Jane Fonda talks 'Peace, Love & Misunderstanding' and the '60s legacy
Oscar winner returns to the big screen in a multi-generational indie
From 1960 to 1989, Jane Fonda made 36 films. Since 1990, she’s only made four.
But the two time Oscar winner has been picking up the pace recently, even accepting her first recurring TV role on HBO’s upcoming Aaron Sorkin drama “The Newsroom.” First, Fonda will be back on the big screen in “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” a dramedy that follows the generational gaps between former hippie Grace (Fonda), her conservative daughter (Catherine Keener) and free-spirited granddaughter (Elizabeth Olsen).
The film premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and IFC Films will open it in limited release June 8. Hitfix took the chance to catch up with Fonda at a small roundtable discussion in Los Angeles last month.
Despite your well known political activism, you weren’t really a hippie like Grace. What parts of the character did you most relate to?
Being a grandmother. I have two grandchildren and the idea that Grace has never met her grandchildren and one of them is approaching 20 was very poignant to me. I love films that make you feel good when you come out and there’s not enough of them in my opinion these days, and I like films that make you laugh and also are emotional. And I’ve never played a character like Grace, so for all those reasons I liked it.
Grace has a circle of friends who sort of idealize the ‘60s and what they were about. Do you, in retrospect, look back on that time as being truly magical or terribly overrated?
I lived in France during the ‘60s. So my view of the ‘60s is a more global view. It was a time of tremendous transition for America but for the world as well, and it wasn’t just because of the Vietnam War or the pill --because the pill had a lot to do with it too, free sex was now possible because you could avoid getting pregnant. I’m not a sociologist so I don’t know why it was that almost everywhere in the world there was tumult but there was.
I don’t idealize it. I recognize the importance of that decade. Having one leg in the ‘50s, which I think is the much more idealized [decade] as a time when families were together and everything was well and there were only good wars; by the way, there was racism and people were supposed to fit in to tiny little stereotypes or you were an outcast. To me, the ‘50s were more glorified and continue to be more than the ‘60s. I’m old enough now so that I don’t really idealize any period.
Do you feel like any of the cultural shifts since the ‘60s have been as seismic?
I think the Internet -- the technological stuff has changed everything. Just everything. I mean, we can see it overseas even more with the Arab Spring and so forth.
You know, every decade has its own form of change. In those days it was drugs and the pill and a war and now it’s technology and globalization.
You have your own website and Twitter and you’re very involved online, how important do you feel that is for you?
Well I had never used a computer until I was 58 and I was married to Ted Turner and he flung it across the room. He still doesn’t use one. I never could have written any books if it hadn’t been for my laptop. So at 58 I got in to that and then blogging… I turned 71 and I was about to return to Broadway after 46 years and I met a guy in Atlanta who convinced me to start blogging. And I thought, ‘You know something, that might be really interesting.’
I’m saying something on my blog, getting immediate feedback; I’m going on the stage getting immediate feedback. Suddenly my life became very immediate. I was worried about blogging. I thought ‘I studied Zen Buddhism and I meditate and I believe in being in the moment and this is going to keep me from being in the moment.’ And what I discovered was that it helped me be in the moment. So when the play was over after five months I said, well, I’m going to keep doing it and I have a pretty big following now. I get a lot of answers from [the readers].
In your experience, have you noticed this phenomena that we see in this film where very progressive people’s children are much more conservative than them?
No. I was worried about my own daughter, she’s feisty. I remember, I said to her one time, ‘You’re probably going to rebel against me and you’ll become a Republican.’ And she looked at me and she said, ‘I may become a Republican, but don’t think it’ll have anything to do with you.’
Can you talk a little bit about working with Elizabeth Olsen and Catherine Keener? The film is an interesting portrayal of three generations of women, how much work did you guys have ahead of time to prepare?
We had no work ahead of time, except for the extent that we read it through once all together. Keener realized that I didn’t really know anything about hippies. So she brought me music; she just surrounded me with the music that I needed and she brought me documentaries about Woodstock, which were really important. I have a scene where I say to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, ‘My water broke and she breached when Jimi Hendrix was playing the Star Spangled Banner.’ Before the documentaries it was just dialogue, and then I saw this documentary and saw [Hendrix] play. Of course, my water broke when he was playing the Star Spangled Banner! I mean, oh, my God, how powerful that was. And [Catherine] helped me understand the context that made Grace who she was.
Elizabeth Olsen from the very first reading I thought -- she had never done a movie, very intellectual, came from Julliard -- and I thought, ‘Whoa, she’s really good.’ She had said to me, ‘You know something? I’m not really interested in movies. It’s theater that I love.’ I went and saw the rushes and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’ll last about five minutes.’ The camera just loves her. She’s going to have a long career. And nice -- everyone was nice, really. People you’d want to hang with and Bruce [Beresford, the director] is just wonderful to work with. He’s just a solid working director who really likes people.
Did you have much of a hand in creating Grace’s look? Did you work with them on the wardrobe and hair?
Bruce brought in this -- the costume designer who he’d worked with in Opera. He came from Opera! I mean, I knew right away because there’s a lot of ways to look hippie. I wanted to be regal; I wanted to look like a queen in my tie-die stuff and he knew how to do that and it was just great. And then from Glenn Close I got this great wig maker who did my wigs for Broadway and I love the hair. I just felt so good in that hair and costume. I loved it.
“Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” opens in limited release June 8
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