First though, some biographical highlights.
Fonda was born in New York City to celebrated actor Henry Fonda and Frances Seymour Brokaw, who also bore Fonda’s actor brother Peter. Brokaw committed suicide when Fonda was 12. A handful of years later, Fonda attended Vassar College, before moving to Paris to study art. Following some modeling, Fonda acted in her first theatre production, The Country Girl, alongside her father. The early 60s saw Fonda’s film debut, as well as a Tony Award nomination for There Was a Little Girl. The roles continued and Fonda became somewhat of a demure sex symbol with her marriage in the late 60s to French director Roger Vadim, who’d previously dated Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot and had also directed Fonda in the sci-fi cult classic Barbarella. The two’s relationship, and its myriad sexual heresy, was the talk of the town. An Academy Award nomination for ’69’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? followed, and two years later, one for Sydney Pollack’s Klute, alongside Donald Sutherland.
Around this time, Fonda returned to the U.S. to become more active in the Vietnam anti-war movement and social causes on behalf of women. In ’72, a year before her split with Vadim, she traveled to Hanoi and pissed off a hell of a lot of people getting photographed atop an anti-aircraft gun, one used to fire at American troops. Fonda would later renounce the photo and some of the critical comments she made in reference to the war, but it bruised her reputation for years. Despite this, Fonda won her second Academy Award for Coming Home in ’78, ironically a Vietnam War drama, alongside Jon Voight.
Fonda starred alongside Katharine Hepburn and her father, Henry, in On Golden Pond in 1982, a fictional story that uniquely, laterally spoke to off-camera pain and anger between the father and daughter. Henry would win an Oscar for the film. Then Fonda started a massive fitness revolution for VHS. From ’73 and well through the fitness phase, she was married to politician Tom Hayden; in ’89 they called it quits and two years later she married media tycoon Ted Turner. The marriage would last ten years.
The aughts saw Fonda pen an autobiography, My Life So Far, and return to cinema with roles alongside Jennifer Lopez and Lindsay Lohan. She also co-founded the Women’s Media Center, a non-profit aimed at amplifying the voices of women through media. The acting hasn’t ceased, nor has the fitness: She’s currently shooting This is Where I Leave You with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, and Lee Daniels’s The Butler, which will be released in late 2013, and she recently released a series of DVDs aimed at Baby Boomers.
Those are the facts.
There’s also the Fonda mystique, the rumors, the roller coasters, the decadence and lack thereof in her storied life. And we should get cracking on what Fonda has to say about all of it, but this aura, this history, her iconic, aggressive, relentless, now purely positivist stamp on Hollywood, on culture, can best be summed up with her remark from the dressing room, following her photo frames with the lion, wherein the entire surrounding audience was told not to move or he might leap and break some Hell loose: Fonda returns, settles into her makeup chair for the next fashion look and says, “I wasn’t scared, not at all. But looking at that lion so close, you can really understand its ability to tear you apart.”
Like the lion, the world has been the cause and audience for Fonda’s glamour, yet it’s also had the capacity to tear her apart. But as you’ll see, she has a pretty rounded take on that, and while she’ll open the interview questioning her inclusion in such a “hip” and “edgy” publication, it’s well apparent why she’s here. She’s Jane Fonda. And she’s badass.
You say you’re a bit puzzled at your inclusion in Flaunt, but I would venture to say there’s nowhere else you belong. Have you ever wondered in life about your inclusion in things?
Not always, but you know it’s kind of interesting to be 75 years old. Yeah, there was Barbarella and yeah, there were the leg warmers, but I’ve never been a fashion icon. And I’ve never been thought of in terms of fashion. I’ve been brave; I’ve been courageous, but I’ve never been edgy—I’ve never been hip. The only thing I ever started was the workout revolution, but everyone thinks that I’m much more ahead of the curve and I’m not. I’m a copier—always have been a copier. I started wearing Anita Pallenberg type clothes maybe five years after everyone did that and it was starting to fade out…. I looked really straight most of the 60s. And was.
Do you think that was because your focus was elsewhere, that you weren’t maybe so manipulated by trend, or subject to trend?
