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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Interview: Jane Fonda

Were the sixties terribly overrated, as many people also seem to feel? I lived in France during most of the sixties, from the early sixties through 1970, so my view of the sixties is a more global view, and it was a time of tremendous transition for America, but for the world, as well. It wasn’t just because of the Vietnam war or the Pill, because the Pill had a lot to do with it, too. Free sex was not possible before that, because you couldn’t do it without the risk of getting pregnant. I’m not a sociologist, so I’m not sure why it was that almost everywhere in the world there was tumult, but there was. In the movie, it’s idealized from a cultural point of view. But the sixties was really about discord and generation splits. I can relate to that part because when I became an activist, which was around ’70, I missed the sixties really, what happened between me and father, who had fought in the Second World War and couldn’t understand the realities of Vietnam. He was opposed to the war, and to him, that meant you voted for Lyndon Johnson, because he said he was going to end the war. For my generation, we thought “You really believe he’s going to end the war, just because he said he’s going to?” So we marched. There were a lot of generational splits like that which were extremely painful. So no, I don’t idealize it. I recognize the importance of that decade, having had one leg in the fifties, which I think is a time that has been much more idealized, with this idea that families were together and everything was well, and there were only good wars, when the reality was there was abundant racism and people were supposed to fit into tidy little stereotypes or you were an outcast. So to me, the fifties continue to be far more idealized. I think that the reason people idealize the sixties is because there was passion. People were passionate then. And a lot of it was passion about peace, about ending the war. A lot of it was also saying “Dad, mom, I’m not going to fit into your stereotype. I’m not going to be like you. So I’m going to grow my hair!” I think today young people look back and say “We don’t feel that kind of passion and we wish we did.” But what they don’t realize is that there was a lot of pain that came with it, too: death, violence, all kinds of things. I’m old enough now that I don’t idealize any time period. (laughs)

Over a career where you’ve played many fascinating characters, none is more fascinating than Bree Daniels, in “Klute.”

I asked Alan J. Pakula when we got to New York if it could be arranged for me to spend time with call girls and with madams and I did. It was eye-opening. I would go with them to meet their johns. I would go with them when there were cutting up their cocaine and when it was over, I went to Alan and said ‘Alan, I can’t do it. I can’t play this character. During the whole process, not one john even looked at me. They didn’t wink, didn’t make a pass, nothing. I’m so not that. I can’t do it. You’ve got to hire Faye Dunaway.’ He just laughed. So then I remembered some of the call girls in Paris, who were $2000 a night, the sort of women that Dominique Strauss-Kahn says “I didn’t know they were prostitutes.” (laughs) They’re very beautiful, very intelligent call girls. I thought ‘Okay, I could do that, be that type of call girl, one could have done any number of other things.’ I studied why women would do that, women who had other skills. I think Bree was sexually-abused and that changes everything. The only thing I changed in the script was all the psychiatrist stuff was improvised and originally in the script, the psychiatrist was a man. And I knew that Bree could never open up to a man. She could come on to him, try to sit on his lap or something. So Alan and I agreed to keep all those scenes to the very end, when I really inhabited Bree, and then I improvised and that was really fun.

Do you feel that there have been any changes since then that have been quite as seismic?

I think the internet, the technological stuff has changed everything. We can see it overseas even more, with the Arab Spring, and so forth. Every decade has its own aspects of change. Then it was drugs, the Pill and a war and now it’s technology and globalization.

How important is technology in your own life?

It’s very important. But, I never used a computer till I was fifty-eight. I was married to Ted Turner and he threw it across the room. (laughs) He still doesn’t use one. I’ve always been a public speaker, and I would always cut and paste. So my speeches would look like Greek scrolls, held together with Scotch tape. Suddenly somebody showed me cut and paste on a laptop and it changed my life. I never would have been able to write any books without it. Then when I turned seventy-one, I was about to return to Broadway after forty-six years and I met a guy in Atlanta who convinced me to start blogging. And I thought ‘You know something that might be really interesting. From the day I leave Atlanta, I’ll write a daily blog about what it’s like to be back in New York.’ I lived there in the fifties. So how had it changed? How did I feel about it? I started getting feedback, and it was really interesting. Suddenly my life became very immediate. I would blog and get immediate feedback. I’d go on stage and get immediate feedback. So that’s what’s really changed, the immediacy of things.

Do you feel that today’s young people are starting to go back to the values of the sixties somewhat, with the Occupy Movement, and the like?

Somewhat, yes, but the main difference is there’s no leader. In the sixties, you had all these organizations with leaders, most of them men. I married one, Tom Hayden. There were male leaders of the movement then and now there’s not and people are really getting upset about that, but I think that’s part of what makes it so beautiful. I think those people really are making a difference. That demonstration in Seattle when the World Trade Organization met up there, in many ways that was much more significant than anything that happened in the sixties. People’s need to band together hasn’t gone away, but the existence of Twitter and Facebook and the internet has really changed the face of it. The drugs are different, for better or worse.

The other night I watched “Klute” and “The Grapes of Wrath” back-to-back. I was struck by how you and your dad share so many of the same nuances on-screen.

Let me tell you something, my son is an actor. His name is Troy Garity. He went to the American Academy of Dramatic Art and the first play I went to see him in there was a moment where he hesitated and turned, and it was my dad! And Troy was five when my dad died, so where does that come from? It’s absolutely fascinating. I was already a mature actress when dad died, so it makes more sense with me, but where does he get that, do you think?

Well, there’s genetics and in your case, stuff you picked up unconsciously from growing up with your father, but consciously what do you feel you learned about acting by watching your dad?

(Long pause) Consciously, nothing. I never could get him to talk about acting, ever. I produced “On Golden Pond” for him and after our big scene together, I still couldn’t get him to talk to me about acting. I learned about life from watching his movies, like “The Grapes of Wrath,” “12 Angry Men,” “Young Mr. Lincoln,” it’s what made me who I am, the roles he played. In many ways I learned more from Katharine Hepburn and I’m older now than she was in “On Golden Pond,” which really staggers me because I feel so different than I think she did then. But I am my dad’s daughter and I know I look like him, in many ways so I’m sure that there are things that other people see that I don’t.


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