Maestro Aldo Signoretti putting on one of my 3 wigs for my last scene in “Youth.”

This film, “Youth,” has been a wonderful and very different experience for me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with director Sorrentino’s work, he won the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year for “The Great Beauty” which was a stunning, Fellini-esque, plunge into the world of Roman high society just as his previous “Il Divo” was a plunge into the intertwined corruptions of the government of President Andreotti, the Mafia and the Vatican. In the opinion of many, including myself, Sorrentino has a unique voice and style that is genius. He is what is known as a cinema auteur–an author of his own films as well as director. I have described my experience with him during my first scene in Switzerland in a previous blog (“The Yin & Yang of it All”) and this trip to Rome was for my third and final scene in this film starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz  It was an intense, emotional and physical scene on the floor of an airplane and, once again, I found that Paolo knows precisely what he wants and how he wants to get it and it is never quite as one would expect it to be. For an actor, this is very exciting.

I brought Debi, my assistant, with me this time because she’s never been to Italy although her family on her mother’s side is from Naples. Here we are having a drink in the outdoor restaurant of our wonderful Hotel Russie a few hours after filming ended. (Believe me, I really needed a drink!).


This is the entrance to the hotel….


…which is right next to the Piazza del Popolo (The People’s Plaza).



(another view of Piazza del Popolo)


I love the wide, beautifully lit corridors in the hotel with the Greek friezes on the walls


Here’s the view from my hotel window and, below, another view of the other side of the hotel.


Within a few hours of our arrival from Los Angeles, Debi and I went to Paolo’s apartment for a dinner party on the beautiful, large rooftop terrace of his apartment. (I would have taken pictures but it didn’t feel appropriate) There I met Daniella, Paolo’s wife, a blonde woman in a long, while cotton dress who seemed to radiate light and warmth and love. Turns out she is also an amazing cook who prepared a delicious 4-course buffet for 30 or so quests while always appearing relaxed and joyful. This, by the way, is a quality I totally admire and totally lack. I couldn’t possibly turn out such a meal and, if I was fool-hearty enough to try, I’d turn into a humorless harpy.

That evening, surrounded by Sorrentino’s friends, with perfect wine and a cool summer breeze, I felt so happy, so in love with the relaxed conviviality that is the best of Italian life–nothing pretentious, everything in the right balance. I had forgotten how much I love Italy and Rome in particular. Back in the 60s when I was married to Vadim, I lived in Rome for a year while filming “Barbarella,” learned to speak decent Italian and to appreciate the things that, for me, are special about the country: while life and people in, say, France, have lots of sharp edges, everything in Italy feels rounded, slower, more about the senses and less about the brain. Descartes (cogito ergo sum…”I think, therefore I am”) was, after all, the foundational philosopher of France. In Italy the philosophy seems to be more “I feel, therefore I am.” Then there’s the food! You may think you’ve had Italian food but, unless you’ve eaten in Italy, you don’t really understand what makes it unique. Debi was astonished by, for example, the buffalo mozzarella which has a sweetness and different, more complex texture in Italy than elsewhere, even in the best Italian restaurants in the U.S.  And the spaghetti is ever so slightly thicker and always firmer (more al dente). They use olive oil, not butter, and the fruits and vegetables are unbelievably fresh–hence healthier. One reason for this is visible as you fly into the Rome airport and it is striking: looking down, there is still so much arable farmland, right up to the coastline. In the U.S. you’d look down and see solid development and any coastline would be back-to-back hotels and condos. Italy, for all its industry, seems primarily a land of agriculture. Again, I should have taken a picture out the window but I only slept 2 hours on the 13 or more hour flight and I was brain dead.


This is a hillside overlooking Rome. I love the Parasol pines you see here.


I arranged for a tour guide for Debi on Monday and she visited ancient Rome–the Forum, the Coliseum  etc. while I rehearsed the scene for the next day. We met up for lunch and spent the afternoon touring Vatican City. Below is St Peter’s Square:


For all my many visits to Rome, I had never visited the Vatican before. Partly this is because I am opposed to the very concept of the Vatican as a state, with a seat in the United Nations, vast holdings of property, many billions of dollars held in banks around the world–probably the wealthiest state in the world and it pays no taxes as it strong-arms the political processes of countries in order to deny women their basic human right to control their decision about whether and when to bare a child.

