Jane Fonda Talking Pictures


Jane Fonda

As double-Oscar winner Jane Fonda approaches her 80th birthday, a look back at the life of one of Hollywood's most successful and controversial actresses.


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When Jane Fonda was planning a home movie that summed up her

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life for her 60th birthday,

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one of her daughters told her,

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why not just film a chameleon.

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Ha! You can see her point.

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A career spanning six decades has seen Jane changing from sex kitten,

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to political activist, to successful producer,

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to queen of the fitness video.

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On the way she picked up two

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Oscars and became the most divisive figure in Hollywood,

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admired for her acting but loathed by many Americans for her

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outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War.

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Throughout all this, were the pressures

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and privileges that came with her famous family name.

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Was that good news for you in terms of your career, because the

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name Fonda got you started, or was it also a bit of a curse?

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Well, on a scale of 1 to 10, it's 9% good and 1% bad.

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Especially over the last 50 years, the competition is very heavy

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when it comes to trying to make it in the movie business.

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There's a talented and competitive field

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so anything that allows you to kind of stand above the others

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and have people take notice of you,

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which having a famous parent does, is all to the good.

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It can get you in the door.

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It doesn't keep you there, you have to have talent to keep you there.

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The only 1% negative would be, there's always

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the tendency, subjectively,

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to feel, "I've only got this because I'm Henry Fonda's daughter."

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So how I coped with that is I worked extra hard.

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Instead of going to one class a week at the Actors Studio,

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I'd go to four. I'd do five scenes instead of three

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so that I could always...

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I knew at least inside me that I wasn't a dilettante.

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Jane always said she had no intention of following in her

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father's footsteps and dreamt of being a writer or a painter.

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But then encouragement from outside the family set her on a career

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path that to everyone else looked inevitable.

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I was out here with my father one summer and

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Lee Strasberg, who was the founder of the Actors Studio which

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brought the Stanislavski method to America...

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It was the method, it was what trained Marlon Brando

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and Montgomery Clift and all those.

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He was the head of the Actors Studio.

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He was out here with Marilyn Monroe, working with her

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on Some Like It Hot.

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His daughter said to me, "You should be in Lee's classes."

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I said, "I'm not an actor." She said, "You should be."

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Finally she convinced me to be interviewed by him.

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I'll never forget. He told me later...

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He said, "What I saw was this very proper, repressed, uptight,

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"middle-class young woman

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"and the only giveaway was my eyes."

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He said, "Your eyes were filled with fear and vulnerability

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"and that's why I decided to take you."

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So I went back to New York and I began studying with him.

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You've got to understand, I'm living with my father,

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my father hates acting school.

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My father still believes people should do it the way he did.

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It was actually the right move for me to go to school,

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but it was an act of rebellion and a personal threat against him.

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He was very, very angry with me for doing this.

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So here I was, leaving his home, going to study, coming back,

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practising my sense memory exercises in front of him with him

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glaring at me.

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Eventually my turn came to do a scene.

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Scared to death, and when it was over Lee just sat there.

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And he looked at me. And he said to me, "You have real talent."

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And with those words, my whole life changed. Literally. I'm not kidding.

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It was like the roof came off my head. It was like the sun came out.

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It wasn't my father, because I'd been in some plays

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with him, but he was my father, he had to tell me I was good.

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This man who has seen all these people go by told me I was talented.

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Well, that was the beginning of the end.

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I mean, I suddenly knew what I wanted.

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I just needed that encouragement.

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Jane's biggest early successes came in the

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'60s with Cat Ballou and Barefoot In The Park,

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which both earned her praise

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and award nominations for her comedy skills.

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Thank you, Mr Dooley.

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Next time you're in New York just call me up.

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Towards the end of the decade, Jane moved to France

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and married the director, Roger Vadim.

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He had helped turn Brigitte Bardot into an international sex

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symbol and pretty much did the same for Jane,

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when she appeared in his sci-fi fantasy, Barbarella.

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But the film's release coincided with her first big

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transformation. In cinemas, she was

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writhing around in zero gravity.

