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Jane Fonda's lesson: ‘Embody your values’

New book brings reflection, and a return to public eye
/ Source: Reuters

She’s back with a tell-all autobiography that has critics raving over its frankness and with a new movie in which she finally gets to do something she seldom did in her Hollywood heyday -- have fun by overacting.

It’s springtime for Jane Fonda. After more than a decade pretty much out of the public eye, the 67-year-old Oscar-winning actress has resurfaced to plug the book and a new movie and is receiving the same mix of adulation and outcry that used to dog every step of her very public life.

Fonda’s autobiography “My Life So Far” describes in blunt and painful detail how she made herself over to please her late father, actor Henry Fonda, and three husbands. She talks of arranging sexual threesomes for her first husband, French director Roger Vadim, of a 20-year battle against bulimia and of a few regrets about her highly publicized trip to Hanoi to oppose the Vietnam war.

As letters to newspapers and calls to radio shows have shown over the past few weeks, Fonda remains a lightning rod for controversy. But she says she now understands and accepts her role as an immutable American icon.

“I have to take responsibility for the fact that I represent something to people that is beyond me,” Fonda told a small group of reporters in an interview to discuss ”Monster-in-Law,” in which she plays Jennifer Lopez’ fire-breathing mother-in-law.

“I represent a movement. I represent a set of values. I have to own that and I have to live that ... to not disappoint myself. You have to embody your values.”

'You just plow ahead'“I can’t stand complainers,” she added. “If you commit yourself to being in the public eye with all the perks, the least you can do is take the ups and downs.”

“One thing I have learned the hard way is, it ain’t gonna kill you,” she added. “You just plow ahead, and if you’re a decent person, people will know it.”

“Everything that is in my book is in it for a reason,” she said. “In order to know where I’ve come from to arrive at 67 years old and feeling like it’s the beginning, you have to know the extent to which I have betrayed myself.”

“I so thought that I wasn’t good enough that I was willing to leave myself at the door to please the men in my life,” Fonda said. “And I can’t just say that theoretically. I have to say what that meant in a tangible way.”

While publicizing “Monster-In-Law,” Fonda said she never intended to return to acting after her 1990 film, “Stanley & Iris.” She stopped acting, in part, because her third husband, billionaire Ted Turner whom she divorced in 2001, asked her to quit.

“I was really miserable acting for the last few films I did. I was scared every day going to work ... and then I met Ted Turner and I could quit,” Fonda said.

“I am a really different person today and I was curious to know whether I could re-experience joy in acting.”

Jane, meet JenniferShe was attracted to “Monster-In-Law,” a romantic comedy directed by “Legally Blond” director Robert Luketic, because of the broad physical comedy required for her portrayal of neurotic news anchor Viola Fields.

“This character came along and I thought, ’Wow, wouldn’t that be fun to play over the top?” she said.

Fonda said she was relieved to find that Lopez, 35, was nothing like her tabloid reputation.

“I was a little bit worried because I didn’t know whether she would be a diva or not but ... she’s smart and that matters,” Fonda said. “She’s professional. She showed up on time and she knew what to do.”

Fonda did not rule out more film work “from time to time ... if it was fun,” but said her priorities were her family and her work helping young women rediscover their self-esteem.

“Acting is something I have done and that I hope to do again but it is not who I am,” she said. “I have had a very rich life so I am not looking to rebuild a career again.”

For her part, Lopez said she “had a lot of fun” working with Fonda after overcoming initial trepidation.

“I can stand on my own but you do get the butterflies when Jane Fonda walks in the room, you can’t help it ...,” Lopez said.

She said she asked Fonda how to go about becoming involved in politics if the inclination should strike. “She said there is a time and a way to do things,” Lopez said. “She said when you’re ready ... call me and I’ll tell you what’s right and what’s wrong so you don’t get yourself in trouble.”