Jane Fonda is changing the way we think about life in our 80s. As she approaches her 81st birthday, she’s pouring energy into her ultra-popular Netflix series, Grace & Frankie, and is still very much involved in political activism and charity work.
Fonda has had an extraordinary life: a multitude of highs and lows played out in public and in private. The feminist icon has been an Oscar-winning actor, a savvy businesswoman, the author of numerous books, and the creator of a fitness empire. And, yet, with all her fame, she has remained an enigma in many ways.
To the delight of fans worldwide, HBO and producer/director Susan Lacy have created a riveting, intimate documentary on the veteran actress’s passionate life that gives a fuller picture of Fonda. In Jane Fonda in Five Acts, fascinating personal details are unveiled.
I try to listen more than I talk. That’s one important thing that I’ve learned.
As NextTribe watched Fonda speak at the Television Critics Press Tour, we got the strong sense that she has entered a more introspective stage of her life.
“I try to listen more than I talk. That’s one important thing that I’ve learned. … I’m still changing. I’m only 80, and you know, there’s still a few decades to go, if I’m lucky. Why be alive if you’re not learning and changing and growing?” she said.
“I think that the purpose is to try to figure out how do you keep doing it. You may not be able to make your life longer, but you can make it deeper and wider.”
The documentary is based on Fonda’s 2005 book, My Life So Far, which has been translated into 17 languages. She still gets letters and emails from people who have just read it.
“What surprised me is that it had an impact on men as well as women. And, oddly enough, a lot of people identify with the various struggles that I’ve had. Issues with parents, eating disorders, men, self-confidence. And so I felt that if these things could be brought to a broader audience, it would be informative and helpful to others,” she explained.
Her Vietnam Views, Revisited
One episode of her life that few can forget is her outspoken stance on the Vietnam War. To this day, Fonda believes Vietnam was an extremely pivotal moment in her life, forever changing her view of the world.
“Prior to my becoming an anti-war activist, I had lived an eventful life, an interesting life, but a meaningless life. I was a pretty girl who made movies and was kind of hedonistic. When I decided to throw in my lot with the anti-war movement, everything shifted. Everything,” she said.
We had to end that war. And I decided I would do everything I could in my power to stop it … as part of a movement.
Prior to that experience, Fonda had been “completely uninvolved,” she said. “I didn’t even know where Vietnam was. And after reading that book and talking to these men, the coin shifted. I said, ‘I feel betrayed by this country’s leadership. We’ve been lied to and I want to do whatever I can to expose that.’”Fonda’s famous actor father, Henry, fought in World War II. She recalled being proud of him, and, in turn, he was proud of her.
“I really thought that if we had men fighting, they were on the side of the angels. I didn’t like it when people in France knew better than I did and had already been fighting and lost the war in Vietnam. [The Vietnamese] were fighting for independence from colonialism.”
Initially, Fonda believed that if the U.S. troops were involved, it was for a good reason. “It’s kind of like the more you believe in something, if you find out that it’s totally not true, then you become … a very staunch advocate on the other side. We had to end that war,” she said. “And I decided I would do everything I could in my power to stop it. Not individually but as part of a movement.”
Fonda still gets stopped in the street by soldiers who fought there. “It’s an opportunity to talk. And you have to do that with a very open mind and a soft heart and be forgiving and understanding. I welcome those opportunities a lot.”
Jane Fonda Then and Now: The Loves of Her Life
Many know that Fonda married three times (to cable mogul Ted Turner, writer/director Roger Vadim, and politician Tom Hayden), and Fonda has reflected on why she chose to be with men who were often controlling.
“They were all so brilliant and could teach me things and take me farther than I had
ever gone … I didn’t have very much confidence, and I thought that if I was with
those kind of men that I could be somebody,” she admitted.
As Fonda steps forward at age 80, she’s clearly at a different place: Ready to own her experiences, recognize her power, and embark on new adventures. Watching Jane Fonda in Five Acts is a fascinating testament to this evolution.
Susan L. Hornik is a veteran entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She is an expert at making lemonade from lemons.