I think I just wanted to fit in. I wanted to be accepted and I always looked a lot younger than I was. For example, it was 19…maybe ’66? Peter my brother was making a Roger Corman film—a bicycle movie, Wild Angels, I think? Maybe Tina Sinatra got raped in a church? I was making Any Wednesday, this pert ingénue. Yes, I was having an affair with a married man—Jason Robards—and so forth, but white bread, straight, not a challenging movie in any cultural sense. And Peter would come over after a day of shooting and I’d be there and he would tell me about what he did that day and he would smoke a joint and he’d play music and we’d sing Everly Brothers songs together and I was like, “That’s what he did.” And I would say, “Tell me about LSD. What’s that like?” You know, I was like way old when I tried LSD. Like I said—I do it after everyone else has done it, mostly. So being thought of as “edgy” or as fitting into a magazine like Flaunt is sort of like, “Wow, what am I doing here?” but it’s kind of fun.
Yeah, I think it would be safe to say that the edgiest, coolest people are not conscientiously out to be edgy. When you think back on those rebellious periods is there a feeling that comes up—do you associate them with adrenaline? Was it an ideological resistance? What’s the sentiment that drums up when you think about yourself as a rebel?
I was angry.
At whom, at what?
Well, I think when you grow up with parents that are iffy, maybe wonderful people, my parents were—my father in particular was a wonderful man who I totally idolized, but not always present as a parent. And I was angry. Like my daughter, I was not a good parent to her. And she’s angry for that reason. I was angry and I didn’t want to be seen as his daughter so I would sometimes do things that would set me apart. I hated group endeavors. I hated field trips, having to do things with other people. I always wanted to be on my own. I liked being alone.2
Your fame reached a fever during the 60s and 70s, a critical time for American culture. Would you describe that sentiment or that sort of quest for independence as distinctly American?
America is founded on a culture of individualism, “I can do it on my own,” a Horatio Alger, frontier mentality, which I don’t think is a good mentality frankly, especially now. I think our “I can do it on my own” and “me, me, me” gets us in a lot of trouble and I’ve lived abroad plenty to know there’s a lot of rebels over there, but yeah I guess it is an American characteristic, individualism.
Going back to anger as a driving force of rebellion, do you feel like there is anger in your life now?
No, it’s kind of ... I’m startled often realizing how little anger there is anymore. And for a while I thought I was special.
How so? That you were anger exempt or that you not feeling anger was special?
When you’re on the outside of oldness, looking at oldness is really scary and you think—or at least I certainly thought—it’s going to be really hard; I’m going to be bitter, I’m going to be angry, I’m going to be unforgiving, I’m going to be unhappy, I’m going to be lonely, I’m going to be ugly, I’m going to be all kinds of things. But once you’re inside oldness, it’s not scary at all. And all kinds of things begin to happen. As I was turning 70 I thought, “Holy cow, I’ve never been happier.” And then I thought, “Maybe I’m special.” I’ve certainly been privileged. So I just started to write a book about it because whenever I want to figure something out, I write a book about it. And so I wrote a book called Prime Time and what I found out, was no, I’m not special at all.
Huge studies have been done of hundreds and thousands of people from birth all the way to 90 and what they discovered was, on average, people over 50 are happier. Happier is maybe not the right word. There’s more of a sense of peace, of well-being, less hostility, less anxiety, less hostile emotions, more ability to see commonality in people rather than differences. The psychologists, the gerontologists, don’t know entirely why this is true. Is it a change in the brain? Could be. The amygdala, which is the center of heated emotions, maybe changes a little, but they do postulate a number of things. We’ve had a long history. We’ve been there, done that.
You’ve mentioned repeated mistakes as something that pervades that kind of perception of the ether. What’s your relationship to mistakes?
I love mistakes because it’s the only way you learn. You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.
Your current lover, Richard Perry, you’ve said, exudes kindness in a way that none of the previous men in your life really did, and how refreshing this has been. Can you describe this?
You know, when you’re younger, kindness is not at the top of the list. Hipness, sexiness and all sorts of other things—but besides sexiness there’s sensuality, which may be more profound, and kindness. That’s something I only realized after I had shacked up with him for awhile and thought, “We are so different and no one understands why I’m with him and I’ve never been with anyone quite like him. Why is this so easy? Oh yeah, he’s kind.” There’s no hidden agenda
And why do you think kindness is so deprioritized at other phases of life?
