Jane Fonda: ‘I’m going fishing with my favourite ex-husband’

You have 10 minutes on the phone with the Oscar-winning actor. What do you ask her?

You never know what's going to happen in a newspaper office. One minute I have my head stuck in a computer, figuring out a schedule for the next fortnight, the next I hear an editor asking, "Do you want to interview Jane Fonda?" The Jane Fonda? Farewell, schedule planning.

Sadly, Fonda is not in town. She is at the end of a phone line in New York, being patched in by a protective Netflix personage. The more famous you are the less time you spend with journalists. I have 10 minutes with Fonda on the phone. I'm not bitter.

When you have won two Oscars, had three husbands, been a political activist, campaigned for the empowerment of women, made the bestselling fitness video yet, written books, given Ted Talks and are now aged 77 and still looking fabulous – and starring in a new Netflix comedy with Lily Tomlin, called Grace and Frankie – you haven't much time to spare.

Grace and Frankie is about two older women whose husbands announce that they are leaving them – to marry each other. Marta Kaufmann, who helped to create Friends, is also a creator of Grace and Frankie.


“For a number of years I’ve wanted to do a TV show about older women,” says Fonda. “We are the fastest-growing demographic in the world, and I wanted to find a way to give us a cultural face. I don’t like the way older women are portrayed, because I know that when women age they become braver, more feisty and more radical.

“What do we have to lose? We’re past the f**k-me fifties; we’re not in the marketplace for a man any more; our children are gone and we’re not trying to fit in.”

I briefly consider putting Fonda on speakerphone, so that everyone around me can hear this. It is not every day that you hear a woman in the public eye in her eighth decade swear or speak so frankly.

What has she found most challenging about ageing? “That your body can’t quite do what it used to do. I used to love to run and ski and ride and hike, and now I have more aches and pains. The challenge is to admit it’s happening but not let it define you.

“It’s different for men as they age,” she adds. “Ageing men are more accepted, especially if they’re powerful; they’re still viewed as sexy, whereas women are prized for their youth – and that is true on the big screen too.

“I think it is getting a tiny bit easier for older women in Hollywood, but that’s only because of independent movies. It’s still the same story in the big studios.”

In biographical notes about Fonda, fly-fishing is mentioned as an interest. Does she still fish? “Oh yes. I’m going to Montana next month with my favourite ex-husband.”

The hardened journalist in me knows it is not the first time Fonda has used that expression about a particular ex-husband – when I ask which one it is, she names Ted Turner – but she sure knows how to deliver a soundbite. Does she eat the trout she catches? “It’s catch and release – and I kiss each one before I throw it back.”

This is the best 10 minutes of telephone interview I’ve ever had.

What's she reading at the moment? Toni Morrison's new novel, God Help the Child, and a book called Revelations, by Elaine Pagels, who Google later informs me is a professor of religion at Princeton.

Has she read any Irish authors? “Edna O’Brien, of course,” Fonda replies. “She’s a friend.”

Where does she keep the Oscars she won for Coming Home and Klute? "I keep them on the shelf beneath my big television set," she says. It's perfect. She keeps her Oscars close to the old-fashioned portal to movies.

Are there any films she watches over and over? “I don’t watch any film over and over again,” is the brisk response.

Our 10 minutes are almost up, but you have to get the big questions in there. So, Jane, what happens when we die? “We’re made up of molecules from the stars, and we are an illusion,” she says. “We’re all energy fields, and when we die we become energy fields again. If we’re good people when we live then we float in the minds of the people who love us when we die.”

And then the Netflix person comes on the line and tells me time is up.

Grace and Frankie is now streaming on Netflix