At almost 85, actress and activist Jane Fonda says it took her 70-something years to “become young”, and that feeling as good as she does now is something of a miracle.
Ahead of her new role in an animated movie, Fonda speaks exclusively with Stellar about what her late, lauded father taught her about life and regret on his deathbed, why she has never truly felt like a classic Hollywood icon, and her rubber-band trick for treating heartbreak.
You recently said, “I am younger now [at age 84] than I was in my 20s”. How do you stay young?
I don’t think that it’s true of everyone, frankly. How we are in our 20s – at least in the first part of our lives, before we understand that we can actually put an oar in the water and steer our life in a different direction, if we so choose… until I got to that point in my life, I was lost, I didn’t know what to do or who I wanted to be. I was very unhappy and I felt old and didn’t feel like I would live for very long. So to be almost 85 years old and to feel like I do now is a miracle to me. I have been very intentional in trying to … make myself a better person, make my life have more meaning. [The artist] Picasso once said, “It takes a long time to become young” and that’s sure true for me. It took 70-something years for me to become young.
When you say “become young”, what do you mean?
Young, [as in] light, not feeling a great burden on my shoulders. Learning how to be present, learning how to accept what comes, learning that we don’t have any control… something bad will happen, been there, done that and I survived. It’s much easier being older than it is being younger. It’s so hard to be young! There’s nothing but questions: “What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to know? Don’t give up, keep going and try to learn from all this, so when you get a little older, you can get more agency over your life.
You’ve spoken previously about not living a life of regrets. How have you influenced your decisions in Hollywood – and your life?
when my father [the late actor, Henry Fonda] was ill, it took him a long time to die. I would sit by his bedside of him. He didn’t speak much when he was young and healthy, and you don’t change when you’re on your deathbed. What I realized [was] he was going to die with regrets, when it was too late to do anything about it. It’s not the dying that I am scared of, it’s the coming to the end of life with a lot of regrets when it’s too late to do anything.
And that came to me at about the age of 60, so I thought, “All right, that means you have to live now until the end of your life in a way that will minimize the regrets and to go out feeling pretty OK about what you’ve done.” Regrets are usually about what you didn’t do … rather than the things you did. I am trying to do what I feel needs to be done before the end, right now, in my life.
You’ve been married three times and previously stated: “Part of the reason I get into a relationship with a man is that I feel he can take me down a new path”. How do you reflect on the defining relationships of your life?
Well, all of my three husbands definitely took me down paths that I probably would not have gone down had I not married them. And then, in between the marriages, I have had boyfriends that didn’t take me down any new paths, that really had nothing to teach me, and I got bored pretty fast. I feel like I needed to always be learning and growing and expanding, and my husbands have all helped me do that.
What is your advice for dealing with heartbreak?
Put a rubber band around your wrist and when you get really angry or sad, snap it. That sudden pain, it changes the neural pathways in your brain, and will help you kind of come out of it for a minute. Then, write him a letter, pour your thoughts out – but don’t send it.
Years from now, you’ll read it and be amazed at how different you are when you read it, than the time you wrote it.
Between projects, such as the 1968 movie Barbarella and Netflix series Grace and Frankie, and now your voice role in new animated film Luck, on Apple TV+, you’ve had incredible longevity and diversity in your acting career, and you’ve won two Oscars for Best Actress. What has your experience been as a woman working in Hollywood?
I’ve never felt part of Hollywood, really. I mean, I know it sounds strange to say that because my father was a movie star, Henry Fonda, but he was not really part of Hollywood. I didn’t go to Hollywood parties much. I mean he did, sometimes. It was not a life that was totally focused on glamor and Hollywood. My life has never been, either. Most of my friends are activists and not involved in Hollywood. I have plowed ahead, even when it looked like my career would be over. I just try to stay relevant, I guess.
You’re the voice of Babe, The Dragon, in Luck. What drew you to the role?
She is the president of the Kingdom of Luck, where they create luck. Human beings are not allowed there because it’s thought they’ll bring bad luck with them. It’s a story about a young girl named Sam, who is in the foster care system and who has nothing but bad luck. With the help of some of the creatures in the kingdom, she manages to get in and teaches the dragon that bad luck is really the other side of the coin of good luck, that the two go together. That good luck doesn’t mean anything without bad luck, and vice versa. It’s like, life doesn’t have meaning without death.
The climate crisis is the main subject of your activism, as founder of the Jane Fonda Climate PAC (Political Action Committee). What is your message to lawmakers – in the US and globally – about the state of the environment?
I have to say, the people of Australia understand the climate crisis better than most. I mean, boy, you just can’t catch a break with the fires and flooding. We have to look at what the scientists say. We have to cut our fossil fuel emissions – the pollution that happens when we
burn coal and gas – in half by 2030. In the US, that’s four election cycles. That’s a very short period of time. It’s a massive challenge that requires not just laws and policies to be passed, but a new way of thinking. Think about nature differently, think about our responsibility – this is particularly true in the United States, stop thinking about me, me, me. It’s pretty scary and we don’t have a lot of time. We have to do everything we can, all of us.
Luck is now streaming exclusively on Apple TV+