LA Times: Jane Fonda on her new HBO documentary

“You have to stay open, at any age, to finding out: How do I get better?”

Jane Fonda is the subject of a new HBO documentary "<a href=

Jane Fonda in Five Acts." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)” width=”640″ height=”427″ class=”size-large wp-image-13749″ /> Jane Fonda is the subject of a new HBO documentary “Jane Fonda in Five Acts.” (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

The look on the face of the tourist riding down the elevator in a Beverly Hills hotel said it all. A mundane journey transformed into an “only in L.A.” moment when she glanced up and realized that one of her fellow passengers was none other than Jane Fonda.

“Oh my … God, that’s Jane Fonda,” the woman mouthed to her friend in dramatic fashion — full emphasis on an expletive unsuitable to print — titling her head toward the actress just before the elevator doors opened to the lobby.

Love her or hate her — and Fonda is fully aware there are people out there who still fall under the latter category — there’s little denying the polarizing figure continues to rouse people. Fonda, 80, hasn’t slowed down long enough not to.

Take this day as an example. She’s in the middle of a press blitz to promote the new HBO documentary that peels back the layers on her lifetime in the public eye — as the daughter of venerated actor Henry Fonda, an Oscar-winning movie star, fitness guru and enduring activist — and her journey to coming into her own later in life.

Titled “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” and premiering Monday, the film is directed by Susan Lacy, a veteran of edifying profiles of prominent figures. The film marks Lacy’s second documentary for the network — following last year’s examination of Steven Spielberg — since leaving her post at PBS, where she created the “American Masters” documentary series.

Jane Fonda, left, with, director and producer Susan Lacy at the premiere of the HBO documentary "Jane Fonda In Five Acts " in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Jane Fonda, left, with, director and producer Susan Lacy at the premiere of the HBO documentary “Jane Fonda In Five Acts ” in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Sitting in a corner booth inside the restaurant at this Beverly Hills hotel, Fonda positions her dog, a Coton de Tulear named Tulea, beside her as she talks about the decision to participate in a documentary about her life.

“I’ve been approached numerous times,” Fonda says. “But then Susan approached me with it. I had seen the documentary she did on David Geffen, which I thought was very, very well done. And I said to her, ‘My only concern is that you don’t make a documentary focused on movies, and my career as a movie actor. Because there’s a lot more to me than that.’”

Much of the terrain the documentary covered is in Fonda’s 2005 autobiography, “My Life So Far,” but as Lacy said in a separate interview: “It’s one thing to write a book and tell these things; it’s another to talk about it with a camera, knowing millions of people are going to see you talking about the difficulty you have getting your father to tell you he loves you.”

Besides, as Lacy tells it, “I didn’t begin with the assumption that everybody knows everything about Jane. Not everybody read Jane’s book. If you haven’t, there’s a lot about her you don’t know.”

The film digs into Fonda’s personal turmoils — her complex upbringing as the daughter of a neglectful, famous dad and a troubled mother, Frances, who committed suicide when Jane was 12; as well as her own shortcomings as a parent — and her controversial moments, such as her involvement in the Vietnam-era antiwar movement that drew hatred from conservatives and resulted in the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”

But there is also focus on her illustrious film career — particularly her standout roles in movies such as “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” “Klute,” “Coming Home,” “The China Syndrome,” “9 to 5” and “On Golden Pond.”

“It’s hard for me to watch it,” Fonda says of the documentary. “But I thought [Susan] did a good job. You have to stay open, at any age, to finding out: How do I get better?’”

Lacy conducted 12 interviews — totaling more than 21 hours — with Fonda over the course of a year at various locations, including Fonda’s home in New York and on the set of her Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.” The film includes a trove of archival footage and features interviews with family and friends — former spouses Ted Turner and Tom Hayden; her son with Hayden, Troy Garity; stepdaughter Nathalie Vadim and adoptive daughter Mary Luana Williams; Robert Redford, Lily Tomlin and best friend and producer Paula Weinstein. (Fonda’s daughter, Vanessa Vadim, and her brother, Peter, declined to participate.)