Because it’s not sexy. Because youth is so cutthroat, especially these days. And if you’ve grown up without it, having it is uncomfortable. I think about Lindsay Lohan, for example. I got to know her just enough to know—I did a movie with her, Georgia Rule—I wanted to wrap my arms around her, bring her home for dinner, and I realized she would flee in a nano second. If you’ve grown up with nothing but chaos, normalcy is terrifying. If you haven’t grown up with kindness, you don’t even know what to look for ... I never knew I was missing it. I was looking for men that would define me. But again, another part that’s so great about getting old, I don’t need a man to define me anymore. I can be stronger than a man or more famous or more anything, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t need him to define me. I just need kindness.
It’s clear there’s an unending curiosity in you, for life, for people, for improving one’s self. What do you think kills curiosity in people?
It can be depression. We overlook the important role that depression can play in people’s lives and I want to say that because so many people are depressed and don’t even know it and don’t realize it’s treatable, I mean really treatable, through all kinds of things, including medication, which doesn’t mean forever. I’ve been on depression meds and I come from a long line of depressives, but I’ve learned to manage it and don’t take meds anymore. So you know most people don’t do anything about their depression and don’t even know they’re depressed. I blog a lot and I just got a letter from someone on my blog saying—they were in their late sixties—“Trying to make something of myself. I try to learn, I’ve read your books. I just can’t kind of get it together.” And I said to him, “Consider the possibility that maybe you’re depressed and that maybe you could just do something about it.” Anyway depression can keep you from staying curious.
Also, laziness. Addiction. And addiction can be—when we think addiction we think drugs and alcohol—it can be Manolo Blahniks. It can be shopping; it can be sex; it can be work; it can be all kinds of things besides drugs and alcohol.
If our curiosity is stunted, as you say, what’s often the biggest source of knowledge that’s the most readily available to us that we neglect to see?
Nature, I think. I learn the most when I’m by myself in nature and I’m happiest when I’m about 14,000 feet up.
Ah, that’s your Santa Fe lifestyle I imagine.
No, that’s only 7,000 ft. I’ve been to 14,000 ft. a number of times and some people with me got really sick and I was transcendent. That thin oxygen suits me very well. And I go in deep, deep, deep and I go out far, far, far. Meditation. My favorite book and the last book that I did—Prime Time—it’s called the work in? It was my introduction to meditation at the Upaya Zen Center. And that led me into studying physics which I don’t even pretend to understand but a little bit, like the fact that we’re not real; we’re abstractions. We’re fields of energy basically. As is this dog and that table. You can’t live with that knowledge because then how do you get your dog groomed or get up and you know, but that’s the reality. We’re made up of molecules from the stars. That kind of thing just fascinates me.
How do you see that sort of knowledge playing in the film work or acting—if you’re a sort of extended version of yourself?
I don’t think I was a very good actor until I started becoming a feminist because what is feminism? Feminism is not what maybe some people think. Feminism is being able to understand the extent at which we got to be the way we are—men and women—because of the gender we are. Why men behave the way they do and women behave the way they do because of what the culture has said we’re supposed to behave like. You know, like if you’re not a manly man—this is less true now than it used to be—there’s something wrong with you….Feminism says, “Bull shit! We are all human beings and our goal in life is to do everything we can for each other, men and women, to allow ourselves to become fully realized human beings. Equal opportunity.” That’s what feminism is and many of my men friends are feminists. It’s not matriarchy, it’s democracy. That’s what feminism is.
And when I started to become a feminist, I began to understand my character and it was [on] Klute, when I won my first Academy Award, [that] I was able to understand my character in a much more profound context than the narrower one I would’ve brought to trying to understand the character before. And that new sense (it was a very fledgling sense then) of compassion for what women go through—the violence that’s mediated out to women because of misplaced rage of men—made what happened in the scene at the end of the movie happen…I mean Marlon Brando tried to date me when he saw that. When I was confronted by the killer and I hadn’t prepared anything, I was just listening to the tape being played. And tears started coming out of my nose and my mouth and it was not at all what I would have expected had I prepared what I thought I should have. When I heard the tape of my friend who was about to be murdered, I started to think of all the women who have been murdered and beaten by men, and I was crying not just out of fear for my well-being, I was crying for women.
I mean that’s a very specific example of what a broader consciousness can bring to acting. It’s not just self-awareness, it’s awareness of all of the reasons why you are the way you are and why this character you have to now inhabit is the way she is.
