Jane Fonda has had a five-decade-plus career as an actress, but prior to getting involved in anti-war activism after the Vietnam War, Fonda says her life was “eventful,” but not as meaningful.
“I was a kind of pretty girl who made movies,” Fonda said at the Television Critics Association panel for her upcoming HBO documentary, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts.” “When I decided to throw in my lot with the anti-war movement, everything shifted. Everything. The way I looked at the world and other people, people I was drawn to. … Everything changed.”
At the time, Fonda recalled, she met some American soldiers in Paris, who told her what they had seen and done in the war. Prior to that experience, she admitted she had been “completely uninvolved” in anything political and “didn’t even know where Vietnam was.” She had also believed that if there were men fighting, they were “on the side of the angels.”
“I didn’t like it that there were men in France that knew better than I did,” she said. “The coin shifted. I said, ‘I feel betrayed by this country’s leadership. We’ve been lied to, and I want to do anything I can to expose that.'”
Fonda then became a strong part of the anti-war movement; she was famously photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun in 1972, which earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”
“I’m proud that I went to Vietnam when I did, but what I say in the film is true: I am just so sorry that I was thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun at that time. The message that sends to the guys that were there and their families, it’s horrible for me to think about that,” she said. “Sometimes I think, ‘Oh I wish I could do it over’ because there are things I would say differently now.”
Like Fonda’s memoir before it, the doc “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” dives into what she has learned from her work as an activist, as well as an actress.
“I wouldn’t use the word revolution now, but constant change [is important to me],” Fonda said. “I’m only 80 and there are still a few decades to go if I’m lucky, and why be alive if you’re not learning and growing and changing? … You may not be able to make your life longer, but you can make it deeper and wider.”
On the acting side, a key project that had a lasting impact on Fonda was “9 to 5,” the 1980 film that explored the hardships women faced in the workplace at the time. Fonda is attached to the upcoming sequel as an executive producer and has plans to be in it as well. She said she actually thinks it’s worse for women in the workplace today in many ways.
She noted, “you worked for the company — you were hired by the company; if you had problems you went to the company.” But today a lot of the hiring is contracted out so if there’s a problem, many employees are unsure of who to turn to. Additionally, she added, elements like social media allow spying on employees to be easier.
However, Fonda said she believes “sexual harassment will drop because guys are scared.”
The plan for the upcoming reboot right now is to follow the original and dive into such issues, by focusing on a dynamic group of powerful female characters. If the film doesn’t do that, Fonda said, “I’m not going to be in it. But right now, Dolly [Parton], Lily [Tomlin], and I are all intending to be in it.”