“It’s such a personal film,” Lacy says, “I didn’t go after costars or that sort of thing. I wanted to focus on people with whom she has a close relationship, who could be revealing in some way.”

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  1. Just finished watching your documentary and had to write and tell you that its inspirational to all women all over the world♦️

  2. I just finished watching this amazing movie and i was moved to tears more than once.
    It’s so honest…
    My first workouts were with Jane’s video’s about 35 years ago so that brought back really good memories …

  3. I just watched…wow
    Did that hit me hard.
    Your inspiring to a slightly broken woman. Who was Raised by a broken woman.
    I find your bravery and stamina other worldly.
    I would like to know someone like you in my personal life.
    I’ve always said “I love Jane Fonda”
    I love you more today…
    Peace to you dear woman

    Christie Paradise Kittle

  4. Jane, Ive loved your work since 72, your HBO Doc was so pure, I wanted to ask if you would consider posting the #VehicleforPeace as we want to spread Peace throughout the world this benefits PeaceJam Foundation (Nobel Peace Prize members foundation) this is the link we hope you will check out and consider posting as Peace leads to Calm
    (you know your the best advocate for Peace)
    Thank you so much

  5. Jane, all the best with the documentary and thank you for sharing your story with us. I was deeply compelled to reach out to you because although we are so different- there are some strong similarities- which is so bizarre to me! But also shows Gods sense of humour! I am a 30 year old, black woman and lawyer in South Africa.

    I was born 22 December 1987 and you know when you were born. You are exactly 50 years my senior!
    When I was 13 my mother, our nanny and my little brothers were murdered. Your tragedy was at 12.
    I have been celibate for 8 years now and still counting- also not dating. I am not sure if the shop is closed, but I toy with the idea. A little similar to you- I feel that I would make a better partner than a spouse. Also because of the way I grew up I am not sure if I will be a good parent, so I have decided to be on my own for the forseeable future. There is a part of me that doesnt think anyone would accept me and everything I come with.
    Like you- I love my resilient spirit. And despite my challenges, I have created some pockets of success for myself – I run my own business, I am an influencer in the legal space in South Africa, I travel often, and next month I am giving a Tedx talk (the irony!)
    I have had and still struggle with my mindset around food. I am doing the work on my mindset, but I know it is closely linked to my childhood and the death of my mother. I already had weight issues as a child while she was alive and 17 years later, it still this one thing I havent conquered. I feel like she died and left me fat.. and I am disappointing her by still being fat.

    For the most part I want to thank you- listening to you helped me feel that I will be ok in the future! I used to think I would want to die at 45, especially if I am not married- but heck- 80 looks good! Even if I am single. I am can trust that there is a full life ahead of me.
    Also it has alerted me to the importance of my family! My father and I have a great relationship, but I am going to keep ensuring that I cultivate it more and forgive him for places he has hurt me- rather than try to hurt him by using material things. I also want to spend more time with my mothers side of the family. My maternal grandmother is ill and i havent seen her in 17 years- I am going to do my best to spend Christmas with her this year. I had decided to already and this reaffirmed my decision.

    I look forward to watching the documentary and also this weekend I will buy your memoir because I am working on my own. The way you described writing yours gave me an idea of how to really do it properly, and thats what I have to do if I want to do it justice so it can help someone- the way you have helped me!

    God bless you and I look forward to the next Acts! Who knows, maybe we can celebrate our one day apart birthdays together in the near future 🙂

    • Tey, sounds like you’re well on your way to a fantastic life as a single, powerful woman who has adventures of all kinds. Great that you’re writing your life. I know that when a woman tells her truth, REALLY tells it, it is a universal and revolutionary act. Of course you identify with my life in many ways and folks will do with yours as well. xxx

  6. Thank you Jane for making your documentary. I just watched it after my moms recommendation and I LOVED it. You are an amazingly strong woman, and I bawled my eyes out at the end. This is your act and you are inspiring. well done!

  7. Loved the film, made me cry at times. Very inspired by you and was looking forward to seeing you in Milwaukee on November 3rd…Very sad you had to cancel, I’m hoping that it is being rescheduled. Blessings Jane.