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In interviews, she was sometimes

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struggling awkwardly to

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explain how that tallied with her political awakening as a feminist.

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One of the objectives of the Women's Liberation Movement is to

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attack the position of women as what they call sex objects.

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Now, that is exactly what you have been in many of your films,

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Barbarella for example.

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Does your new attitude mean that you will no longer appear in

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motion pictures of that kind?

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Yeah. I-I will not be making films like that any more. I had never...

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I wasn't really aware of...

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..of male chauvinism and of myself as being...

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Aren't you married to a male chauvinist?

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-I would've thought that Vadim was...

-I think that all men

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are male chauvinists and... Poor dears,

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not because they mean to be but

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because that's the way we've all been educated.

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Women have always allowed themselves to be put into a subordinate

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position. That's just, I mean,

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for centuries that's the way we have been educated and raised.

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But surely Roger Vadim is a male chauvinist par excellence?

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No, no. Oh, no.

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Not really. He... It would seem that way but in fact it's not...

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I would say he is no more guilty of male chauvinism than most men

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that I know.

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My God, he made Bardot into a sex symbol,

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he made you into a sex symbol.

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Yeah, well, I'm talking about the way one relates on a personal

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level, on a day-to-day life.

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Vadim was the first of Jane's three husbands,

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but the most important man in her life was always her father, Henry,

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one of America's favourite sons and along with a few friends,

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genuine Hollywood royalty.

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And your father was a big star, did you see much of him?

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-Wasn't he away working all the time?

-He was away at war, mostly.

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That was the growing up, was losing him at the beginning of the war and

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getting him back when the war ended.

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He was gone almost the entire time in the navy, in the Pacific.

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But before that, he was at home a lot,

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but he would become different people.

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He'd be a swashbuckler for three months.

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In those days it took less time to make a movie.

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He could make four movies in a year.

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He'd be a western cowboy and then suddenly be a very elegant businessman.

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But of course we took it for granted, we didn't think it

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was strange, because everybody else's father did the same thing.

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-They were all actors too?

-But he brought it home.

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His best friends were Ward Bond and John Wayne and John Ford,

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with a patch on his eye.

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They would play a game, I can't even remember,

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it was a very strange card game.

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They would wear pistols and holsters and they would come

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sit around this big round table, you know, with their pistols.

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They would take the pistols out and put it on the table and play this game.

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The guys. The guys with their beer.

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It all ended when the McCarthy hearings started.

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They stopped speaking to each other but...

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Dad's best friend was Jimmy Stewart.

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They became friends when they were struggling

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and literally starving actors in New York.

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They lived together,

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lived on rice for about a year from what I can understand.

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So when they both made it and came to California, Jimmy, who was

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a bachelor forever, lived in our, we had a little kind of playhouse.

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He lived there when he would come back from the war.

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He was in the air force and he would come back at Christmas.

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He would be Santa Claus, although at the time I didn't know that.

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I remember Dad would put bells on Jimmy's feet

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and Jimmy would run across the roof, clomp, clomp, clomp.

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We would think it was Santa Claus coming.

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Your father was, all his life, a sort of presidential,

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magisterial figure. He had this great command.

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In a way, because he was very remote, very shy, very quiet,

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very un-expressive.

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Not entirely like the character in On Golden Pond but somewhat similar.

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You never could quite get enough of what you wanted.

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There was no bouncing on the knees and very little expression of...

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A very elusive kind of a character.

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So, a child, I adored him, I worshipped him and I created

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a monument, presidential if you will, but definitely out of reach.

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It was a challenge.

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I think until I was well into my 30s, I would somehow judge

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everything I did according to what he would think of it.

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Despite the need to please her father,

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Jane was definitely not interested in acquiring his presidential status.

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By the early '70s, she was defiantly campaigning

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against the Vietnam War, despite the fact her actions turned many people

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against her and could potentially have ruined her acting career.

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I think you're right, I think I am different.

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Changes don't...happen overnight.

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It's over a period of years, particularly the last two years,

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I've been turning my eyes outward

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and becoming more aware of what is happening around me.

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Partly because of myself and partly

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because of what is happening around me.

