Georgia (and Much More) on Her Mind
"When women tell their truth," says Jane Fonda, "everything changes."
She is sitting on a sofa in a room on the fifteenth floor of the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. She is noticeably, admittedly tired, having arrived from Atlanta after midnight without any clothes or shoes but for the ones she's wearing, because the airline lost her luggage. She has done a day of interviews, no doubt with journalists eager to hear her dish about showdowns on the set with the allegedly incorrigible Lindsay Lohan, her co-star in the new Garry Marshall film Georgia Rule. She sits straight as bamboo. And in case you're wondering, she's thrilled to hear about Mickey Avalon's raunchy song, "Do the Jane Fonda."
"I'm so happy!" she says. "You know that Bob Seger song 'Her Strut'? About how she's controversial, but they love to watch her strut? And her butt? I was listening to an interview with him years after the song came out, and he admitted that I was the inspiration for it. It made me so happy."
At the age of 69, there are scores of lines around Fonda's luminous blue eyes, but none on her delicately rouged cheeks. Her candor is unexpected, her vulnerability almost jarring. When I ask her what she does to stay in shape these days -- despite a hip replacement last year, she looks marvelously fit -- Fonda mumbles something about weights and wanting to get back to yoga, then suddenly brightens.
"And sex!" she says. "Sex," she attests, "gets better as you get older. It does."
In Georgia Rule, Fonda plays Georgia, a Mormon grandmother who forces soap into the mouths of anyone who takes the Lord's name in vain, and insists meals be eaten when they're served. When her unruly granddaughter (played by Lohan) hints that she may have been sexually abused by her stepfather, it's Georgia who looks past her granddaughter's antics to divine the truth, even as her daughter, the girl's mother (Felicity Huffman), stays in denial.
"I see this woman, Georgia, as a person who lives with the pain of a dysfunctional family," says Fonda. "She's lonely and she's sad, and there's a lot of things she can't explain, like how come her daughter hasn't been to see her for thirteen years.
"The way she deals with the pain is to have rules. It gives her parameters. It gives structure and foundation to her life," says Fonda, who confessed in her autobiography that all through her brutal marriage to French film director Roger Vadim, she insisted on keeping a surpassingly tidy house.
"In the face of chaos, it's good to have rules," she says. "My character's a little anal about it, but I understand very well where she's coming from."
Fonda has said that she wrote My Life So Far not because her life was so extraordinary, but to show that, despite her fabled family origins, she suffered like the rest of us. The childhood captured so idyllically in magazines was dominated by the suicide of her mother, Frances Seymour, when Fonda was twelve. During her adolescent years, her father's ideal of perfection hounded her so relentlessly that she downed large quantities of ice cream and pastries and secretly hurled it all before it "took up residence" in her body as fat. All three of her husbands cheated on her, and she has incurred the wrath of everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to the U.S. State Department.
At 51, while married to politician Tom Hayden, she got breast implants because she feared men would cease to love her if her beauty faded.
You know within a minute of meeting Fonda that she has not exaggerated any of the stories about her battered self-esteem. But she talks politics with gusto.
"What we have [in the administration] today," she opines with more energy than anything that has come before, "is a bunch of male leaders who say, 'Come and get 'em, dead or alive!' And they're so afraid of premature evacuation, because they're afraid it will threaten their manhood.
"They're almost a caricature of patriarchy," she adds. "It's sort of like a flailing beast scrambling for cover. And like any beast, it's most dangerous when it's wounded."
Keeping a hand in the Women's Media Center, a non-profit she helped found with feminist author and activist Gloria Steinem, Fonda looks forward to a day when women will run the world -- or, if not women, then at least thoughtful and compassionate men.
"It may be that a feminist, progressive man would do better in the White House than a ventriloquist for the patriarchy with a skirt and a vagina," she allows, acknowledging that Hillary Clinton's stance on the war has so far been disappointing. "Women sometimes bend the wrong way just to prove themselves to men," she says, talking like someone who knows. "But when we learn to listen to ourselves..." She gazes out the window, gathering her thoughts. "That will be revolutionary."
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