And like you said, we’re fields of energy right? We’re in fact vessels for chemical interactivity.
I have learned that we can have a big influence on that level. We can, with intention, alter the neuro-pathways in our brains. And why not? And I’m not talking about using drugs. I mean they can alter pathways sometimes in ways that are irreparable and not so good. Yes, they can expand you, but you know through cognitive therapy, through meditation, through prayer, through just awareness you can change how your brain works. Just for example: smiling. When you smile, a real smile, even if it’s fake—if you fake it until you make it—so that all these muscles are activated and you do it enough, it alters the chemicals in your brain.
Surely, you’re releasing more serotonin, dopamine.
Yes! And over time neuro-pathways change. I came upon a book by Viktor Frankl—he was a German psychologist. And he wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. Great book. He spent five years in a Nazi concentration camp and he said he could tell who, should they ever be liberated, would survive and which ones wouldn’t.
Into society you mean?
Back out into the world, outside of the concentration camp. Some would survive and some wouldn’t. Some would remain bitter, frightened, twisted, damaged people. And he says, “Homo Sapiens—our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose how we respond to situations.” And that blew my mind. Terrible things can be done to you and you can let them destroy you, but it’s up to you. It’s your choice. And this is what cognitive therapy can do to help you.
Because reaction is a pretty specifically human trait. I mean, I remember E.O. Wilson said, “God gave the gift of intelligence to the wrong species.” God should’ve given it to a species that was not carnivorous and didn’t have thumbs, maybe. And had kindness, more of a gift life dolphins or something, but we are the ones that have been granted the gift of intelligence—the ability to alter or neuro-pathways, to be aware that there even are neuro-pathways, and then to be able to alter them and to help each other in that sense. What a gift! And so, use it. But sometimes you don’t know that until you’re older.
And it can take a while to learn how to respond to things in a way that’s going to keep those pathways happy. And now, our issue theme is fabrication and a lot of the stories deal with that concept in a number of creative ways. Some of what you’re talking about in terms of how we can actually influence our chemical activity within ourselves is fabrication, for instance. How is that we can fabricate or shape the world with which we’re perceiving? Do we only have reign over ourselves?
No. I mean, everyone has a different range of capability. Obviously when you’re famous, you have a much greater ability. You become like a repeater at the mountaintop, you know the signals in the valley are weak so you want to bring the messages from the valley up over the mountain tops. So you have the ability to be a repeater and in that sense you can fabricate a different reality in the world around you. In fact, you almost have a responsibility to do it. And do it lovingly. If you aren’t famous, if you’re the neighbor next door, you have the ability to love. We all have the ability to love.
Oh God, I just remembered this article I read a couple weeks ago in The New York Times Magazine about the food industry. About these very smart guys, mostly, who know that they’re killing people with what they make, and spend billions testing what the quotient of crunchiness to the flavor is so they scientifically know exactly what will addict people even if it will kill them.
That is pretty disgusting.
I know, and it was a great article! Those people, they are fabricating—they’re fabricating death and illness and obesity and misery. And when they come to end of their lives they’re going to be very unhappy people. But they can make a choice, like Viktor Frankl. We all have a choice; we can choose. They stay because they’re getting rich, but I can tell you if you come to the end of your life and you feel that you’ve been responsible for bad things and your children don’t love you and you’ve caused havoc, you’re not going to go out happy. There is...I don’t call it a ‘life after death’ in the sense that some people may think of reincarnation, but we’re out there and—it’s like prayers! Prayers have an impact!
Do you think your experience having been a sexual icon or someone so beautiful or praised for their beauty has made that idea of putting energy out into the world more profound?
Well, I never identified with the person who did Barbarella or any of that. I mean I kind of married Vadim to learn how to be a female impersonator, but I never really identified with Catherine Deneuve, who’d been with him before, and Brigitte Bardot, and then he put me in the movie and I did my best. I didn’t think it was particularly sexy, but a lot of young men had their first erections looking at it, which I’m extremely proud of.4
Yeah, that’s something to stake a flag on.
