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Jane Fonda: More Than the Sum of her Parts

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When people say that at 74 a person is over the hill, Jane Fonda says she is looking at the next hill on the horizon. With an upcoming HBO series, her recent book Prime Time, several new movies including one in French and Bruce Beresford's Peace, Love and Misunderstanding opening this week, the hill looks more like a lush peak in the Catskills. In fact, her character lives upstate. As Grace, a pot-dealing relic of the hippie era living in Woodstock, she has a few lessons for her daughter, Diana (Catherine Keener), an uptight lawyer whose marriage is breaking up, and her grandkids, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff). At breakfast at the Regency on Monday, over a plate of watermelon, the movie icon talked to a select group of women about hair, husbands, health, films, family, friendships -- with co-star Keener joining in -- and the future.

How does your current film work fit into your third act?

I'm a grandmother with daughter issues that are resolved. As I get older I realize there is nothing more important than love. I wanted to make a movie about love and forgiveness that made you feel good when you left.

I made a French film, Et Si On Vivait Tous Ensemble, right before Peace Love and Misunderstanding. My book, Prime Time, is about aging and how important it is to countenance one's death, to realize if there wasn't death, life has no meaning. This film came along and it was right about so many of the things I was talking about, like being sexual later in life if you want to be. My character plans her death, pink casket and all.

I also play a recurring guest character in Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom on HBO, a media head in the manner of Rupert Murdoch. I play Nancy Reagan in The Butler. I have a fascinating role in Better Living Through Chemistry.

Years ago, did you envision yourself starring in a movie at 74?

Years ago I did not envision myself alive at 74. Everything is a surprise to me including that I am happier than I have ever been.

A lot has to do with Ted Turner. You don't come out of 10 years with Ted Turner unchanged. I come from a long line of depressed people. Ted is this funny, rambunctious person who could be outrageous. I learned how to laugh. Everything became lighter.

The press went crazy for your outfit in Cannes, calling you a sex symbol. Were you surprised?

I fooled them again! At this odd old age I am actually becoming more glamorous than when I was supposed to be.

Do you mean in the era of Barbarella?

Barbarella was my own hair. It needed its own agent. For Peace, Love, I loved wearing the wig. I put it on and became Grace.

Are roles for women getting better?

Things are getting better in a substantial way. It's a business and older women are the biggest growing niche. Meryl Streep movies do well. Bless her.

Referring to the moon ritual in the film, where the towns women howl at the moon, do you believe in that?

I believe as the early Christians did. The divine spirit is feminine. On 12-12-12, the Mayan calendar will tip to feminine. I called a friend of mine who is a witch. She came to teach us how to chant, "Luna, Luna." A lot of witch energy there. I don't do that but I got into it.

Could you say something about the film's anti-war politics?

People think I'm playing me. I never was a hippie. I had to go to her [points to Keener]. She's the real hippie here. She told me what music to listen to. I had to be taught how to smoke pot. I was living in France in those years, married to Roger Vadim. I didn't know too much about Woodstock but I had to say things like my water broke listening to Jimi Hendrix play "The Star Spangled Banner." She had to bring me the Woodstock documentary. Whose water wouldn't break? The Last Waltz was also a tremendous help. I was never played a hippie before, never wore tie-dye. My anti-war work was carrying a placard and organizing stuff. So this was fun.

Do you think the anti-war movement has changed?

The Occupy movement is a little like what people imagined it was but it isn't. The fact that there's Internet and tweeting has changed everything.

*****

Later that night, Peace, Love and Misunderstanding premiered at MoMA, to benefit the Women's Media Center, founded by Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. At the Royalton, a Peggy Siegal party hosted by Forevermark and the Wall Street Journal followed. Fonda with her beau, record producer Richard Perry, and Steinem sat in neighboring banquets. Yes, this is what women in their '70s look like.

And what's next? "Acting school," Fonda told New Yorker critic Hilton Als at a special screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center last night. "My instrument needs to tune up."

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.