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Jane Fonda Looks Back on Her Acting Debut in a Play With Her Dad

Two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda is stirring up buzz again for her role as an aging Hollywood star in Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” which bowed Dec. 4. Fonda earned her first mention in Variety at a very young age indeed — in a page 1 birth announcement. She was again mentioned in 1956, when she made her acting debut in “The Male Animal,” starring her dad Henry Fonda.

Was it exciting to get your first role?

I was working in Hyannisport at the playhouse, summer interning. I fell in love with the stage manager, James Franciscus, the actor. My dad was doing this play, and they cast me as the ingenue. I was very shy and self-conscious; I didn’t assume I had what it takes to be an actor. My dad would come home from work, and he never seemed joyful.

What changed your mind?

Susan Strasberg suggested I take classes with her father. It took me a long time to get up on stage and do something. Lee said, “You have real talent.” He wasn’t paid to say that. I must have had a latent desire to act, but he unleashed it.

Did you discover joy in acting?

In my 40s, when I began to produce my own films, I found real joy in that. In my 50s, I left acting. When I was writing my memoirs, I felt I was healed, and thought, “I think I can find joy in acting again.” And I did.

Writing your book “My Life So Far,” was it fun to revisit early times?

I was observing myself as someone else. It was like a research project. I discovered that there is a leitmotif of courage, honesty and resilience that runs through my life. I basically wrote the book for my daughter. I wanted her to understand why I did some things. I dedicated the book to my mother. I’d like to have both my parents back; I would talk to them in such a different way.

Are you different now than as a teenager?

Your essential character doesn’t change. But your temperament, your personality can change. When I was chronologically young, I was pretty old. With age, two-thirds has to do with spirit, your soul: Are you curious, open to life, inspired and passionate? I wasn’t. I was shut down. I’m way happier now, and I’m way younger now.

You don’t seem nostalgic.

No. The “good old days” were pretty bad for me. The real good old days are now.

Jane Fonda First Time in Variety Click Image for Large Preview

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