That said, I should have set aside these matters and gone just to see the place as the extraordinary museum it is. Frankly, I had no idea. Here are some attempts to convey the enormity of The Vatican’s treasures:

This is the wall that surrounds the entire Vatican City and the entrance to the museum.



The halls were crowded with visitors


This is a small corner of the Papal gardens


The dome of St Peter’s Basilica seen from the gardens:


Much of what one sees inside the museum are treasures taken from the homes, palaces and public buildings of ancient Rome and Greece. The church became powerful in 380 AD when Emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity the only official religion of the Roman empire and banned Paganism. Hence, for about a century, Christianity was the only religion practiced all over the Roman empire and when the Roman empire fell, Christianity was the only official authority left and, with their power, they felt free to dismantle the “pagan” buildings and artifacts of the people who had so persecuted them.


Above is what the ancient buildings looked like–how they were painted.


I was taken by the violence depicted in this statue.

The Museum is a series of halls, each one dedicated to a specific subject. Below, for example is the Hall of Animals, statues taken from ancient Rome and Greece:


Below is in the Hall of Maps where the walls are lined with ancient maps of the different states of Italy. The ceiling is astounding.


There is the Hall with famous Greek statuary. I was especially taken with this statue of the God of Fertility. The testicles growing from his body are those of the wolf, which was considered the most fertile animal:



The Roman Goddess Diana (above) is the one I identify with. She’s the goddess of mountains, woodlands, women, wild animals and the hunt.

Below is a portion of the sarcophagus of Emperor Constantine’s daughter.


…and a marble bowl from Emperor Nero’s dining room. Imagine!


This is 2000-year-old Roman mosaic from the baths of Otricoli outside of Rome.


Like most of us, I’ve seen pictures of famous portions of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the  Sistine Chapel such as God reaching out to touch Adam’s hand and the Last Supper. But looking up at the complex artistic creation in its entirety–painted by the genius lying on his back on scaffolding–was an emotional experience for me. (No talking or picture taking allowed as the chapel is considered a holy place–unlike the museum.) As you exit the Sistine Chapel you come upon the “Royal Staircase” that leads into the Papal palace. At the top of the stairs you can see the dark door that the Pope enters to go “home.


Our tour guide told us that the new Pope Francis has chosen to live in the far more humble residency of the cardinals rather than in the usual, elaborate, formal Papal residence. He is sometimes seen driving his car alone at night as he goes out to minister to the poor. One can’t help but worry what might happen to him if he is serious about changing the Vatican bureaucracy including what will be done about the pedophiles in the church and its victims (more about that in a moment).

Next to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is the immense and awesome St Peter’s Basilica. This is the Holy Door in the front of the basilica that is opened only during Jubilee years which occur every 25 years when catholics come from around the world to celebrate mass and receive redemption in the basilica. The tour guide told us in 2000, 35 million catholics came!


Below is the Holy Door from inside the basilica. Except for the Jubilee Years, it is sealed off. Above it is a mosaic of St Peter holding the keys that Jesus gave him.


The basilica was built in the baroque style. It took 120 years to build, from 1506 to 166 and 10 architects, including Michelangelo, died working on it. Michelangelo was 89 at the time and was working on the dome (below). It looks as if it was painted but, in fact, all the “paintings” in the basilica are incredibly fine mosaics.



All the marble in the basilica was taken from the Pantheon and other ancient “pagan” buildings.

The canopy (below) was made by the great Bernini from bronze taken from ancient Pantheon. The white altar is where the Pope conducts mass. 8 meters below the alter is where St Peter is buried.


Below is the first statue Michelangelo made when he came to Rome from Florence–the pieta of Mary holding the body of her son. (sorry it’s out-of-focus). Interestingly, Mary appears younger than her son.


