Despite new film role, Jane Fonda says she was ‘never a hippie’

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Now 74 and in her self-described “third act,” Jane Fonda is clear-eyed, focused, fit, relaxed — and busier than ever.

Her new film, “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding,” opens Friday in limited release, with Fonda playing an aging Woodstock hippie named Grace. Directed by Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”), the movie revolves around Grace, who is thrilled when her conservative attorney daughter Diane (Catherine Keener), whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years, arrives at her doorstep with her two teenage children. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Jude, a local musician who had an affair with Grace and then falls in love with Diane.


Next, Fonda will be appearing in a recurring role in Aaron Sorkin’s new TV series, “The Newsroom,” which premieres June 24 on HBO. Jeff Daniels stars in the series as a news anchor at a fictional Atlanta cable station. Fonda plays the mogul who runs the conglomerate (an interesting turn, considering Fonda was previously married to Ted Turner, founder of Atlanta-based CNN).

She also recently returned to France to star in the French film, “... And If We All Lived Together,” about five old friends who move in together as an alternative to living in a retirement home. In July, she’ll start shooting Lee Daniels’ new film, “The Butler,” in which she will play former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

The two-time Oscar winner recently talked about her “third act” over an ice tea at the Four Seasons.

Q: Is your “third act” the most exciting time for you creatively, personally?

A: I don’t know if “exciting” is the right word — happy, peaceful, content, balanced.

Q: Did you achieve that with experience and maturity?

A: Believe it or not, it’s just age. I wrote a book that came out called “Prime Time,” and one of the things that I discovered in my research — who knew? — most people over 50 ... I don’t know if “happy” is the right word, but they are at peace. It is like, been there, done that. Been through a crisis. It didn’t kill me, I can do this. You know what you need to know and what you can let go. And knowing what to overlook is part of what wisdom is. While it’s not automatic that as you get older, you get wiser, it tends to be the case.

Q: Watching you in “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” you seem different as an actress. You seem more relaxed.

A: Totally. I have more confidence. I can sort of let myself go. What you sense in this movie is an accurate take-away. It’s true.

Q: Some people are probably going to think that your character Grace is your alter-ego.

A: I was never a hippie. Catherine Keener is a hippie. Catherine had to tell me what music to listen to. She brought me documentaries about Woodstock and “The Last Waltz.” She helped me a lot to get into the character. I not only wasn’t a hippie, I didn’t even live here. I was married [to Roger Vadim from 1965 to 1973], and I lived in France.

Q: Though Grace is a free spirit and has a lot of friends, I found her to be very lonely until her daughter and grandchildren show up.

A: I find it very poignant as a grandmother and a mother the fact that she had not seen her daughter for 20 years and had never met her grandchildren. It’s like a mitzvah when those children arrive on my doorstep and I have a chance to steer them toward love and to pray for forgiveness from [my daughter]. I find that very beautiful. I don’t think there is anything more important in life than forgiveness.

Q: Your children, Vanessa Vadim and Troy Garity, were very young when you were traveling the country and going to Hanoi protesting the Vietnam War. It must have been very difficult balancing your activist life with motherhood.

A: Yes, I think it was. But I don’t spend a lot of time regretting. I spend a lot of time in my third act since I turned 60 making sure that when the end comes that I will have earned my children’s forgiveness and love. I think we are very close. I am bringing my grandkids to Chicago in June where my son is making [the TV show] “Boss” with Kelsey Grammer. So I will have them to myself. My daughter has two children — a boy who is going to be 13, and my granddaughter is 9 and a half.

Q: You talk about forgiveness — was there forgiveness with your father, Henry Fonda, by the time he died in 1982?

A: I can’t speak for him.

Q: But did you feel you were closer to him, especially while making “On Golden Pond” in 1981?

A: I think there was a softening. There is always a softening. Men lose some of their testosterone and so the kind of touchy-feely nurturing hormone, which is estrogen, takes precedence. It is as simple as hormones. But he was of certain age, a certain generation from the Midwest, so he was never going to be bouncing me from his knee and saying “I love you.” But I was able to forgive him, and I was able to tell him that before he died, and that was important.

Q: You also made a film in France, “... And If We All Lived Together.”

A: It’s a big hit in Europe. I was in the process of finishing up “Prime Time” and this script came out of the blue in French, and I said that is part of my bucket list — I haven’t done a French film since Godard [“Tout Va Bien,” in 1972]. I want to do that again. The film is about all the things I am writing about right now, including not to be afraid of death and dealing with old age.

Q: I recently saw “Tout Va Bien.” What was that experience like?

A: Awful. Hey, I take my hat off to him in terms of his contribution to cinema. But as a human being, especially vis-à-vis women, forget about it.

Q: You also have your first TV series, “The Newsroom,” for HBO.

A: I play a recurring guest star. There is the newsroom, and there is my empire, of which the newsroom compromises less than 3%.

Q: Sounds like you are playing a female version of your ex-husband Ted Turner.

A: Well, more Rupert Murdoch. I saw the pilot and I cannot tell you how brilliant it is. Jeff Daniels took me aside and said “Sorkin 101: You have got to know every word, every comma, every period backward and forward in your sleep.” And he was right, and I did.


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-- Susan King

Photo: Elizabeth Olsen as Zoe, left, Jane Fonda as Grace, and Catherine Keener as Diane in ‘Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.’ Credit: IFC Films