Jane Fonda is fuming. Seething. It’s late morning, and she’s sitting in the kitchen of her Beverly Hills condo in a white baseball cap, sunglasses, and fancy sweats. Her dog, a fluffy coton de Tuléar named Tulea, is also in an agitated state, scampering in circles on the tile floor. Fonda, 79, jabs a finger toward a garbage can as explanation. It’s the trash container’s fault?
Not quite. Stuffed inside is her morning New York Times, with front page articles about President Trump’s ad-libbed “fire and fury” threat toward North Korea. “I’m almost 80, and so to say that I’ve never experienced this kind of nightmare before in my life is saying something,” she tells me, fidgeting anxiously. We talk about Trump for a few minutes—let her get it out of her system, I figure—before I gently try to steer the conversation toward her latest career resurgence.
“Who gives a rat’s ass?” she says. My eyes widen. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s just that, with everything going on in the world, our country, it’s really hard to talk about myself or entertainment right now.”
After 57 years in show business (not counting a childhood spent in the limelight as the daughter of Henry Fonda), she is still working nonstop, starring in the hit Netflix series Grace and Frankie and teaming with Robert Redford for this fall’s romantic drama Our Souls at Night, which won the duo Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement at the recent Venice Film Festival. Coming up next for Fonda is Book Club, co-starring Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen. The four play longtime friends whose lives are jolted after they read the raunchy Fifty Shades of Grey. (In August a photo of the actresses taking a break from filming to watch the solar eclipse went viral.)
After such a full life—Fonda has been a two-time Oscar winner, mother, political activist, fitness queen, book author, blogger, wife to three dramatically different men—what keeps this iconoclast going?
“I’m a slow learner and a late starter,” she says drily.
As I prod her, the conversation takes hairpin turns. One minute she’s telling me about her teenage granddaughter Viva, who is curled up on a sofa in the next room, watching an episode of Parks and Recreation on an iPad. (Viva is the daughter of Vanessa Vadim, Fonda’s daughter from her marriage to the French filmmaker Roger Vadim.) A moment later Fonda, whose life and its many acts were recently examined on the third season of You Must Remember This, a popular podcast about Hollywood, is ranting anew about Trump. (“I became an activist in 1970,” she says. “And if I can give any advice it’s this: We mustn’t normalize this presidency.”)
Then suddenly we’re talking about her family again, including her emotionally distant father, whose acting in films like The Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men made him one of Hollywood’s superstars, and an effervescent cousin on her mother’s side, the Standard Oil heiress and fashion innovator Millicent Rogers, who died in 1953. “I think out there in the cosmos she is one of my elders who is beckoning to me,” Fonda says as we sit at her little kitchen table. “Millicent looks after me.”
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