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May 2005
Monster-in-Law: An Interview with Jane Fonda

Monster-in-Law: An Interview with Jane Fonda

By Todd Gilchrist

Jane Fonda, like her new co-star Jennifer Lopez, made something of a brand name out of herself during her heyday; starting as a '60s sex kitten with the likes of "Barbarella", moving to political advocacy in the '70s, and then an aerobics heroine in the '80s, she was in a very real way a renaissance woman. After a fifteen year hiatus from acting, however, she returns to the silver screen to teach forebear Lopez about stealing the screen; in "Monster-in-Law", she plays the title character to Lopez' hopeful bride-to-be. As Fonda recently told blackfilm.com, the process of getting back in the acting saddle was every bit as invigorating as it was challenging.

Watching you in this film, it doesn't look like you skipped a beat since the last time you acted. Was it tough to get back into it or did you fall right into it?

Jane Fonda: I fell right into again. The moving day was the first day that I was actually in front of a camera after 15 years, which was the costume and make-up test that everybody does. Before the camera rolled for the first test, Robert Luketic just got everybody quiet and said, "Welcome back Ms. Fonda" and I cried I was so moved.

What made you stop everything 15 years ago?

JF: It had become agony. I was not happy inside as a woman and I was kind of denial about it and sort of cut off from my emotions. I was living on will power and it's very hard to be creative when you're living on will power. And my last two or three movies were just agony and I said I don't want to be scared anymore. Then I met Ted Turner and I didn't have to and then when Ted and I split up I spent five years writing my autobiography so for 15 years I've been under the radar, extremely happy, didn't miss it at all and then this character was offered to me of Viola Fields and I've never played anybody like her and I just what a hoot. I'm so different than I was 15 years ago. I'm not living in my head anymore. Let me see if this can be a joyful experience again and it was.

Is this only the beginning?

Isn't it great at 67 somebody says is this only the beginning? (Roaring laughter) I love it. I love it. Who knows, I don't know?

Do you have anymore concerns anymore about age and Hollywood and where you fit in?

I'm realistic. Hollywood is not so friendly to older women. I've had my career. I'm not looking to recreate a career. If I get an opportunity to play fun characters again from time to time that would be great, but I'm kind of relieved that I'm at a point where, "Hey, if you want me fine. If you don't, fine. I don't care." It's not who I am.

How great was it to do that scene where you interview the teenage girl?

It's amazing how many of you reporters respond to that scene. What was the question? (Question re-worded, "Was it a fun scene to play?) It was just a fun scene to play.

Did you base Viola on anyone you know?

My favorite ex-husband, Ted Turner. (Laughter). I know that may sound really weird, but I had the priviledge of spending 10 years with Ted Turner and talk about over the top, outrageous, I mean every day with Ted is like, "Oh my God I can't believe he just said that or did that." He's the only person I know who's had to apologize more than I've had . (Laughter). He is an absolute hoot and he is outrageous and he lacks any self-censorship and at the same time he's extremely lovable and I had never known anyone like him so when I got an opportunity to play Viola it was like I had permission to be over the top because I knew what that could look like. I don't mean to say that because it's called Monster-in-Law that he's a monster. I'm crazy about the man. Absolutely adore him and we're close friends. Do you know what I'm saying? It's like, just go all the way, hit for the fences.

Has he seen the movie yet?

No, no. He's gonna see it May 5 when we have the premiere.

Are you worried he might recognize himself?

(Laughter) No, no, no. He's in Argentina right now so he doesn't know what I just said. I'll prepare him before then.

What's he doing in Argentina?

He's fishing.

How was your relationship with your son-in-law?

I don't have a son-in-law, but my attitude is I've had very good luck the guys and girls that my son and daughter have had relationships with. I know that what you want to do is be as welcoming as possible because if you sort of act the way Viola does probably the child will try to dig their heels in so you just sort of say, "Hey, my kids are smart, let it work itself out and everything always has."

How has getting back into the spotlight been for you?

My life has been open to the public and judged for many,many decades and I have been under the radar for 15 years. I wrote the book because I have come to some understanding in my life and what the themes are and I knew that if I wrote it honestly that it would help people. I liked the fact that just about the time the book was coming out I could do this movie that was funny, which is not what people associate me with, even though I've done a lot of comedies. What you do as you see. It was like for the last few months I've known that there was going to be this wall of public scrutiny coming toward me and you just gird your loins get ready and you just sort of say, "OK, one more day down. Check." About mid-June it will be over.

Your re-emergence has reignited some of these festering hostilities. How are you dealing with that?

I get letters on a regular basis from Vietnam veterans, so moving, saying that they forgive me. That they've understood I did what I had to do. They did what they had to do and that we're kind of meeting in the middle now after 30 years. It makes me happy because it shows that there's healing taking place. There are also a lot of veterans who have not yet been able to heal and for whom I'm the lightning rod. I understand why there's rage about Vietnam as well there should be. We were lied to, we were deceived by a series of administrations. It was a war that never had to happen and it's very hard to take your rage out against your own government and I became a lightning rod and I have to own that and I hope in time, with time, that people canŠthose guys can heal. It wasn't my war. I didn't send them there. I didn't lie. I just tried to end it.

You're a fine writer. Is writing something you would like to continue?

I really enjoyed writing it and I appreciate that, it means a lot to me. I'm glad. People are taking things out of context and kind of sensationalizing it and I'm thinking, "But it was a good book." (Laughter).

How difficult was the process (of writing)?