This is the Bernini statue to Alexander the 7th. It’s called “Remember You Have To Die.” Ah yes. (I try to live with the constant awareness of my mortality. It gives meaning to life.) The statue shows the Pope on the top surrounded by the 4 Virtues and notice the skeleton hanging off the edge of the pink marble, holding an hour glass.


I want to like this new pope. He seems to be a truly humble man who cares about the poor. Finally, the other day, he met with a select group of victims of pedophilia at the hands of priests and spoke out forcefully against the sexual abuse of children, begging forgiveness. It remains to be seen whether he will call for the appropriate criminal prosecution of the perpetrators and the cardinals who have protected them, Asking forgiveness means nothing if justice is not done and that includes using a tiny portion of the Vatican’s vast wealth to provide appropriate therapy for its victims. The Pope needs to meet with professionals who specialize is the treatment of trauma in order to see (1) how profound the damage is and (2) that there are specific modalities for healing that must be provided. If Pope Francis can do this, then he will be truly worthy of sainthood.

I would be very sad to leave Rome after these short 3 days were it not for the fact that tomorrow I start 5 days of shooting on the “The Newsroom” finale in Los Angeles. But that’s a whole other story. Stay tuned. Ciao.

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  1. You are an amazing soul… Forgiveness is to prosecution much like guilt is to responsibilty. You can be sorry for something, but until you take responsibility for it, the sorry is pretty empty. I really love you, Jane. You are a huge voice, and I am grateful to you for being such an advocate for humanity….

  2. It can’t be overstated how important the director is to movies – always felt that as the stage might be an actor’s medium, film is really about the director’s vision. You touch on the “auteur,” and it’s worth noting that the terrific Sorrentino gets added to the list of wonderful directors you’ve worked with, including – and I mention this because I wish your AFI celebration had included this – George Cukor, Joseph Losey, Edward Dmytryk, Sydney Pollack, and Otto Preminger. I was happy to see Rene Clement and Jean Luc Godard mentioned.

    —furthermore, as a history for the inquisitive (and maybe you too, though I wouldn’t begin to assume you don’t know quite a bit on the subject), and as a film and drama major that has been a fan of yours since I first saw you on screen – some 12 years ago, here’s some background on the auteur theory:

    Auteurism, despite the attempts of some of its foes (and occasionally some of its supporters) to mean it as a theory of an absolute directorial voice irrespective of specific circumstances, was meant to do nothing more than allow for the possibility that in some cases, with the right vision and competence, a director can, particularly over a series of films, be seen as the major artistic contributor. As expressed by its initial proponents, it always recognized the context of American studio filmmaking, and certainly did not intend to suggest that in all films the director’s vision was clear or dominated all other elements.

    Auteurism, except by those who wish to create strawmen to destroy it, does not say that all directors equally have an impact and control of their films. It says that certain directors, particularly American studio ones, had the artistic control of the medium in various ways to transcend the factory-like conditions in which they worked to create works of art.  

    In any important film, the director is far more than the most important member of the team. He/she is over and above the team, gets the team to follow his/her lead, is unlike anyone else involved with most or all aspects of the film and if auteurism proves anything, it is in the alchemy of film creativity that art usually comes from that interrelationship and that nearly always if art results it is because of the director, and studying his or her career can show a consistency among films that can’t be revealed by any other theory.


    There’s nothing I like more than to see an actor I like stretch themselves and work with directors with real substance, which is why I was so happy to hear that you’re in Sorrentino’s new film. I hope to see you continually challenge yourself and work with some of the other greats out there today (and, judging by your closeness with David Russell, perhaps there will be a future partnership on film), such as Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Terrence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea), Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), James Gray (Two Lovers), Spike Jonze (Her), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David Fincher (The Social Network), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away), John Boorman (The Tailor of Panama), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere), We Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Abbas Kiarostami (The Wind Will Carry Us), Agnes Varda (Vagabond), Lars von Trier (now that would be interesting – Breaking the Waves), and Roman Polanski (made the great Ghost Writer and Venus in Fur just recently).

    • Logen Ken, I totally agree with the directors you cite and would give anything to work with any of them. Thanks for the insight.

