Jane Fonda Talks About "Monster-in-Law" and Working with Jennifer Lopez

Fonda on Her Return to Movies, Her Autobiography, and Life

Jane Fonda Monster in Law
Jane Fonda stars in "Monster-in-Law". © New Line Cinema

Jane Fonda returns to feature films with a starring role in the romantic comedy, "Monster-in-Law." Fonda stars as Viola Fields, a recently fired high-powered TV journalist who discovers her one and only son (Michael Vartan) is in love with a temp worker named Charlie (Jennifer Lopez). This doesn't sit well with the controlling mom who decides she needs to get rid of her son's new girlfriend by any means possible.

INTERVIEW WITH JANE FONDA ('Viola'):

How was your relationship with your own mother-in-laws?
I’ve had three and they were all great. Whew!

Getting back in front of camera must have been an emotional experience for you.
The moving day was the first day that I was actually in front of a camera after 15 years, which was the costume and make-up test that everybody does. Before the camera rolled for the first test, Robert Luketic just got everybody quiet and said, “Welcome back Ms. Fonda,” and I cried I was so moved.

Did you base Viola on anyone you know?
My favorite ex-husband, Ted Turner (laughing). I know that may sound really weird, but I had the privilege of spending 10 years with Ted Turner and talk about over the top, outrageous… I mean every day with Ted is like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe he just said that or did that.”

He’s the only person I know who’s had to apologize more than I’ve had [to].

He is an absolute hoot and he is outrageous and he lacks any self-censorship. And at the same time, he’s extremely lovable and I had never known anyone like him. So when I got an opportunity to play Viola, it was like I had permission to be over the top because I knew what that could look like. I don’t mean to say that because it’s called “Monster-in-Law” that he’s a monster.

I’m crazy about the man. Absolutely adore him and we’re close friends. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s like, just go all the way, hit for the fences.

What was it like working with Jennifer Lopez? Was it anything like you expected?
I worried that she’d be a diva, but at least I didn’t see that at all. She was professional. She was on time. She knew her lines. She’s very smart. We got along great. I didn’t get to know her super well because she’s so busy. The time that she was able to stay on set in between takes we would talk and enjoy each other. It was fun.

What would your character say if she met Jane Fonda?
What an interesting question. She’d probably say, “Come here,” and she’d probably step outside the cameras and say, “What was he like in bed?” (Laughing) We’d dish. I think Viola would be fascinated with my life and we’d have a lot to talk about. Publicly what would she ask me? The same sort of things you’re asking me. Smart questions.

What made you stop everything 15 years ago?
It had become agony. I was not happy inside as a woman and I was kind of in denial about it and sort of cut off from my emotions. I was living on willpower and it’s very hard to be creative when you’re living on willpower.

My last two or three movies were just agony and I said, “I don’t want to be scared anymore.” Then I met Ted Turner and I didn’t have to. And then when Ted and I split up, I spent five years writing my autobiography so for 15 years I’ve been under the radar, extremely happy, [and] didn’t miss it at all. Then this character was offered to me of Viola Fields and I’ve never played anybody like her. I just went, “What a hoot! I’m so different than I was 15 years ago. I’m not living in my head anymore. Let me see if this can be a joyful experience again.” And it was.

What are your concerns about age and Hollywood and where you fit in?
I’m realistic. Hollywood is not so friendly to older women. I’ve had my career. I’m not looking to recreate a career. If I get an opportunity to play fun characters again from time to time that would be great.

But I’m kind of relieved that I’m at a point where, “Hey, if you want me fine. If you don’t, fine. I don’t care.” It’s not who I am.

How has getting back into the spotlight been for you?
My life has been open to the public and judged for many, many decades and I have been under the radar for 15 years. I wrote the book because I have come to some understanding in my life and what the themes are, and I knew that if I wrote it honestly that it would help people. I liked the fact that just about the time the book was coming out I could do this movie that was funny, which is not what people associate me with - even though I’ve done a lot of comedies.

It was like for the last few months I’ve known that there was going to be this wall of public scrutiny coming toward me and you just gird your loins get ready. You just sort of say, “OK, one more day down. Check.” About mid-June it will be over.

PAGE 2: Jane Fonda on Festering Hostilities, Her Autobiography, and "Barbarella"

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Your re-emergence has reignited some of these festering hostilities. How are you dealing with that?
I get letters on a regular basis from Vietnam veterans, so moving, saying that they forgive me. That they’ve understood I did what I had to do. They did what they had to do and that we’re kind of meeting in the middle now after 30 years. It makes me happy because it shows that there’s healing taking place.

There are also a lot of veterans who have not yet been able to heal and for whom I’m the lightning rod. I understand why there’s rage about Vietnam, as well there should be. We were lied to, we were deceived by a series of administrations. It was a war that never had to happen and it’s very hard to take your rage out against your own government and I became a lightning rod and I have to own that. I hope in time, with time, that people can…those guys can heal. It wasn’t my war. I didn’t send them there. I didn’t lie. I just tried to end it.

How difficult was the process of writing your autobiography?
Not difficult once I made the decision to do it. I thought, “Oh gosh, but it’s going to be so hard to write about this or that.” And yet as I began to write, when I’d come to those what I thought would be difficult passages, it was, I don’t know, it’s like there was an angel sitting on my shoulder and it just came.

It was easy to write. It was easy to write about my marriages and my husbands without blaming or without being gossipy. You’ve got to own your life. You’ve got to own and take responsibility for it…statute of limitations on being angry and blaming your parents and all that kind of thing.

What does writing do for you creatively?
Writing your life is unique as an experience and I wrote in layers.

I would start with what I had the most, “Then I did this, then I did that, then I did this…” Then you come back a little bit later and say, “This is what I really did.” Then you come back a little bit later to say, “This is how I felt.” Then you come back and say, “This is why I did it.” And I find, at least for me, that I always had to say, “What was I feeling?” because you can take away anything, but you can’t take away how someone was feeling and what that did to them. And I thought if the book is going to resonate with other people that’s where I have to go, and that’s a very transformative thing.

Now the other interesting thing is when I’d hit a problem I would go out and garden. Having my hands in the dirt and growing things is very therapeutic for me. Or I’d chop down trees. I have a ranch in New Mexico and I’m trying to clear trails for it so I can ride.

Is there a movie you’ve seen that changed your life?
Well, many of my father’s films had a huge impact on me growing up. “Grapes of Wrath,” “Young Abe Lincoln,” “12 Angry Men,” “Oxbow Incident.” I mean they really formed a lot of my character and I think represented a lot of his character as well. Other than that, no. Books have caused epiphanies in my life, but I can’t think of any films.

How has the industry changed since you were working more steadily?
I’ll tell you one big difference that I hate. 15 years ago and more you could make a movie and so it didn’t do great the first weekend? It would have a couple of weeks to get some life and get some legs and word of mouth, and young actors would start to get noticed. It would have time. Nowadays if you don’t make it that first weekend you’re toast. That’s so scary and it doesn’t give young actors a chance to build a following. The other thing is, technologically, when I stopped making movies 15 years ago there weren’t even cell phones. There were no digital cameras, there were no video villages, you know, none of this... We had junkets like this, but this is like a well-oiled machine. Everything is a lot slicker.

And what would “Barbarella” have looked like in CGI?
What’s CGI?

When I look at that movie now, which I do with great enjoyment, really, the charm of “Barbarella” was the jerryrigged quality of it. We didn’t have any of that stuff. The angels flying… I write a whole scene about that in the book. Nobody had ever flown without wires. That was what was fun about it.