"Are you near the restaurant? Because Jane Fonda has a habit of being early for meetings."
That was the worried voice on the other side of a phone call I received from one of Jane Fonda's publicist shortly before our interview. And I wasn't close. I wasn't going to be late, but I certainly wasn't going to be early. Thoughts of Jane Fonda admonishing me for my lack of perceived punctuality seeped into my consciousness. I mean, certainly, at this stage of her career, Jane doesn't have to put up with the likes of me.
Needless to say, I hailed the next cab.
I met Fonda at a crowded Manhattan restaurant near Central Park. (Yes, this was one of those moments in this job in which I couldn't help thinking, Wow, that's Jane Fonda sitting across from me. What am I doing here?) Fonda was concerned that I wasn't ordering anything. I had just eaten, but I did concede and ordered a Diet Coke (Fonda had the split pea soup). The interesting thing about Fonda is that her career is so storied at this point, the initial focus of the interview (Fonda's new film, "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding") can easily twist and turn down the many roads that she has traveled. And Fonda, to her credit, will talk about anything.
In "Peace Love and Misunderstanding" (out in limited release now), Fonda plays Grace, the spirited-yet-estranged mother of the newly single Diane (Catherine Keener) and grandmother to Zoe (Elizebeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff). In the film, Fonda's character plays a war protester, which -- considering Fonda's outspoken history -- led us into some interesting conversations about her political past and her thoughts on current protest, namely the Occupy movement.
Here, Fonda also looks back on the relationship between her new film and "On Golden Pond," the strategy of "Monster-in-Law" as her comeback vehicle after a 15-year hiatus, and what "9 to 5" and "Bridesmaids" have in common.
You look like you're having the time of your life in this movie.
I was. I had a very good time, yes.
Is that why you chose it?
I'd never played a character like her. Contrary to what some people think, I'm not like her. I never was a hippie. Also, I have a daughter and grandchildren and the idea that I would have been deprived of seeing my daughter for 20 years and never meet my grandchildren moved me very much. And, you know, forgiveness is a big theme in my life and so I wanted to make a movie about it.
That's interesting. So, mentioning forgiveness, do you think that this plays on the themes of "On Golden Pond"?
Yes, I think. I didn't make any parallel to "On Golden Pond" until lately because people keep making the parallels. But I think there is something in common. Yeah.
Elizabeth Olsen is in this movie. I think she's the real thing.
I interviewed her last year and she said she learned a few things from you.
What did she say?
She said that you gave her tips.
I didn't offer her her much advice, except that I told her -- and Nat Wolff who played the grandson -- I said, "Have you been seeing the rushes?" You know, the dailies. They said, "No." I said, "Even just once, go and watch them. Because that way you'll know whether what you are intending is actually coming across."
Your character is a war protester. Could you have played this character in the late '70s or early '80s?
Well, I wasn't old enough [laughs].
True. The age of the character aside, though.
Aside from whether I would have been old enough? I think, probably back in the '70s, it would have been a little bit too ... you know, I never was that kind of a war protester. I was more of an organizer; it was a little bit more serious. And I wasn't known for my sense of humor in those days. I probably would have thought it was a little too light and frivolous, vis-à-vis the war -- when the war was going on. But, now, it's a very different time. And I'm different.
Why has your sense of humor changed?
Because I spent ten years with Ted Turner. He taught me how to laugh [laughs]. It's true.
You really think that you didn't know how to laugh before meeting him?
Not really, no. I come from a long line of a lot of sad people.
Though, "9 to 5" is an extremely funny movie. I'm guessing you knew that when you read the script.
Well, I produced it. I developed it. But, you know, I played the uptight character in that. Deliberately, because I wanted to be sure I got Dolly and Lily in the good parts.
You've always had the reputation of being very picky about choosing your roles. Has that changed since you've returned to acting?
Well, when I first started out in the very early '60s, I didn't know I could say "no." I was so amazed that I was offered anything, so I said "yes" to everything. So, then, I said "no" to just about everything and I began to produce my own films. Starting with "Coming Home" through "The Dollmaker," "On Golden Pond" and "9 to 5." And then I left the business for 15 years and, now [pauses] I get a lot of scripts, but they don't offer multidimensional characters. There's a tendency to stereotype older women. You know, take the character that I played in "Monster-in-Law," but make her less funny, but equally bitchy and unpleasant -- a lot of those kind of parts. The evil grandmother, stepmother, whatever -- the older woman. And I don't want to do that. Or, they're dour and I don't want to do that. So, you know, if it has something to say or something to show about life or about a character or if it's funny. Or, like this movie, I like movies where you laugh and cry. Then, I take it.
Again, your character is a war protester. What's your opinion of the Occupy movement?
Right on! I say right on! It's an important, wonderful movement. It doesn't fit the mold.
Is that what you like about it? That it doesn't fit the mold?