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I grew up in the '50s,

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I was a student of the '50s when it was pretty easy for a white,

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middle-class girl, privileged girl as I was and am,

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to think that things were all right, that America was working,

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that we live in a viable democratic system.

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So anyway,

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what I'm saying is that I became...

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Particularly over the last year and a half, I've become aware

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of people who are less fortunate than I, of what the system is doing

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to us here in America, all over the world, but particularly in America.

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Tell me this, do you think that this new interest of yours

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in civil rights is going to damage your career as an actress?

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No, I don't think so.

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This isn't the McCarthy period. It may damage my life.

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In the McCarthy period, people just lost their jobs.

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Today people are, you know, are being put in jail and killed

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and shot and all kinds of things that are much more serious.

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I don't think that my career is going to be hurt.

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We may all end up in jail one day, the way things are going.

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Has the FBI shown any interest in your activities, personally?

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Yes, of course.

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The FBI has been to see my husband, my brother and my father

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and, you know, that's to be expected.

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You say this, these activities of yours, you don't

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think they endanger your professional career and yet,

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let me put it like this, if it came to a decision

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between your career and your civil rights work, which would come first?

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I know that's a very hard question because it would depend

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on the circumstances, but let's put it like this,

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if it was a question of doing something you felt you should

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do, which might mean going to jail

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and going to jail might mean you wouldn't do the picture

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which you are signed to do, would you go to jail?

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I'm not doing anything for which I can...

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actually go to jail for.

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Today in America, anyone who's doing anything involving root

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changes in this country can go to jail.

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-Right.

-And so,

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I...I cannot stop doing what I am doing.

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I am involved in things because I know that without that

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involvement on the part of everyone, there will be no world any more.

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-Let me put it like this...

-Nowhere, and so, erm...

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To be safe today in America it means you have to be Bob Hope,

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if you are an actor, or you have to do nothing at all.

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I don't think that's a viable way of living, I don't think that

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anyone can live that way today when things are so crucial.

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So it may mean I go to jail, I will certainly be in good company

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if that happens.

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Jane's choices around this time reflected her more serious

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take on life.

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Gone was any sign of light comedy,

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replaced by intense dramas,

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like the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?,

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which earned her first Oscar nomination.

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I wanted to shed the Barbarella armament, whatever.

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It was the first time I was really taken seriously as a dramatic

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actress. The world was changing. I had experienced 1968.

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This was the first time in my life that

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I was asked to do a movie that was about society,

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that was a critique of American society, it had something to say.

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It was right after that that I became an activist.

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When Jane failed to win the Oscar, there was speculation that

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her recent arrest on the military base had cost her the award.

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If that had been the case,

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the Academy had clearly forgiven her two years later

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when she won the Best Actress award for her role in the thriller

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Klute. Playing a New York prostitute, she delivered what many

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felt was the best performance of her career.

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Klute was funny, you know.

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Between the time I accepted to do Klute

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and when I actually did it, I began to identify myself as a feminist.

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I began to think, "I can't play..."

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This is part of the early women's movement, right?

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"I can't play a whore, it's not correct."

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I thought, "What am I going to do? How am I going to do this?

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"It's not appropriate for me to play a whore."

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Finally, one of my wiser feminist friends said,

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"All you have to do is make her real.

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"All you have to do is really show all the different layers that

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"make up a woman who does this." And so, I did.

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I thought I was able to bring something to the performance

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that I would not have brought if I had not been a feminist.

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In Klute, for example, the scene when I am finally face-to-face with

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the guy that's going to kill me the way he killed my girlfriend and...

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He plays a tape recording of her voice as he is getting ready

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to kill her and she begins to realise that she's going to

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be killed and I'll never forget it because I didn't plan anything,

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I didn't plan what I was going to do.

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I know what I would normally have done, I would have played "fear".

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That's what you play, you're going to be killed, you realise this is

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the guy that's going to kill me and you play "fear".

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I listened to the tape recording and I listened to her

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voice and something completely different happened to me.

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-TAPE RECORDING:

-Nothing is going to happen.

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OK.

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Why don't you... Why don't you make yourself comfortable?

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-Why don't you...