  8. Oh Jane!!! I’m late to the party here but I just have to tell you how much I admire you! And you life’s stories are going to teach so many people so many things for years to come!
    Happy thanksgiving
    Love Brandi

  9. Miss Fonda – I wish I’d been among the lucky locals who got to meet you when you were filming “Our Souls at Night” in Colorado Springs. I was at least able to be in the area for some of the filming. It was a lovely film, by the way. The reason I’m writing is because I just watched your marvelous and inspirational documentary on HBO. It would be an understatement to say I sat riveted throughout. I’ve admired your work since the mid-60’s and believe you’ve shown us your impressive gift of acting since your earliest roles in “Tall Story” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” What we haven’t seen until now is what has propelled you to find answers and peace. Thank you for your courage and bravery and honesty. Most importantly, though, thank you for showing women that it’s never too late to find their own voice, to write their own narrative.

  10. Dear Jane Fonda,

    I watched your documentary and recorded it so I can watch again and again. I absolutely LOVED it!! It was inspiring, brave, honest, a tearjerker, a confirmation of valuing oneself and the remedy to what I needed the day I watched it. I saw myself in so many scenarios of your life and I want to thank you for sharing.

    In 95,’ until the layoff in 2014, I worked at Turner Broadcasting. I remember taking an elevator with you one day while you were visiting. I told my mother (who later lost her battle with cancer), “Ma, I rose to the top with Jane Fonda today!” The top floor lol. My mother was a lot of your dad, there but not there. I think I spent my whole life trying to prove to her I was somebody to be proud of. When she died, I had to reset and figure out why I was hustling and grinding so hard and who was it now going to be for. I had to ask myself a bunch of questions and re-define my life for ME and my kids. My dad, who I found 14 years ago, suffered from mental illness and bi-polar disorder. I was able to get “abandonment” closure with him as I became his guardian before he too lost his battle with cancer this past December.

    I’ve been living in Atlanta over 23 years now. Single Mom (divorced) raising two daughters (yes, it’s tough sometimes). I started my own independent production company to tell stories that change lives. is my website if you’re able to look at it.

    This entire year, I’ve been filming a documentary to help children dealing with mental health issues. I know it’s a long shot, but I grew up dirt poor and here by the grace of God because I never was afraid to ask, but I would love to interview you for it. I’ve interviewed some amazing people out there walking the walk to help and survivors. I think you would love what it’s about. Not sure who I should contact, but would love to try.

    Well beautiful, inspiring woman thank you for showing so many of us how to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when life throws LIFE at you. I pray for continued blessings for you and your always. I hope to ride the elevator again with you one day. I would love to chat with you and get your advice!

    Thank you for reading!!
    Gina Barboza
    [email protected]

  11. Jane, I’ve been watching your documentary and I must say how wonderful it is. I can totally relate to so much of it insofar as your relationship with your mother, etc. You’re so grounded in your philosophies and attitude about your life’s ups and downs. Sometimes I see movie stars as non-real entities because they are only playing characters. It’s hard to see their vulnerabilities as regular people. It was so nice to see you are a regular person with regular difficulties in life. Thank you so much for sharing such an intimate portion of yourself and your life. It was awesome. Starr Wilson from Chico, California

  12. Hello.. new to this whole blog community (never been apart of one.. it’s pretty cool) so thought I would start with how you inspired me when I first watched your documentary about 2 months ago. Since then I have listened to your Ted talk, interviews and now this evening my post-work podcast session was an interview you did with Marc Maron. I think I find your life story and listening to you speak so gripping because you share so much wisdom backed by stories from a colourful and bold life you have lived. I am in a current transformative stage of life; late twenties, so it’s a time of actively choosing the life you want to live and the type of person you want to be. I am finding regular reflection an important tool for growth. That is why I resonated with you breaking up your story into 5 acts. I aspire to live with at least half the boldness and courage you have. Keep sharing, speaking, creating because it’s evident from this blog that your energy sparks soul fires in people. Thank you, thank you 🙂

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