Jane Fonda didn’t start working out until she was in her 40s, calls yoga pants her favourite fashion staple, channels Gwen Stefani on the red carpet and is about to make major headlines with a dramatic move. At least, so she says.
The legendary actress and political activist got candid at Toronto’s Hotel X on Wednesday, September 11 for “A Conversation with Jane Fonda,” presented by L’Oreal Paris with host CTV’s Marilyn Denis, as part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Not one to shy away from controversial subject matter, no topic was off-limits for Fonda during this entertaining and engaging conversation, from social activism and her opinions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to her sex life (or, apparently, lack thereof) and thoughts on entering her “last act.”
At 81-years-old, L’Oreal Paris Ambassador Fonda retains her decades-long status as a leading actress with her current role on the hit Netflix series Grace and Frankie – which is currently in its sixth season – and is as alluring as one would expect in person. She’s as sassy, witty and opinionated as she’s ever been, traits that balance nicely with her sense of grace and gratitude. “Just going through the studio gates every day when you’re 82 and having a steady job, I feel so blessed,” says Fonda, who doesn’t actually turn the big 8-2 until December. “It helps me [to say I’m older]; once I hit 82, I’ll have already gotten there.”
Speaking of age, the icon – who famously released a series of industry-changing workout tapes to fund she and late ex-husband Tom Hayden’s Campaign for International Democracy – revealed that she didn’t jump on the fitness bandwagon until she was in her 40s. Four decades later, the early riser works out daily with a trainer who specializes in older people. Doing so, she says, is essential as you age when it comes to things like “looking behind you when you’re driving to look over your shoulder,” “getting into and out of an SUV” and – naturally – “making love.” The last comment not only prompted laughs from the audience, but for Denis to wittily ask whether she was seeing anyone. “No! I don’t even know what I’m talking about; that’s a thing of the past,” Fonda swiftly replied.
Fonda has been married three times, but called Ted Turner “her favourite ex husband.” Like many of us, she admits that she has been guilty of losing herself in relationships. “They say you fall in love. Well, that image – just think, you fall into love – no, we should walk on our own two feet into a relationship with somebody who is walking toward us on their own two feet,” says Fonda. “The problem is that women who grew up when I did weren’t supposed to be standing on their own two feet, and men would be too scared to walk on their own two feet toward a woman who was standing on her own two feet; they wanted women on their knees [laughs].”
Fonda has learned a thing or two from her multiple visits to the altar. “If you wait long enough, you’ll see that you were at least half responsible,” she says. “You have to own your responsibility, then you can forgive the other person.” This distinctively confident wisdom that comes with age resonates throughout the conversation. Fonda acknowledges the angst-ridden plight of today’s young people. “My advice for young people is to know you’re not alone. It is hard, and that’s normal,” she says. “For girls, it’s important to say ‘no’ as it’s a complete sentence; it took me to 60 years to know that.” It wasn’t until the age of 60 – when Fonda realized she was on her “last act” – that taking a deep dive into her life became important.
“If you get to the end and you haven’t figure it out, you’re going to die with all kinds of regrets,” says Fonda. “So, I figured, ‘I have to know how to move forward in this last act, and in order to, I need to know where I had been.’ We don’t want to be like Christopher Columbus, who didn’t know where he was going when he left; didn’t know where he was when he got there and didn’t know where he had been when he got back.”
So, between the ages of 59 and 60, she studied herself like she “was an archeologist” – something she admits was easier for her than others thanks to years of interview footage, photos and articles. “Then there was the 23,000 pages of FBI files on me, so in case I forgot anything I could read that,” she jokes, making light of her war with the FBI, who wasn’t a fan of her radical (and highly controversial) political activism. “By the time I reached my 60th birthday I kind of discovered I had been brave and was deserving of love and respect, and that there were certain things I needed to accomplish before I died.” These involved “showing up more for her children,” “learning how to forgive” and “asking for forgiveness.” It isn’t dying she’s scared of; it’s dying with regrets.
On a lighter note, when discussing her famous films, Fonda called taking her role in Monster in Law the most strategic thing she has ever done professionally. “I got the script and it was not a good script, but Jennifer Lopez was in it and I had not worked in fifteen years and I thought my part was way better than hers – I don’t know why she even accepted to do it – and I thought ‘I’ll do it, I’ll make the script better,’ and we brought in a writer and created a really good role. But I said, ‘people will come to see the movie because of Jennifer Lopez, but they’ll discover – or rediscover – Jane Fonda.’”
Of course, Lopez is far from the first icon that Fonda has shared screen time with (including her famous father, Henry Fonda). In particular, she opened up about Hollywood icon Katharine Hepburn, who she starred alongside in 1981’s On Golden Pond. “She was nominated and she won,” said Fonda of Hepburn’s Oscar win for the film. “Now – she was so competitive – I didn’t realize. I already had two Oscars she had three. I was also nominated for On Golden Pond. If I had won and she hadn’t, we would be tied at three. Well, I didn’t win and she won, I would have two and she would have four. Well, I didn’t win and she did. When I called her to congratulate her the next day, she said ‘You’ll never catch me now.’”
In addition to her long list of storied characters, Fonda remains as well known for her leading role as an outspoken political activist. She references the climate crisis more than once and believes that the unity of women to inspire meaningful change on this front – now, more so than ever. “I grew up in a time when the thinking was that women were like cats; competing with one another, knocking each other down,” she notes, contrasting today’s climate.
Fonda urged the audience to pressure Canadian politicians to make the right choices when it comes to the environment and their treatment of Indigenous people, calling out Trudeau in particular. “Force Trudeau to stop it with the pipelines; get him to stick with what he said at the Paris Climate Summit,” she said. “Get him to be a true environmentalist. Get him to support Indigenous people here. Force him to live up to his words. Otherwise, we should never trust a cute liberal again!” Well said, Jane, well said.
As for her next steps, Fonda hinted that she was about to do something dramatic and headline making – something that involves leaving her leaving her dog behind and relocating to Washington, D.C. “You’ll read about it in the paper; you’ll see what I’m doing,” said Fonda. Frankly, I can’t wait. In the meantime, the next time I order a vodka martini with an olive – her favourite drink – I’ll think of Jane Fonda.