At France’s 10th Lumière Film Festival, Jane Fonda received on Friday night a Lumière Award, presented by filmmaker Costa-Gavras. Earlier, she gave a masterclass to a packed house at Lyon’s Théâtre des Célestins, speaking with Institut Lumiere director and Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux. Here are some of the highlights, translated from French, which Fonda speaks better than she says:
Are you happy with the idea of being a star?
Yes… (pause) I’m stupid, but I’m not crazy. There are people outside who want my autograph. But what does it mean to be a star? On the top of hills and mountains there are antennae. They’re called repeaters. They repeat the signals, the voices of those living in the valleys below – who can’t go across the mountains. I think that stars have the same role. To be like antennae at the top of the mountain who amplify the voices of those who aren’t stars. (applause).
Did you always dream of becoming an actor?
No. My father was a great actor. But when he got home at night he was never joyful. I never had the idea that acting could bring joy. He was always in a bad mood. I wasn’t at all attracted by the profession. I didn’t like my body or my face. I was shy. But I didn’t know what else to do. I tried working as a secretary. It’s very difficult to be young. The wisdom of age is wonderful. Ultimately I became an actor because I needed to earn money. It was a simple as that. I was friends with Lee Strasberg’s daughter and she arranged an audition for me and he said I was talented. Wow. It was like someone ripped my head off. Suddenly I felt that I owned the city of New York and everything was beautiful. And at that moment I discovered that I loved acting. I just needed someone, who wasn’t employed by my family, to say: “You’re good!”
What was it like winning your first Oscar for “Klute”?
I cried because I’d won an Oscar before my father did, who’d made some great films. It’d didn’t seem fair. I thought about leaving the business around that time but a very smart person said to me: “‘No’: We have many organizers but we don’t have movie stars. You have to stay and you have to pay more attention to your own career. So I began to produce my own films. And things started getting better.
How did you meet and then work with Roger Vadim?
Before we met I had told my agent that I would never make a film with Vadim. But there was a party with a mutual friend. He was there. He wasn’t at all how I expected. He was very cosy. Like an old shoe. He taught me some songs. He was so charming, And I fell in love with him. And the rest is history. We made “Barbarella,” which was an international success, especially for teenage boys aged 14-15. It was a sexual awakening for them. And I’m proud of that. The first erection. At first, I didn’t like “Barbarella” very much. Because I had started to become a bit of a feminist. I returned to the United States. And feminist journalists asked me whether I wasn’t ashamed to make a film in which I was so objectified. And I was a bit ashamed. But as I became more mature I can see the film and I find it amusing. Not especially sexy, but it’s rather charming.
Was it difficult to work with Vadim?
No. It was sexy. There’s something so intimate. There are two levels, the secret personal level and the public level. Especially with Vadim because he had filmed his ex-wife, Brigitte Bardot, naked in the arms of extremely handsome actors. He loved that. (aside: I think I’m talking too much). He liked to tempt fate. He was half-Russian. So he was very complicated. The French are also complicated. The other day someone told me the French are like Italians, but with a bad temper. I don’t speak French particularly well, but I feel at home here. It’s my second home. I have great friends, like Catherine Deneuve – who of course was married with Vadim after me (laughter).
What was it like working with Sydney Pollack?
He was extraordinary. He was an actor and really understood how to work with actors. He had a gift for telling stories in a way that captured the audience’s interest. “Out of Africa,” “Tootsie” and on and on. He knew how to make movies that were popular, in the good sense. Actors loved working with him.
Did your political commitments during the 1970s hinder your work as an actress?
After a while the studios didn’t want to hire me any more. It was difficult for me to work for a few years. But then everything became O.K.. Because it’s the United States. At the time, I was seen in a bad light by J. Edgar Hoover the director of the FBI. It’s strange because I’m now rooting for the FBI. Go FBI! But they used to be my enemy. They were so obvious, that it made me even more stubborn – ‘No you’re not going to stop me!’ They were there with their trench coats and their hats. Lurking about. I’m not the girl you think I am, I thought. So I sued them and I won. With support from the ACLU. All of that, by the way, is now under attack. For me my career was never in first place. But when you’re an actor and an activist it’s very helpful to have made very popular films and TV series. People listen to you. It helps to be involved in popular culture when you’re a militant so I want to continue to be very popular in my work so that I can do better militancy (applause).
What led you to go to Vietnam in 1972?
People don’t realize that large parts of Vietnam are below sea-level and protected by dykes, a bit like Holland, and American bombing was targeting the dykes, just before Monsoon season, which would have killed many thousands of people. Diplomats, poets, artists had gone to Hanoi. But I thought if I go perhaps it will make a difference. The bombing of the dykes stopped two months later and I’m very proud of that (applause). I was there by myself. It wasn’t very wise. I could talk about that trip for hours. It was the most interesting experience of my entire life. So moving. Americans now go to Vietnam and say the people are so nice. I was there under American bombs and they were so nice. It was incredible. The last day, after two weeks, they asked me to go where there was an anti-aircraft gun and there was a ceremony and I sat down and everyone took photos. Photos with Jane Fonda in front of an anti-aircraft gun. I will go to my grave regretting that I did that. I wasn’t thinking. And it’s a terrible thing that I did. And I’m still paying for it.
Tell us about how you met Ted Turner?
At the time I was thinking about quitting my work as an actress and becoming a full-time activist. Then Ted Turner arrived at my door. He is the most charming, the most brilliant man. One of the first things he told me, on the first date, joking was: ‘I owned the MGM library but I never had the chance to use the casting couch’. He was a character and still is. And he was also the greatest sailor. He won the America’s Cup.
How did you become involved in making fitness videos
I initially began the gyms to earn money for the Campaign for Economic Democracy, organized by my husband, Tom Hayden. But at a certain point I realized that we all have great value in ourselves. I received letters from all around the world from people saying that their lives had changed. A lady wrote to me saying that ‘I had been brushing their teeth and saw a muscle that I’d never seen before and then I went to work and stood up to my boss for the first time,’ Thomas Jefferson said that revolution begins in the muscles. He really did say that. I don’t know why. Maybe because his mistress was a slave.
In the post-MeToo era, what is your relationship with the women’s movement, for example you worked with the French feminist, Delphine Seyrig
I loved working with Delphine. We made “A Doll’s House” with Joseph Losey ,that tackled a very difficult theme related to chauvinism. Everything that women have achieved over the centuries and in the 1960s, 70, 80, 90s and now, has been very important. And in my opinion what we are experiencing now is the patriarchal system which has been profoundly wounded by women. It’s not acceptable for the people in power. That’s why in the United States the patriarchal system is trying to make a comeback and trying to erase everything that has anything to do with Obama. Making America great again means making American white again. Putting women back in their place. Blacks will be nothing. It’s like a wounded beast – which is always the most dangerous. It’s happening everywhere in the world. France, Germany, Italy, the Philippines. We see the beast of patriarchy which is fighting for its survival against the progress achieved by women and by movements in defense of issues such as LGBT, and people of color. It coincides with the battle for the Planet Earth. For the climate. We couldn’t say that before but now it’s a battle for the future. For the first time it’s possible that there won’t be a future, if we don’t persist. But it’s a very dangerous time. (…) It’s hard to be young and it’s hard to be a man. Everything in our culture robs men of their humanity, of their heart and there are some men who fight that and are good and you’re probably all like that here in this audience. Good strong men. But feminists have to understand what happens to boys and men as they grow up and feel great empathy. Ultimately I’m glad I’m not a man and glad that I’m a woman.