      • Quickly, two regrets: 1) omitting the “s” in Wes Anderson’s name, and 2) not including the fascinating Claire Denis (Beau Travail) and Olivier Assayas (L’heure d’été).

        I’m just delighted to have had this outlet to share these thoughts because I’ve always felt that if I had just a minute with my favorite actors, I’d try naming off directors I’d love to see them work with! This wasn’t a “live” meeting but mission accomplished! 🙂

  3. Jane I felt same about the Vatican. But it’s treasures are amazing. I wept when I saw the Pieta by Michangelo not because I’m religious in any way but because of it beauty and workmanship. Thank you for sharing it was like looking at my photos of Italy. I am so happy you are acting again I had missed your art. Charlene

  4. Hi jane
    Your blog on Rome is fantastic. I ADORE Rome. I am there quite often and I can identify with everything you wrote. I am so glad you shared your food experiences with your assistant. The food there is just sublime. Like the buffalo mozzarella which is runny inside. Or the pistacchio ice cream. Like biting into a bag of pistacchio nuts. I only ever eat ice cream in italy. pure foods.
    The next time I’m there I will take a picture out of the plane while landing and will send it to you. Tomorrow I will be im Naples. The rough diamond.
    Aaaahh it is so good to be alive, isn’t it
    take care
    jason x

  5. Jane, whenever you blog, I stop what I am doing just to read them. Thank you for sharing your trip to Rome & The Vatican. It is in my heart to go there one day. I appreciate your thought and detail on every item, I can see through your eyes.

  6. Jane, the last time I was in Italy was in 1969. I was in the Navy. You just took me back to my youth, with your detailed descriptions. It was like being there again. You are one special woman! thanks.

    Let me know when Debi moves on to greener pastures. I’m a very good “assister” sister.

    • P McKibben–like that…”assister sister. Will pass on. x

  7. Lovely commentary Ms.Fonda, while reading I could hear your voice and excitement for such beauty, How blessed are you to have such an extraordinary life. I have often wondered how some are able to reach for the stars and others never seems to find their passion and run with it. I dream of such a life! I have a great life too,a wife of almost 24 years and 3 children,but a girl can dream right? I’m in my second act, and all id possible!! God Bless you Jane Fonda <3

  8. Never been to Rome, but you surely make me want to. 🙂 I also have high hopes for the Pope, he seems to be a breath of fresh air and a really decent person. But I actually kind of disagree with you on some of your thoughts, I don’t oppose the Vatican being a state. I believe that its mission goes beyond being pro-life and despite not being a Catholic, I respect the sense of unity, community and comfort with which it provides many-many people in the world and of course (from the point of view of international law) the humanitarian duties, conciliation etc. (plus it doesn’t vote in the UN, it only has observer status, it has all the member rights, but cannot vote). I feel that some of your words were a bit harsh, with all due respect. 🙂 Obviously, everywhere you go, you see things that really make your jaw drop, but you know I feel that the cleanest water can come even from the rustiest, dirtiest tap (if you know what I mean). For probably the first time, let’s agree to disagree here. 🙂

    BTW, congratulations on your Emmy nomination, it was richly deserved. I hope for the best for you (after being ROBBED last year), but you face really tough competition from Allison Janney, who’s also flawless and heartbreaking. I’m happy to see you so busy, always reporting from a new location. That’s great a) it’s great to see you receive the attention you deserve b) for selfish reasons, it’s great that we get to see you more on screen.

    • Daniel, my ol’ blogging pal, agree to disagree…about the Vatican… but DO agree that the Catholic church, with all its rituals, history, pomp, etc brings succor, comfort, hope to many and I say YES to this. Also agree about A. Janney. Know her and like and admire her. But I hope I win 🙂

      • LOOOOOOOOOOOOL, this made me laugh out so loud that it would make NeNe Leakes’ laughter sound like Queen Elizabeth II’s. 😀 I hope you win, too, Allison already has a zillion Emmys anyway for The West Wing. 😛 Feel free to quote me on FYC posters. 😀

        P.S. you called me “my ol’ blogging pal” so I feel as if I myself had just won an Emmy.