-I am perfectly comfortable.

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Just put your head down.

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You have such lovely, long, blonde hair.

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Turn your head. Like that.

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SHE SCREAMS

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SCREAMING CONTINUES

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I heard her voice and I began to think of all of the women

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that had been hurt by men, all of the women that have been

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victims of sexual violence because of men.

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I thought about it and reacted to it in a very, very different

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way because of the different feelings that I had,

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the empathy I had for women had come

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through my understanding of feminism, and I wept.

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I think it's one of the strongest scenes I've ever done

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because it's very unexpected.

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It also impressed the man whose opinion of her mattered most.

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-I am in awe.

-Really?

-I am awe of both of them.

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Jane, not only is one of the most incredible actresses I've

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ever seen, and I have to say that I am not surprised

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because I saw her do things early before she committed herself.

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I thought if she ever does want to, she is going to make it.

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But when I saw Klute, as an example, I couldn't wait to sit

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and talk to her.

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This is not a father-daughter, this is actor-actor.

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Where did it come from? How did that happen? Do you know?

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We are talking actor talk and when I realise that the scene that

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had knocked me out was an improvisation,

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which I couldn't do if I was paid money to do it, I just can't.

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I have to have the written word and a director to help me a lot.

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They got to this scene and the director knew what he wanted

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but it wasn't written.

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He talked to Jane about it, she said, "Just give me a moment."

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And this came out of improvisation and just tore you apart.

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Anyway, she is not only this incredible actress,

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but she is the activist that you note her to be.

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And I'm in nothing but sympathy with her.

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You are proud of that part of her?

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-Yeah, part of it, only in as much as I am in sympathy.

-Yes.

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It's not in me to be an activist.

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Just in my make up, I'm not, she's extrovert and I am very introvert.

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It's impossible, it would be impossible for me to get up,

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as much as my heart may be full and my head full of cause, to

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face an audience in my character to talk about it, I couldn't do that.

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-I am in awe that she does, to five people or 5,000 people.

-Mm-hm.

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And is good at it and feels deeply.

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That interview came three years after Jane's notorious visit

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to North Vietnam, where she caused outrage amongst many

0:20:010:20:05

Americans by having her photograph taken whilst laughing

0:20:050:20:10

and sitting on a Vietcong anti-aircraft gun.

0:20:100:20:13

The incident earned her the name of Hanoi Jane

0:20:130:20:18

and even years later, some have never forgiven her.

0:20:180:20:22

Jane later claimed she was set up for propaganda reasons.

0:20:240:20:29

But still called it a lapse of sanity that she will

0:20:290:20:33

apologise for her whole life.

0:20:330:20:36

The 1978 film Coming Home made some amends.

0:20:370:20:42

It looked at the plight of servicemen returning from Vietnam.

0:20:420:20:46

It was the first film made by Jane's own company.

0:20:460:20:50

It earned her a second Best Actress Oscar,

0:20:500:20:54

but, more importantly for her, won praise from many soldiers who

0:20:540:20:59

had been left severely injured by the conflict.

0:20:590:21:03

The following year, The China Syndrome was another hit,

0:21:040:21:08

proving again it was a time

0:21:080:21:10

when serious drama could do well at the box office.

0:21:100:21:14

Was the public in any danger at any time as a result

0:21:140:21:18

of the accident?

0:21:180:21:19

I'm using that word very deliberately because

0:21:190:21:21

I think that a good investigative reporter would do that.

0:21:210:21:24

But Jane's next political picture ended up becoming

0:21:240:21:29

one of the era's best-loved

0:21:290:21:30

and most successful comedies. 9 To 5.

0:21:300:21:36

Violet, we're not criminals, you're not a criminal. It was an accident.

0:21:360:21:41

Well, we're criminals now, we've just stolen

0:21:410:21:43

a corpse from a hospital, that sounds like criminal to me.

0:21:430:21:46

We'll take it back, we'll just turn around and take it back.

0:21:460:21:49

We'll get caught if we go back now.

0:21:490:21:52

You think they are going to listen to us?

0:21:520:21:53

Would you two stop arguing

0:21:530:21:55

and think about where we can lay hands on some cement?

