Jane Fonda is 80 and, boy, does she look great! She’s as vibrant off-screen as she still is on. I tell her that and she doesn’t contradict me.
But when I ask about the numerous times she’s backtracked on controversial statements she’s made, such as denigrating Vietnam prisoners of war, she wants to respond privately after the press conference.
Her answer is evasive, but her publicist warns me it is not for publication. So much for freedom of the press.
Times they are a-changin’ as Bob Dylan reminds us. During the 1970s, Fonda was the ultimate firebrand. She rebelled against Hollywood, her father Henry Fonda, the Vietnam War, social injustice… you name it, Fonda was there.
She was also a superb actress with two Oscars to prove it. After she married Ted Turner – having previously married French director Roger Vadim and counterculture activist Tom Hayden – she mellowed a little. She and Turner divorced in 2001.
Today, Fonda is ready for new challenges which include a new movie (Book Club) and a hit TV series (Grace And Frankie).
For the past 30 years, you’ve been an advocate for fitness and geriatric sex. And in your new movie Book Club, women your age seem to be embracing it. Is Hollywood finally acknowledging it?
Women are the fastest growing demographic in the world and, we live on average five years longer than men. And so the marketplace – and cinema and television are part of the marketplace – I think, is beginning to realise this is an important market for us. So, more and more, we’re going to see older women having sex because a lot of older women do.
I wrote a book about it – it wasn’t just about sex, it was about ageing but there were chapters on sex – and I interviewed people well into their 90s, actually a couple older than 100, but their sex is different. I can talk about this because I’m 80. When you’re older, sex is different especially when the man is also older. You lose certain things like spontaneity.
Do you have a lover at the moment?
Do I have a lover right now? No I don’t, not for a year. I think I’m done; I’m 80, thank you.
What do you think of the idea that 70 is the new 40?
I wouldn’t want to be 40 again for anything. What’s good about 40? If you’re a woman, you’re probably going through perimenopause and things are pretty miserable. I hated 40.
The reason we’re staying healthy longer is because we know more about what to do to be healthy. We stay more physically active; we maybe are eating a little bit more carefully if we’re smart. And so we are living longer.
When you retired from acting for so many years, did you miss it?
I did not. Isn’t that amazing? I did not miss it at all. I love going to the movies, I went all the time. I admired so many performances that I saw but I never wished it was me.
But then when I was offered Monster-In-Law (2005, co-starring opposite Jennifer Lopez), I suddenly realised that I was a very different person so I was curious to see whether the process of making a movie would bring me some joy, which it hadn’t towards the end of my career.
And I also needed money for funding the work I do in Georgia, so that when I die there will be enough money to continue funding the work. Half of my salary goes to endow the work I do with young and poor families and young boys and girls there.
Is marriage a liability if you’re an actor?
Yes, if you’re in a dysfunctional situation, or in a bad marriage, where you’re saying, I’m going to make this work. That’s anathema to creativity. For creativity you have to breathe deeply and be relaxed and let all your senses slump down into the depths where creativity comes from.
And because I wasn’t able to do that, I was miserable. Every day I would wake up to go to work scared to death. I didn’t want to do it any more. But now I’m not living in my head any more. I’m a re-embodied person. I’m a whole person, and it changed the way I approach acting.
What have you learnt about marriage?
I have learned one thing about marriage. Never leave yourself behind thinking if you haven’t brought your whole self into the relationship, you wouldn’t be loved. What that means is that you’re willing to give up your relationship with yourself in order to be in relationship with a man. It doesn’t work.
The only thing that blooms under the bell jar of denial is rage. And you end up very angry. And it has nothing to do with the man. My husbands were all the most wonderful partners. It was me.
Do you think it’s easier for an aspiring actress today than it was when you first started?
I think it’s harder because of social media. You never know who’s taking a picture. You have to be much more careful. I mean, I’m so glad that social media wasn’t around when I was coming up; I wouldn’t be alive right now.
My first movie was a black and white movie where married couples slept in separate beds. Now you’re naked. It’s way more exposure, much more pressure on women to have to be sexy and to be naked, and all these things.
I think it’s really hard; I don’t envy these young ones at all.