  9. Hi Jane, I posted a comment on your Facebook page. It doesn’t appear here. Anyway, I read another’s comment on FB asking you why you identified with Diana because Diana is an ‘idol’ and you are (she writes) a Christian. Well, I identify with her too. What a fantastic concept of a woman to admire and aspire to be like. Christian or not. I wanted to reply to the FB comment: is not Jane Fonda an idol, you follow her..? 😉 I was raised Catholic and to me I think of ‘Mary’ as an idol of that church. She is also admirable. It is odd that people reject each other’s idols, thus beliefs, both ancient ones and present ones. Italy sounds amazing from past to present. Thanks for the sharing. I actually got my mate to read your blog… she was very impressed and now knows what I go on about.

    • Frances, I agree with you. A Christian can still identify with qualities in non-Christians and Pagans. I also study Zen Buddhism and feel it makes me a better Christian. xx

  10. Enjoy reading your blog–this new film looks interesting. As I was reading about your tour of the Vatican, I was struck by this:

    “This is the Bernini statue to Alexander the 7th. It’s called “Remember You Have To Die.” Ah yes. (I try to live with the constant awareness of my morality. It gives meaning to life.)”

    I suppose this could be a Freudian slip, since it’s probably good for us to live with a sense of our own morality, but I’m guessing you meant mortality. Not trying to be snarky at all, just thought you’d want to fix it. Or not, since it goes rather well with the rest of the post.

  11. Nancy & Jennifer,
    Totally agree with yr comments! It is really important that famous people, with such a wonderful personality, use their time and popularity to bring up causes that otherwise would not get half of the attention they need! And being able to do it by mixing general discussions to more serious topics , it’s just fantastic! (hope my english made sense :))
    Grazie Jane

  12. “This, by the way, is a quality I totally admire and totally lack. I couldn’t possibly turn out such a meal and, if I was fool-hearty enough to try, I’d turn into a humorless harpy.”

    Ha ha, hee hee! You have taken the words right out of my mouth. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. For me, turning out a meal for guests is stressful, not enjoyable. And where I live, that makes me less than the “ideal” woman. Which is fine; I am what I am, and that’s good enough.

  13. Your English is perfect, Cristina! 🙂 And, not for nothin’, I imagine “regular” Jane Fonda would be exactly the way she is, without her famousness. (She just wouldn’t be able to stretch it as far.) Make a difference in one person’s life, and the whole wide Universe smiles 😀

  14. The Italy pictures are wonderful! I love when you blog about your trips to places all around the world. Thank you for sharing! (I think there may be hope with the new Pope.)
    Is the film you were working on, “Youth”, in English? I know you have been working on several projects. Are any of the movies you have been in reaching theaters soon? When does your television show start?
    Congrats, by the way, on your Emmy nomination!

  15. Hopefully, the Vatican will place no obstacles to compensating fully the victims and survivors, and will do everything possible to ensure that such abuse is never repeated.

  16. I am Italian, and I would like to thank you, Ms Fonda, and congratulate for this wonderful report.
    I take this occasion to add that I have read recently the interview you gave to late Ms Oriana Fallaci, in Atlanta, in December 1970.
    What a wonderful interview!
    And it is amazing to see your sincerity , honesty and dedication, then as well as now, after so many years!!
    I have discovered only these days your website, but I will visit it often in the future.
    Again, thank you and all best from Milano.



    I hope that worked. This is my all time Jane Fonda/Gilda Grace song. I’m sure there is some historical meaning to this song; to me it is just a very ?? profound ?? place of knowing that there is never going to be the someone I’ve been looking for.

  18. I am not sure why I get on those rolls. *shrug* I really am just fine; and I know I matter.

  19. Been to Rome often and everytime we are amazed by the beauty of the city and the churches. Being not raised Catholic and having stayed in a non Catholic church many years, I am so delighted whenever I enter one. It is true of course that all of it cost enormous amounts of money in a time when people were starving to death, but on the other hand it also gave people something to look forward to, in those times there were no movies, Ipads etc.