0:21:550:21:57

CAR HORNS BEEP TYRES SCREECH

0:21:570:22:00

It grew out of my understanding of the predicament of secretaries

0:22:000:22:05

and wanting to show their situation and how difficult it was.

0:22:050:22:10

I started out making a serious film,

0:22:100:22:13

but then one night I went to see Lily Tomlin in her one-woman show.

0:22:130:22:17

I was smitten.

0:22:170:22:19

Oh, my God, the talent,

0:22:190:22:20

and I thought, "She's got to be one of the secretaries."

0:22:200:22:24

And as... This is true.

0:22:240:22:27

As I was driving home from the theatre, I turned on the radio

0:22:270:22:31

and it was Dolly Parton singing Two Doors Down, bingo.

0:22:310:22:35

I thought, wow, Jane, Lily and Dolly.

0:22:350:22:37

But it's going to have to be a comedy!

0:22:370:22:40

After toppling the boss in 9 To 5, came On Golden Pond,

0:22:400:22:46

a labour of love for the man she'd always looked up to.

0:22:460:22:50

Previously a play, Jane bought the rights

0:22:500:22:54

because its depiction of a troubled father-daughter relationship

0:22:540:22:59

echoed that of her own and her father, Henry.

0:22:590:23:03

-Ha!

-What I'd like to know is why you enjoy playing games?

-Huh?

0:23:030:23:08

You seem to like beating people, I wonder why?

0:23:080:23:11

You get another chance, Bill, another roll of the dice.

0:23:180:23:22

APPLAUSE

0:23:230:23:24

Was that a bit like it was with your father?

0:23:240:23:28

Yeah, but it happened a couple of years before the movie.

0:23:280:23:32

By the time we got to the movie we'd become friends.

0:23:320:23:34

But it was a very interesting experience.

0:23:340:23:37

Here, I was the producer, I put it together for him

0:23:370:23:40

and I'd won two Academy Awards and I still,

0:23:400:23:45

I went to work and I confronted him and I just felt like...

0:23:450:23:49

This is the day he's going to discover that

0:23:490:23:52

I don't really have talent, that it was all a mistake

0:23:520:23:55

and he's going to judge me, the way I always felt judged.

0:23:550:23:58

You know, do we ever own our successes?

0:23:580:24:02

I felt like I am condemned no matter what I ever do in my life to go

0:24:020:24:05

through life feeling that I haven't quite gotten there yet.

0:24:050:24:08

-Mm.

-And...

0:24:080:24:11

And yet it was wonderful.

0:24:130:24:15

It was really a very, very moving experience

0:24:150:24:18

and what I found was someone who was still willing to just bear their

0:24:180:24:22

soul and expose everything and be vulnerable and be scared

0:24:220:24:26

and work hard and show up on time and be kind to the crew, you know.

0:24:260:24:31

A pro is a pro. It was very, very moving.

0:24:310:24:34

On Golden Pond is often spoken of as reuniting you with your father,

0:24:340:24:39

-did you need reuniting by that stage?

-There was a scene, oh,

0:24:390:24:44

where we're, I'm...

0:24:440:24:46

They're playing Parcheesi, him and Hepburn, and I'm reading

0:24:460:24:50

a magazine and he's making fun of the fact that I don't like to play.

0:24:500:24:53

I turn around to him and say, "Why do you like to beat people so much?

0:24:530:24:56

"What is it about you that makes you want to win?"

0:24:560:24:58

It was this very brief verbal exchange of hostility

0:24:580:25:02

between the two of us. We shot his close-up first. No.

0:25:020:25:06

We shot my close-up first with all the lights in my eyes,

0:25:060:25:08

just like now.

0:25:080:25:10

I couldn't see his eyes and so I asked to have a light put on his face.

0:25:100:25:14

I said, "I need to see your eyes, Dad."

0:25:140:25:16

OK, we did my close-up, it went fine. It was his turn.

0:25:160:25:19

Just before we shot it, I said, "Is it OK, Dad, can you see my eyes?"

