Film » Features

Fonda rule

Actress-activist-author discusses her new film



Spend 20 minutes on the telephone with Jane Fonda and you'll receive a lesson in intensity. She might be 69 and a grandmother twice over, but the actress/activist/author hasn't mellowed with age.

She's still attending peace rallies -- a January 2007 anti-war march on D.C. was her first in 34 years -- and still working hard to get it right on the big screen.

"Here's Jane Fonda, who has a resume as long as my body and two Academy Awards, and she comes in and says to me, 'What did you think?'" recalls Georgia Rule co-star Felicity Huffman.

In 2005, Fonda returned to acting for the first time in 15 years with Monster-In-Law, a fluffy comedy co-starring Jennifer Lopez. With Georgia Rule, Fonda gets the opportunity to go back to her dramatic roots.

In the film, Lindsay Lohan stars as a misbehaving teenager who is so much trouble for her mother (Huffman) that she's shipped off to spend the summer with her no-nonsense grandmother (Fonda) in Idaho.

Touching upon themes of alcoholism and sexual abuse, Georgia Rule is not the popcorn movie it might appear to be -- and that's one of the reasons Fonda was instantly intrigued.

"I thought it was a great script about an important subject," she notes. "The characters were very well-written and real. And I liked the fact that Garry Marshall was directing. I knew it wouldn't be dour."

It might not be dour but Georgia Rule became a problematic production when, a few days into filming, Lohan began showing up late or not showing up at all.

In response, James G. Robinson, CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, wrote a memo to Lohan calling her "discourteous, irresponsible and unprofessional" and threatening legal action. The memo was leaked to the press, and suddenly Lohan began arriving on the set bright and early.

"I think it was appropriate for [Robinson] to scold," says Fonda. "But, you know, when Lindsay showed up, she was really good."

Asked if Lohan ever consulted her about navigating the rough waters of celebrity, Fonda says, "No, she didn't. And advice is hard to give if it's not asked for. But I told her that I love her and that I'm there for her if she ever needs me -- and that's true."

If anyone could give advice, it would be Fonda. The daughter of legendary actor Henry Fonda, she was a lightning rod for controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to her anti-Vietnam War activism. In the '80s, she reinvented herself as a workout guru. In the '90s, she retired to Georgia, wrote a best-selling memoir (My Life So Far) and became a born-again Christian.

In between, she raised two children -- Vanessa Vadim (with first-husband Roger Vadim) and Troy Garity (with second-husband Tom Hayden) -- and earned two Oscars for Klute and Coming Home and five additional nominations for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Julia, The China Syndrome, On Golden Pond and The Morning After.

Her favorite role these days seems to be grandma.

"Having grandkids is like having a second chance," says Fonda of Vanessa's two youngsters. "And I'm a very good grandmother. We have a lot of sleepovers. And they spend a lot of time at my ranch in New Mexico.

"My granddaughter is 4-and-a-half and she's into horses and my grandson is 8 at the end of May and he loves Legos."

In her spare time, Fonda works with teenagers at the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, a center she helped found in 1995.

"My mother killed herself when I was 12 and I was floundering," she recalls. "It was a very difficult time for me. I'm very aware of the problems that have been caused in my life because of that. So I wanted to help young people get through adolescence."

Throughout her life, Fonda says she's had self-image problems. She suffered from bulimia and, as a young actress, was devastated when director Josh Logan suggested she have her jaw broken and her back teeth removed so her cheekbones could become more predominant.

Fonda never believed she was pretty and still recalls the terror of performing nude in her husband's production of Barbarella.

"Everyday I thought my husband, who had been married to Brigitte Bardot, would wake up and think, 'Oh, my God, I've made a terrible mistake. She's not Bardot!'"

These days, Fonda works out almost every day. "I have a new hip," she says. "So, for a couple of years, I wasn't doing anything. But now I go to a gym in Atlanta. I also ride bikes, hike, and always watch what I eat. I try to eat something dark green every day. I don't eat a lot of sugar but my one big indulgence is dark chocolate."

She's in love at the moment but declines to mention her boyfriend's name. She doubts she'll marry again after walking down the aisle with Vadim, Hayden and media mogul Ted Turner.

When the Georgia Rule promotion winds down, Fonda says she'll be back in Atlanta, working on her next memoir.

"Random House asked me to do a book about having a third act," she relates. "I'm well into the third act now. To me, this act feels like a beginning. It feels like everything that's come before has been a rehearsal.

"I feel very lucky. I don't look back with nostalgia. I look forward with anticipation. I've never been happier."

She still has a number of unrealized goals.

"I want to make a movie about people over 70 having a sexual relationship," she says. "I want to show that people can be lusty and vibrant over 70.

"And I'd also love to work with my son Troy. He just finished a movie where Sissy Spacek played his mother. I was jealous. He's a very good actor."

Does Fonda have any thoughts on turning 70 in December?

"I feel fine with it," she says brightly. "No sweat."

This article originally appeared on

Add a comment