I think that's what allows it to be successful in its own way. Because it has no leader; it has no set of rules. But, the values are good and it makes a difference. And I say right on.
Your point about not having a leader is interesting.
It limits the range if there's a leader. This can occupy a big space on a lot of different areas, but the core value is, "What about democracy?" It's about democracy and against greed.
You mentioned Ted Turner and the time period that you weren't making movies. Were you offered anything in that time that you regret not taking?
That I wish I had done? No. I don't have one regret.
Were you offered anything that wound up doing really well?
No. No, I got offers, but none of them did well and I don't regret not doing them. And even if they had done well -- I didn't miss it for a minute.
Why didn't you miss it? As an outsider looking in, it seemed like such a big part of you.
See, in my life, you know, it's never been necessarily the center of my life. I've always had many, many different parts to my life. And I was very, very unhappy as a woman. My second marriage was failing. I found it very painful to go to work and to be creative. So I said, "So why am I doing this?" I bought land in New Mexico, I was going to move there and be a full time activist. And just as I did that -- the land was literally in escrow -- Ted Turner sailed into my life. And I fell in love and then I didn't have to work. I didn't quit because of him, but it worked out very well. And over the course of those ten years, and in the course of writing my memoirs, I changed a lot. And I realized I could go back to movie acting and find joy in that. Or theater, because I did theater.
Your first movie back was "Monster-in-Law." Why that movie? And that's nothing against "Monster-in-Law," but a lot of actors in that position would want to return in something grandiose or epic.
It was the smartest move I ever made. I have not been strategic, at all, career wise. That was a purely genius strategy. I knew it was a part that I could nail, even though I had never played anyone like her before. I knew that it would be successful and that young people would come to see the movie because of Jennifer Lopez. But they would discover Jane Fonda. And my part was better than hers. And it became the number one movie in the country for awhile. I'll walk down the street and if I see a group of young people -- young girls, for example -- and they recognize me and they start getting excited and come up to me, it's all about "Monster-in-Law." Forget "Julia," "Klute" or "'Coming Home" or "On Golden Pond"; it's all "Monster-in-Law." Some of them say, "I've seen it 15 times," or, "It's the movie I watch when I'm depressed." It's a hugely popular movie. It's a good movie to come back with.
That does make sense.
And I'm a different person. Someone who saw "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" the other day said, "Jane always played the kind of wound up, tight person who needed to be loosened up." Whether it was in "9 to 5" or in "Coming Home," or in a lot of those movies. And now I'm the one who's loose. And I'm loosening other people up. And that's kind of how it is in life, too.
In the '80s, was it ever odd for you to hear a Duran Duran song?
I've always wondered, because they were extremely popular and their name comes from "Barbarella."
Oh, I know. I know them. I know John Taylor. No, I know all about it, yeah. I've talked to John about it. I mean, he's a great guy. And his wife founded Juicy Couture and it was pretty interesting.
Did you see "Bridesmaids"?
I feel "9 to 5" did a lot of the things that "Bridesmaids," deservedly, gets credit for, only 31 years before.
Well, I loved "Bridesmaids." "9 to 5" was a much more culturally important movie, because it was inspired by the movement of office workers. And Dolly's song became the anthem of the movement. And it really altered the face of the struggle for female office workers to have their issues seen and heard. So, it was a very important movie, from that point of view.
"Bridesmaids" gets a lot of credit or being a "non-romantic comedy" comedy that features women in the lead roles. Why doesn't "9 to 5" get mentioned for that, too?
Yeah, sure. I didn't feel jealous or anything. People are just short-sighted. They forget their history, except someone like you.
You produced the television spinoff of "9 to 5," too. Were you happy with that? Do you wish you had done a theatrical sequel instead?
Well, we always wanted to do a sequel. But Fox bought it and they weren't interested in it. I think Jada Pinkett-Smith wanted to do it and it never happened. With the television series, I was real busy doing other things right then and I didn't pay too much attention to it. So, I'm not too sure exactly why it didn't work. I don't know what it was, but it didn't work.
Speaking of television, you have "The Newsroom" coming up.
Oh, God, a fantastic series. I'm so proud to be in it.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel you have some inside knowledge of the inner workings of a newsroom.
Well, I do. Being with Ted for ten years, it helps me feel very comfortable in that environment. I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like -- it doesn't intimidate me. So, it did help. Even though my character is not like Ted -- or like Rupert. It's somewhere in between.
As an aside, speaking of "On Golden Pond," I was young, but I'll never forget my mother explaining to me the real-life significance of that film.
And the fact that he really was my father?
Exactly. And the relationship between the two of you. And when you had to accept the Oscar for him.
Yeah, when he died. That was a great movie. Oh, boy. A very important movie.
For so many reasons. It was the first time I learned how important movies can be.
They really do affect people's lives.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.