0:25:190:25:23

He said, "I don't need to see your eyes, I'm not that kind of actor."

0:25:230:25:27

CLIVE JAMES LAUGHS

0:25:270:25:28

I wanted to die.

0:25:280:25:30

I wanted to die.

0:25:300:25:31

I felt just like I used to feel when I was a little girl

0:25:310:25:34

and he would put me down.

0:25:340:25:35

And yet, and this is so typical of actors,

0:25:350:25:38

the other half of my brain was saying, "This is fabulous,

0:25:380:25:41

"this is exactly what he does to Chelsea, the character."

0:25:410:25:44

There's a scene when she says to my mother, "You know,

0:25:440:25:47

"I'm a grown-up woman, I have a business,

0:25:470:25:49

"I'm a professional woman, why is it I come here and I feel

0:25:490:25:53

"like a fat little girl?"

0:25:530:25:54

So it's that kind of schizophrenic experience.

0:25:540:25:57

Afterwards, the minute the scene was over,

0:25:570:25:59

Hepburn came and took me in her arms.

0:25:590:26:02

She said, "He doesn't even know who he hurt you and it's all right."

0:26:020:26:06

She said, "Tracy used to do that to me all the time.

0:26:060:26:09

"When we were doing a love scene and it was his close-up,

0:26:090:26:12

"he told me to go home, that he didn't need me there.

0:26:120:26:14

"They just don't understand."

0:26:140:26:15

I don't think I've ever grown up on Golden Pond. Do you understand?

0:26:150:26:19

-No, No, I don't think I understand.

-Doesn't matter.

0:26:210:26:25

I act like a big person everywhere else.

0:26:270:26:30

I'm in charge of Los Angeles and I come here,

0:26:320:26:35

I feel like a little fat girl.

0:26:350:26:38

That's just because your father said that.

0:26:380:26:40

On Golden Pond won her father his first Oscar,

0:26:420:26:47

which Jane collected on his behalf.

0:26:470:26:52

It was also an unexpected blockbuster

0:26:520:26:56

and arguably the last truly significant role of her career.

0:26:560:27:00

The rest of the '80s saw her focusing more on her charitable work,

0:27:000:27:06

made possible by the phenomenal success of her exercise videos,

0:27:060:27:12

and after 1990 she didn't act at all for 15 years.

0:27:120:27:17

The film that she returned for was the 2005 comedy Monster-In-Law,

0:27:170:27:24

thought by many to be a surprisingly lightweight choice,

0:27:240:27:29

but Jane had her reasons.

0:27:290:27:31

I thought, "Gosh, I wonder if I could have fun again."

0:27:310:27:34

-And I did.

-You did?

-I did, I really did.

-So you might do it again?

0:27:340:27:37

I'd like to do it a few more times, you know,

0:27:370:27:39

nobody is pounding on my door, but...

0:27:390:27:42

You know. I have other things, it's not the centre of my life

0:27:420:27:46

but I would have fun to do it again.

0:27:460:27:47

And she's been having fun in films and most notably on television.

0:27:500:27:56

In the comedy series Grace And Frankie, which reunited Jane

0:27:560:28:02

with her 9 To 5 co-star, Lily Tomlin.

0:28:020:28:05

She is still a chameleon but a calmer one,

0:28:050:28:10

looked on as a trailblazer, a role model

0:28:100:28:13

and an important actress, her history means not

0:28:130:28:17

everyone is going to love her like they seemingly loved her dad.

0:28:170:28:22

But after all these years, there is a sense Jane Fonda is now

0:28:220:28:28

someone many of us have grown very fond of.

0:28:280:28:32

As double-Oscar winner Jane Fonda approaches her 80th birthday, Sylvia Syms explores the BBC archives for a look back at the life of one of Hollywood's most successful and controversial actresses.

Interviews with the star from over the years reveal how the legacy of her father Henry has hung over her entire career, and show the journey that has taken her from 60s sex kitten, to feminist icon and political activist, to queen of the fitness video and award-winning producer.

The programme also explores how Fonda's opposition to the Vietnam war impacted on her film choices and earned her the nickname she still struggles to shake off, Hanoi Jane.


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