Jane Fonda, who plays Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ upcoming movie “The Butler,” said that the former First Lady was “happy” she was playing her, and that Reagan even answered questions she sent to her in preparation for the role.
“I know that she was happy that I was doing it, and I sent some questions to her that she answered,” Fonda said on Sunday at a Q&A session after she was presented with the Los Angeles Press Club’s Visionary Award.
The choice of Fonda, a longtime champion of progressive causes, was considered a provocative casting choice by Daniels, whose movie tells the story of a butler who served eight American presidents. Alan Rickman plays President Ronald Reagan.
“It is really about the history of race, a lot of the struggles around race in our country,” Fonda said, adding that script is “magnificent.”
Fonda said that she sent Nancy Reagan questions because she wanted to make sure her portrayal was accurate.
“They had be doing something that wasn’t very nice,” Fonda said. “And I said, ‘if she really did this, I’ll do it. But if it’s made up, I don’t want to do it.’ I don’t want to take cheap shots at her, because what she was was like a chief of staff. You couldn’t get to him without going through her. She was a tremendous power broker. She was very important with them. And so I wanted to see her talking to James Baker about the need for a Russian summit, for example, so I wanted to know if she called him ‘Jim’ or ‘James,’ and put her arm through his, and things like that.”
KNBC-TV’s Robert Kovacik, who interviewed Fonda on stage, asked if she was surprised that Reagan was happy that she was in the role.
“Yes. Yes,” Fonda said, “because back when she was feisty she wasn’t nice to me. We all mellow. We all mellow.”
Fonda said that she “loved” playing Reagan in the few days of shooting, and said, “I surely would love to do a whole movie of her.”
Robert Redford presented the award to Fonda, and Jeff Daniels, her co-star in “The Newsroom,” sang a song he composed for the occasion. Offering tributes via video were Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, Ted Turner and Vanessa Redgrave.
Update: Redford, in noting Fonda’s activism through the years, dubbed her “Jane of Arc.”
Photo: Los Angeles Press Club.