But it had very little impact on me, except that I left him.5 And for a while, not so much because of that, but because my life felt humanistic and there was the anti-war movement here and I wanted to be part of it. And you know, for a while, the early new-wave feminism women would come at me with their microphones saying, “How do you feel about Barbarella? Aren’t you kind of ashamed?” I don’t know if they actually said that, but I felt like “Ugh.” It’s like, nobody forced me to do it. At the time I felt ashamed and I kind of, I put it down, but after a while whenever you join a movement in the beginning you’re really angry and it’s all black and white and as you get older it’s like “Eh.” You know, [Barbarella] didn’t do any harm. Actually, it was kind of fun and campy and nobody forced me to do it. You know, I enjoy looking at it now. And my daughter, from Vadim, was proud of it and so great. But it didn’t have any effect on me. It’s like I never thought of myself as beautiful or sexy or anything like that. I just was me and I wanted to be someone whose life would have meaning. And that’s why I left France to come back and join the anti-war movement. And that was the way I was going to, as you say, fabricate. My social fabrication really was much more through activism and then through working out.
Do you think—well, I think we should probably kind of wind it down, but I wanted to ask your opinions on ideas of provocation. What’s provocative to you now in 2013 versus say—the 60s or 70s?
Dick Cheney saying, “I don’t regret anything.” That’s fucking provocative. I can feel stress around that. It doesn’t last, it doesn’t harm me…
Yeah, there’s definitely a hint of anger in that statement.
I’m angry at that. Him, and Rumsfeld and Kissinger, those are three men that can make me really angry. The cynicism, the lack of seeing what really happened as a result of their policies—the millions of deaths—that really provokes me!
And the inward outward?
Dancing is like bringing your inner energy outward. Yeah. It’s very much like the prayers are this sort of communal energy, blasting out into the sky.
1. A handful of Flaunt staffers were raving their faces off at the foothills of the Mayan pyramids on this same day. At the time, the gorgeous apparition that appeared high in the Playa del Carmen clouds following Acid Pauli’s 6-8 am set was difficult to place. It’s now beyond obvious it was the visage of Jane, guiding us to a new era of abundance.
2.I should probably mention here that Fonda’s dog, this furry little white thing, a spade female, mind, rises from the couch cushion and proceeds to hump the folded leg on which Fonda coyly sits. She scolds the dog, informing her that this sort of behavior is unacceptable during an interview, and proceeds to tell me that the humping started after she split with Ted Turner during a trip to Argentina, a destination she and Ted had taken the dog to previously. A few conclusions can be drawn here: 1) that Ted’s sexual ghost has been all but subsumed by the pup who, particularly in the presence of other men, must hump Fonda’s leg like there’s no tomorrow, because, if you’re Ted and she’s Jane, there isn’t. 2) that Argentina has sorcerous potential, so sorcerous that people divorce following trips there, and their dogs, when returning to the source of this sorcery, are made to re-enact what perhaps didn’t cause the divorce, or shouldn’t have. 3) that Fonda is perhaps the sexiest person alive, to man or beast, male or female, neutered or spade, and that ain’t got shit to do with billionaire telecom dudes, the steamy presence of your hunky narrator, or… the tango.
3. Some people might find the perfect quotient of crunchiness to taste worth death, illness, obesity, and misery; just sayin’.
4. Isn’t it always about erections anyway? Consider beginnings. Sure, there’s conception: ideas, attitudes, movements, outcomes, shifts, defects, genius, status quo, all the derivative dribble, if you will, of an erection. But let’s consider erections. Effectively: enlarged, engorged, rigid. To occupy space once vacant. To arise. Now consider a particular series of workout VHS tapes. Maybe they sat there, atop a cabinet or hutch, their cello tape viewed to paper-thin strands of potato pickers and abdominal arches. Maybe they sat beneath other VHS smashes of the era, say, A Fish Called Wanda or Trading Places, watched, and not fully, merely once—too challenging, too, dare we say, liberated, collecting dust. Either way, they lured you, they asked of you, pre-pubescent, mealy thanks to the four months of non-frigid, sunny weather your Midwestern bathing allotted, eyes taking in shiny objects like a cat, and there you saw her, blonde and bouncing, debonair and decadent, lean and leggy: Jane.
5. Magazines must, for silly reasons, conduct what are called third party surveys to determine who is consuming their product. They must do this for the purpose of advertisers’ determining whether their advertisements are reaching the consumers they desire to consume their products. In the case of Flaunt Magazine, the publication’s median age is 29—that of your narrator. Thus, the above reverie would not be a far, referential cry from the experience at least half the readers of this article underwent, all glow-eyed and arisen.