Peter Bart is contributor to Awardsline and Deadline
Not one to slow down, Jane Fonda has written a New York Times bestseller, Being a Teen; has signed on to costar with Lily Tomlin in Grace & Frankie for Netflix; and just finished shooting the feature film Fathers and Daughters with Russell Crowe. She’s also a prolific blogger at JaneFonda.com. But perhaps most exciting is her return as Leona Lansing in the third and final installment of HBO’s The Newsroom, for which she performed a mesmerizing monologue last season that fans hailed was not so much Emmy- as Oscar-worthy.
AWARDSLINE: You had a scene at the end of the second season of The Newsroom that I felt was really vintage Jane. Was that speech totally scripted or did you embellish it?
JANE FONDA: Oh, you don’t embellish with Aaron (Sorkin, the show’s creator); there’s no improvising. That was the first thing that (costar) Jeff Daniels said to me when I came to the first table read of the first season. He said, “Know every line backwards and forwards, every comma, every period, awake and in your sleep.”
AWARDSLINE: Did you spend a good deal of time talking to Aaron Sorkin about your character?
FONDA: There was zero time talking to Aaron. He writes it so that there’s really . . . it dictates how you play it.
AWARDSLINE: When you and I did Fun with Dick and Jane (in 1977), you were enormously helpful in terms of developing your character, but you never gave a speech saying, “This is how I want the scene to play.” You were discreet as an actor. In this role you’re very dictatorial. Did you find yourself fitting into that comfortably?
FONDA: Yes I did. In the first and second seasons, in every scene—and for me it was always that I had one scene and it was one day—I would come in, I knew the lines, I wouldn’t need to use sides and I did it.
AWARDSLINE: You’ve just signed on to do a comedy for Netflix with Lily Tomlin. When does that start?
FONDA: Well, I don’t know if I can tell because of the person who is going to shoot the first episode and his availability. But we will begin now in August.
AWARDSLINE: I couldn’t quite tell whether it’s a comedy or a drama.
FONDA: It’s going to be both. It’s going to be edgy. It’s not a sitcom.
AWARDSLINE: And do you and Tomlin know each other very well?
FONDA: We do. We’ve stayed friends since (1980’s) 9 to 5. I see more of her now that I’ve moved back (to Los Angeles), where I have been for the last four-and-a-half years.
AWARDSLINE: How do you play off each other?
FONDA: Well, it’s going to be different because in this (show) we don’t like each other. She is an old hippie, and I am really straight. I mean, I’ll do my martinis, but I don’t do any pot or any of that other stuff, whereas she does (pot) and peyote and all that. She thinks that I’m kind of an anorexic, straight-ass jerk, and I think she’s a foggy-headed ridiculous hippie, and we can’t wait until our husbands retire from being partners so that we never have to see each other again.
AWARDSLINE: It’s strange to revisit past friendships and even past pictures. I get offended when I see pictures that I was involved in being remade because they’re always being remade badly.
FONDA: Tell me about it. I said it to Jim Carrey, “Our (Fun with Dick and Jane) was better than yours.”
AWARDSLINE: My wife and I saw you in 33 Variations. You owned that room, but again, it was a very different sort of character.
FONDA: I loved doing that. It was five months in New York, and here (in L. A.) I think it was three-and-a-half or four.
AWARDSLINE: That’s a long time onstage. Would you ever want to do that again?
AWARDSLINE: Well, you’re tough because it was a great deal of voice work.
FONDA: I do a lot of public speaking. The fact that I talk to the audience in that play was easy for me. Doing theater was on my bucket list. My dad loved theater. I didn’t want to die without having experienced what he had, and I did it with 33 Variations. I always joke that I peak at auditions, but that was the first time when, after the last performance, there was an, “Oh, that’s what that meant” moment. There was still that discovery.
AWARDSLINE: But theater is so risky. You put yourself onstage and people want to discover you and attack you. I know you’re used to risk.
FONDA: I am. The only thing I would’ve wanted to do a revival of would have been A Doll’s House, but I’m too old, and it’s been done too well. But I don’t really want to do revivals; I want to do original plays. The thing that gets me is that well-to-do people see the theater. I want to use my craft to communicate things I think are important. Television is the way to do it, and the reason I’m so excited about this show with Lily is that for years I have wanted to give a cultural face to women aging—to show the beauty of it, the joys of it, the scariness of it. We older women are the fastest-growing demographic in the world. I don’t want to just do a sitcom; I want to do something poignant that’s real.