LOS ANGELES—One of my first images of Jane Fonda was of her on the cover of a Manila paper’s Sunday magazine. She was at an anti-war rally on the campus of the University of the Philippines, Diliman (if my memory serves me right).
So, when we recently talked to Jane, we asked her how she ended up in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. The Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning actress, looking radiant at 74, graciously obliged with her memories of that time.
The actress and activist plays a grandma who is still very much a hippie in Bruce Beresford’s “Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding,” which also stars Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chace Crawford and Elizabeth Olsen. The film’s Woodstock setting (but it’s a contemporary comedy-drama) inspired talk about the late 1960s.
Now a grandma, she spoke movingly about seeing her first grandchild for the first time. We also chatted about her future—Jane will play Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” based on the true story of an African-American who worked in the White House through eight presidents.
Below are excerpts from our interview:
How did you end up on a university campus in the Philippines and what are your memories of that time?
It was the height of the Vietnam War and a group of veterans came to me and said, “We have Bob Hope traveling around our military bases, saying the war is great. Why don’t you put together a group of actors and form a tour that’s not for the war?”
I knew because I had been working with soldiers that there were growing numbers who were opposed to the war. They put out newspapers. It was called “The GI Movement.”
We took all those newspapers and we made skits out of the things that the soldiers themselves had written. Together with Donald Sutherland and a number of other performers, we put a show together. We started here in the United States and went to Hawaii, Okinawa and the Philippines, to Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base. That’s why we were also there in that university campus. It was a huge success.
Can you talk about your most memorable Mother’s Day memories? And about being a mother and a grandmother?
One Mother’s Day, my second husband, Tom Hayden, and I borrowed Robert Redford’s houseboat. We went floating on Lake Mead and took our children, my daughter with (Roger) Vadim, and my son Troy (Garity) who’s an actor. My children went to the top of a hill and they wrote with stones, “We love you, Mom.” That’s my favorite Mother’s Day memory.
I think I am a very good grandmother. When my first grandson was born, I thought, I wish I could just take him and have him be all mine. I am just a little older now so I realized I don’t have the energy. But, I’m a good grandmother.
I love being with my grandchildren. In June, they are flying alone for the first time to meet me in Chicago where my son (Troy) is making a TV series called “Boss.” I’m going to spend a week with my grandkids (Malcolm and Viva Vadim, the children of Vanessa Vadim, her daughter with the late Roger Vadim) and my son when he’s free in Chicago. That’ll be fun.
When my first grandchild (Malcolm) was born 12 years ago and I held him in my arms, it was when I really understood intimacy. I felt a love that I had never felt before. It broke me open and I needed to be broken open. That is what he did for me and it was just beautiful to see.
A better person
Can you elaborate on how you worked hard to try to be a better person?
My dad (Henry Fonda) was a little bit like his character in “On Golden Pond.” He didn’t talk a lot. He didn’t make me feel very good about myself but I grew up with “12 Angry Men,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Young Mr. Lincoln,” “The Wrong Man” and these great films where he played characters who fought for justice and equality and who stuck up for the people who weren’t so powerful. I knew that those were the values that he cared about even though he never said that to me directly.
So for me, becoming a better person meant trying to become more like the kind of people that he loved and respected and thinking less about me and more about other people, more about how can I use my privilege and my celebrity to make the world a better place. I remember when I was younger and when I first arrived in France, I used to say, “Why am I here, what’s the purpose? I might as well be dead. It makes no difference.” Gradually, I learned the value of working to make the world a better place and consequently you become a better person in the process.
Please give an example.
My activism is kind of notorious, I guess. I worked to end the war. I now work to try to stop violence against women. I work in my former home state of Georgia to try to help young boys and girls avoid risky behavior. So when the young girls are very young and poor, they are not going to get pregnant or get HIV.
I also cofounded with Gloria Steinem an organization that helps encourage women to be more present in the media.
Your generation had everybody from Hollywood—from the older generation to Dennis Hopper. It seemed like a very good time in Hollywood.
Yes it was. It reminds me of the best party I ever gave. It was the Fourth of July and it was around the time that we were living on the beach in Malibu. I wanted to give a party and I asked my brother (Peter) who is a hippie. I didn’t say was. He still is. I said, “I am going to put a big tent up on the beach and I’m going to give a big party. Who should I get to come and play?” Peter said, “The Byrds.” I never heard of them. See, my character in the movie would have known exactly who they were.
All the people who were in the movies—George Cukor, Danny Kaye, William Wyler, Roddy McDowall, Warren Beatty, Sharon Tate—all of Hollywood came. I’d never seen anything like it. On the buffet line—I’ll never forget—there was a woman in a tie-dyed dress, one enormous breast feeding her baby while she was serving food.
It was my first experience with hard-core hippie-dom. It was really the only time that these two worlds, old time Hollywood and the new hippie-dom, came together. People have never forgotten it. They still talk about that party. It ended at 5 a.m. There was not one drug left in my house.
Your character got to hang out with Jimi Hendrix and all. Did you actually hang out with these people?
The only people I hung out with when Vadim and I made “Barbarella” were Anita Pallenberg, who played the Black Queen, and Keith Richards. She was his lover. So, during that period, we spent time with Keith. I was shocked. It was not my world. I never felt comfortable with that.
Which film is the one that you’d most like to be remembered for?
It’s not like I have a choice. I will be remembered in some circles for “Barbarella.” I will be remembered in other circles for “Barefoot in the Park.” For some people, it’s “Julia” but I think probably for the largest number of people, it’s “On Golden Pond,” which I produced for my father.
I think one of the best movies I made was “Klute,” for which I won my first Oscar. It’s a fantastically good movie.
I am sure you have not seen my favorite role. It was the only thing I had done up until now for television. I won an Emmy for it. It was called “The Dollmaker” where I played a hillbilly.
What’s next for you?
I am a guest star in a new series that’s going to premiere on June 24 and it’s written by Aaron Sorkin. It’s called “The Newsroom.” I urge you to watch the series. It’s the most exciting thing imaginable. It’s very important and I think that everyone is going to learn a lot from it.
I’m also playing Nancy Reagan in a film that we’re shooting in July. It’s called “The Butler,” by Lee Daniels who directed “Precious.” It’s a true story about a black man, to be played by Forest Whitaker, who serves through five administrations, Democrat and Republican. Oprah (Winfrey) is going to play his wife. It will be a really moving film. They asked me to play Nancy Reagan and I think I can do that quite well.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow twitter.com/nepalesruben.