Not difficult once I made the decision to do it. I thought, "Oh gosh, but it's going to be so hard to write about this or that," and yet as I began to write, when I'd come to those, what I thought would be difficult passages it was, I don't know, it's like there was an angel sitting on my shoulder and it just came. It was easy to write. It was easy to write about my marriages and my husbands without blaming or without being gossipy. You've got to own your life. You've got to own and take responsibility for itŠstatuate of limitations on being angry and blaming your parents and all that kind of thing.

What would your character say if she met Jane Fonda?

What an interesting question. She'd probably say, "Come here," and she'd probably step outside the cameras and say, "What was he like in bed?" (Laughter). We'd dish. I think Viola would be fascinated with my life and we'd have a lot to talk about. Publicly what would she ask me? The same sort of things you're asking me. Smart questions.

What's your background in writing?

I wrote several workout books, which were mostly about exercise and exercise physiology. All of them contained a lot that was personal. That was the first experience that I had writing a little bit about my personal journey at least in the realm of health. For example, the fact that I suffered from eating disorders. I first wrote about that in 1980 when I wrote my first workout book. Then I wrote a book as I was approaching menopause, I wrote a book called, "Women Coming of Age," which was also very personal. Then I wrote a book called "Pregnancy, Birth and Recovery," in which I wrote about my own experiences. I'd written a number of articles and things, but I had never written anything like this.

What does writing do for you creatively? How do you compare the two creative expressions?

(Long pause) Writing your life is unique as an experience and I wrote in layers. I would start with what I had the most, "Then I did this, then I did that, then I did thisŠ" then you come back a little bit later and say, "This is what I really did." Then you come back a little bit later to say, "This is how I felt." Then you come back and say, "This is why I did it." And it takesŠand I find at least for me that I always had to say, "What was I feeling," because you can take away anything, but you can't take away how someone was feeling and what that did to them. And I thought if the book is going to resonate with other people that's where I have to go and that's a very transformative thing. Now the other interesting thing is when I'd hit a problem I would go out and garden. Having my hands in the dirt and growing things is very therapeutic for me. Or I'd chop down trees (laughter). I have a ranch in New Mexico and I'm trying to clear trails for it so I can ride.

What was it like working with Jennifer? Was it anything like you expected?

I worried that she'd be a diva, but at least I didn't see that at all. She was professional. She was on time. She knew her lines. She's very smart. We got along great. I didn't get to know her super well because she's so busy. The time that she was able to stay on set in between takes we would talk and enjoy each other. It was fun.

Is there a movie you've seen that changed your life?

Well, many of my father's films had a huge impact on me growing up. Grapes of Wrath, Young Abe Lincoln, 12 Angry Men, Oxbow Incident. I mean they really formed a lot of my character and I think represented a lot of his character as well. Other than that no. Books have caused epiphanies in my life, but I can't think of any films.

Do you have any delightful moments from shooting the movie?

When I kicked Wanda Sykes in the groin with my knee. It just kind of happened. It was improvisational. Wanda and I get along really well and she's a stand up comedian.

(Jane starts describing the scene and then there's some banter about Wanda Sykes line that she ad-libbed. Then for a few minutes there's some discussion between Jane and the reporters about a possible sequel featuring her and Wanda and what that might be.)

How has the industry changed since you were working more steadily?

I'll tell you one big difference that I hate. (Long pause). Fifteen years ago and more you could make a more and so it didn't do great the first weekend. It would have a couple of weeks to get some life and get some legs and word of mouth and young actors would start to get noticed. It would have time. Nowadways if you don't make it that first weekend you're toast and that's so scary and it doesn't give young actors a chance to build a following. The other thing is, technologically, when I stopped making movies 15 years ago there weren't even cell phones (laughter). There were no digital cameras, there no video villages, you know, none of this and we had junkets like this, but this is like a well-oiled machine. Everything is a lot slicker.

And what would Barbarella looked like in CGI?

What's CGI? (laughter and then some banter around the table). When I look at that movie now, which I do with great enjoyment, really. The charm of Barbarella was the jerryrigged quality of it. We didn't have any of that stuff. The angels flyingŠI write a whole scene about that in the book. Nobody had ever flown without wires. That was what was fun about it.

How much of a watershed was Stanley and Iris for you? (The reporter said he talked to Martin Ritt in a phone interview, who said I'm only talking to you because MGM pressured me. I haven't been able to bear to look at the movie. I don't think it's the movie I thought we were making. Ritt said the studio had taken it away from him).

I had no idea. That was my last movie and it wasŠnone of my last filmsŠthey were agony for me. I think it's an important subject, but it was really hard to do just because of my internal issues.

How was your relationship with your own mother-in-laws?

I've had three and they were all great. Whew! (laughter).

If they made a movie out of your book do you know who would play you?

No (laughter). Do you have any ideas? If you have any ideas, let me know.

How are you anticipating your upcoming hip surgery and is that something you might write about later one?

(Janes laughs) Hip replacement surgery?

Why are you getting your hip replaced?

I'm suffering from osteoarthritis. It's genetic. The first thing I wanted to know was, "Is this because of my workouts?" (laughter) and the surgeons said no, it doesn't have anything to do with that. I have a genetic proclivity to osteoarthritis and of all the replacement surgeries it's the easiest. It's very easy to get over. Everybody is writing me letters saying I did it, or my father did it, or my mother, or my friend. You're up in two days, you're walking in two days, it'sŠI'm not worried. I'm gonna be so looking forward to being put to sleep (laughter). I can't wait.

Do you owe your figure to doing your exercise routines?

Yeah, partly.

Fifty is the new boutique age, is it going to be the same for 70?

I wrote my book in three acts. The third act began at 60 and that act is called "Beginning" because that's what it feels it.


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