like those Baby Think It Over dolls. A health teacher handed out a life-sized doll that would cry all the time. It was supposed to show you what it was like to live with a baby for a week. Any parent will tell you there’s a lot more to having a baby.
Still, as you pointed out in a recent New York Times Letter to the Editor, across rural southern states, there’s still a lot of work to be done. What’s the main obstacle GCAPP faces in those areas?
Poverty. Middle class kids know that there’s a future beckoning them that would be compromised by having a baby early in life. There’s a motivation that’s built in there. If you took a map of the United States or a map of Georgia and identified the pockets of poverty and overlaid it with the pockets of teen pregnancy, it would be the same. That’s why we refer to teen pregnancy as a generational transference of poverty.
You’re about to go into production for the second season of Grace and Frankie. For the first time in your career, you’re working with an acting coach to explore Grace. What prompted that decision?
Very often, there will be something in the script, in the tone, in the zeitgeist of the context of the story that will trigger something in the actor that is uncomfortable. I had to work through some personal issues in order to fall in love with Grace. It wasn’t easy to love her right away. That’s what I’m working on and what I’m hoping to bring to the second season of the show.
So what’s your plan for the big 20th anniversary celebration on the 24th?
Ted will be my date. (Laughs.) We’re still very close, and over the years, Ted and his children, Laura, Beau, Rhett, Teddy and Jennie have been so loyal to GCAPP, and helped us so much, that it feels right to celebrate this milestone together.
On the calendar: Grammy winner Alison Krauss drops in to celebrate the 20th anniversary of GCAPP at the St. Regis Hotel on September 24.
A version of this article originally appeared in our September 2015 issue under the headline “Citizen Jane.”