"When women tell their truth," says Jane Fonda, "everything changes."
She is sitting on a sofa in a room on the 15th floor of the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. She is noticeably tired, having arrived from Atlanta after midnight without any clothes or shoes but the ones she's wearing, because the airline lost her luggage. She has done a day of interviews, no doubt with journalists eager to hear her dish about showdowns on the set with the incorrigible Lindsay Lohan, her costar in the new Garry Marshall film Georgia Rule. She sits straight as bamboo.
At 69, there are scores of lines around Fonda's luminous blue eyes, but none on her delicately rouged cheeks. Her candor is unexpected; her vulnerability almost jarring. When I ask her what she does to stay in shape these days despite a hip replacement last year, she looks marvelously fit Fonda mumbles something about weights and wanting to get back to yoga; then, she suddenly brightens.
"And sex!" she says. "Sex gets better as you get older. It does."
In Georgia Rule, Fonda plays Georgia, a Mormon grandmother who forces soap into the mouths of anyone who uses the Lord's name in vain, and insists meals be eaten when they're served. When her granddaughter (Lohan) hints that she may have been sexually abused by her stepfather, it's Georgia who looks past her granddaughter's antics to divine the truth, even as her daughter, the girl's mother (Felicity Huffman), stays in denial.
"I see this woman, Georgia, as a person who lives with the pain of a dysfunctional family," says Fonda. "She's lonely and she's sad, and there's a lot of things she can't explain, like how come her daughter hasn't been to see her for 13 years.
"The way she deals with the pain is to have rules. It gives her parameters. It gives structure and foundation to her life," says Fonda, who confessed in her autobiography that during her brutal marriage to director Roger Vadim, she insisted on keeping a tidy house.
"In the face of chaos, it's good to have rules," she says. "My character's a little anal about it, but I understand very well where she's coming from."
Fonda has said that she wrote My Life So Far not because her life was so extraordinary, but to show that, despite her fabled family origins, she suffered like the rest of us.
The childhood captured so idyllically in magazines was dominated by the suicide of her mother, Frances Seymour, when Fonda was 12. In her adolescent years, her father Henry's ideal of perfection hounded her so relentlessly that she downed large quantities of ice cream and pastries and secretly hurled it all before it "took up residence" in her body as fat. All three of her husbands cheated on her, and she seems to incurred the wrath of almost everyone at some point.
At 51, she got breast implants because she feared men would cease to love her if her beauty faded.
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You know within a minute of meeting her that she has not exaggerated any of the stories about her battered self-esteem. But she talks politics with gusto.
"What we have today," she opines with more energy than anything that has come before, "is a bunch of male leaders who say, 'Come and get 'em, dead or alive!' And they're so afraid of premature evacuation because they're afraid it will threaten their manhood."
Keeping a hand in the Women's Media Center, a nonprofit she cofounded with Gloria Steinem, Fonda looks forward to a day when women will run the world.
"It may be that a feminist, progressive man would do better in the White House than a ventriloquist for the patriarchy with a skirt and a vagina," she allows, acknowledging that Hillary Clinton's stance on the war has been disappointing. "Women sometimes bend the wrong way just to prove themselves to men," she says, talking like someone who knows. "But when we learn to listen to ourselves . . ." She gazes out the window, gathering her thoughts. "That will be revolutionary."