Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, chats with Jane Fonda and director Susan Lacy ahead of the Sept. 24 release of their HBO documentary “Jane Fonda in Five Acts.”
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Lacy says she had long admired the Academy Award winner, known for films like “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and “On Golden Pond.” Lacy wanted to make a “portrait” of Fonda after reading her memoir, “My Life So Far,” and split the documentary into five parts to emphasize the influences on the woman who would become both a lauded actress and a controversial anti-war advocate. She said that in many ways, Fonda was defined by the men in her life — her father (film legend Henry Fonda) and her three husbands — until the fifth chapter, titled “Jane,” when she found herself.
“There was the big, huge shadow of Henry over the whole story in many ways, and then three incredibly different husbands for whom Jane became a sort of different person with each of those husbands,” Lacy says. “Each of these chapters in her life, had a great deal to do with who Jane became. It isn’t like they were dismissed. Jane grew with each one.”
Fonda says she didn’t mind being “a late bloomer,” as “it was all a work in progress” for her to be her authentic self. When the documentary showed at the Cannes Film Festival, Lacy said the whole audience “burst into applause” when the chapter title “Jane” came up.
The documentary touches on Fonda’s childhood and heavy subjects like her mother dying by suicide when Fonda was 12 years old. In the film, she visits her mother’s grave for the first time and said it was an emotional moment. Lacy says the two women cried a few times during interviews, especially talking about Fonda’s mother, and said she thought it was important to show that “forgiveness is liberating.”
Fonda did not shy away from showing these difficult moments of her life in the film and in her memoir, because it allowed her to understand herself and her parents better, and allowed the audience to relate to her experience.
“My attitude is why make a portrait, why allow a portrait of yourself to be made or why write a memoir, unless you’re going to tell the real story?” Fonda says. “Tell the things, warts and all, that are going to help people understand why one has a particular kind of life, because chances are, they’ll be able to identify with it.”
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