    Being in a Catholic churc always make me very calm and admiring all the beauty, even the smallest churches in Italy, but also in France and Belgium, are extremely beautiful. And I really prefer it to the non Catholic churches, especially the ones in the Netherlands, most of them look like gyms. Not to mention the sometimes tear jerking ceremonies that are given.

    And I know exactly what you mean Jane by getting emotional in the chapel. The beauty is so overwhelming and I really think that some Devine help must have been around some where……
    Which is also true for the Dome in Florence, my wife had told me that it was so amazingly beautiful and when we entered I was kidding about it saying that it looked like one accross our street, until I saw the roof of it; it made me cry and wondering how on earth it could have been made by a human.
    So good for you to finally enter the Vatican’s treasures and thanks so much again ofor sharing so much of your personal life.

  20. Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us as well as Debi. Beautiful photos and I can almost feel I was there from the images you took. I share your view of the Catholic Church. He indeed seems very different and that has proven dangerous before if it seems to threaten the hierarchy 🙁

  21. Hi Jane,
    I always love reading your blog posts because I feel they let me travel the world vicariously through you to go to the places you’ve gone and see the things that you’ve seen. However, this time I don’t have to use my imagination because Italy is a place that I have actually visited. I traveled there 10 years ago when I was heavily involved in the music ministry at the church I attended at the time and we took a choir to Italy for a few concerts and to sing in St. Peter’s Basilica. We visited Florence, Assisi, and Rome. It was wonderful. Being raised Catholic as I was a trip to the Vatican was quite a pilgrimage! Reading this inspired me to pull out my photo album of that trip and you have posted some of the almost exact pictures that I took. Both the inside and the outside of the Holy Door, Michalangelo’s Pieta (in fact, my picture of this is also out of focus), the interior hallways and the outer wall of the Vatican Museum, and I even have a picture of that huge marble bowl! One of the funniest moments of that trip for me (well, it’s funny now) was when our group attended a papal audience (it was JP II at the time, only six months before he died) and they sent me and a few other of the “young ones” on ahead through the metal detectors to get a good spot. So we got through and started running at top speed and made it to the first two rows. I was saving the first row when I turned around and this woman with a very thick accent (it was either German or Austrian) started yelling at me to move. I wasn’t budging…after all…I had a responsibility to the others in my group to hold firm. So I did…then she started swinging at me. Yes…she started hitting me right there in the middle of St. Peter’s Square! And there was a Swiss Guard guy standing not 5 feet from us. All he did was look the other way. Finally our tour guide came up and told her to leave because our group had claim first. She had to move to the third row and glared at me the entire rest of the time. Imagine, I travel all the way to the Vatican and get into a fist fight. All I can say to that is…well…she hit me first!
    I look back at those pictures and see some of the most amazing things, artwork, buildings, etc. I am not the same as I was back then as far as my faith in the Church goes. Mainly because it is hard for me to separate the “Church” from the “politics of the Church.” It kind of breaks my heart really. I could go on for hours talking about this but I won’t. I just know that my God is a God of love, not fear. I’m just not sure that the Church I grew up in and felt so safe and secure in thinks the same way. It seems like they use fear to keep people on their knees. I just can’t believe that we’ll ever find peace that way or ever become whole again under their leadership. Of course, I’m speaking just for me. I am thankful for the foundation I have in my life…but I want to be closer to God than I believe the Church will ever let me get in their house. Well, that’s ok…because I found another path that feels right for me. Still, standing in the middle of St. Peter’s and looking around at everything around is still awesome. No matter who commissioned the work. Thanks again for sharing these pictures, Jane. They brought back a lot of fun memories! Caio!

  22. All the best for your new film Youth…you working hard.Nice trip to Rome.surely would love to visit one day…

  23. There’s an old saying — perhaps a truth — that stones hold memories and resonance(s). I can only imagine that the marble and stones surrounding such a sacred site hold a certain powerful resonance. It may be that this site held a hallowed resonance long before it was claimed by the Catholics, too, for their helm/realm of glory. I recall that this is the reason, as well, that it has been advised to respect such places and not to take away stones and objects from them.

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