Jane Fonda Reflects on Acting and Activism on Eve of Cecil B. DeMille Award

Jenelle Riley
·6-min read

It sounds like a punchline, but it’s true: Jane Fonda has so many awards, they once broke a shelf.
It was during her marriage to Ted Turner; prior to that she never really had her accolades, which include two Academy Awards, two BAFTAs, seven Golden Globes and a Primetime Emmy Award, on display. But then she moved in with Turner and notes, “Ted’s office is about the size of a football field. And it’s lined with trophies from his sailing. And it really struck me: he’s not ashamed of putting out all his trophies. I mean, literally, there were thousands.”

So at their home in Montana, Fonda created a case with glass shelves. “I put all my awards on them. And the shelves broke,” she says. “I had enough to cause them to break.”

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Fonda will soon have some more hardware to display; she’s been tapped to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, an honor that has been bestowed upon the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

It’s a tribute to her work across many media, from such film classics as “Coming Home,” “Klute” and “9 to 5,” to her Netflix series “Grace and Frankie” and her fitness empire, including the “Jane Fonda’s Workout,” which sold 17 million copies.

There’s also her work as an activist, which has never slowed down. In fact, this interview happens to fall on a Friday, and Fonda is dressed in red, fresh from her weekly Fire Drill Friday meeting. The movement began in 2019, spearheaded by Greenpeace and Fonda, when Fonda moved to Washington, D.C., and began protesting every Friday outside the Capitol to draw attention to the ongoing climate crisis. Fonda was arrested five times during the live events — one apprehension prohibited her from accepting last year’s Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award from BAFTA Los Angeles, though she took the opportunity to tape a quick speech while being arrested.

Fonda’s speech this year likely will be in calmer surroundings; while plans haven’t been finalized, she probably will accept from a soundstage. She admits when she heard about the honor, she was surprised. “Actually, I shed a few tears,” she says. “I was totally taken aback. And I was very moved.”

While she hasn’t written her speech yet, she says she wants to talk about the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the group behind the Globes, and some of the work it does, such as restoring old films.
One such film is close to Fonda’s heart; “F.T.A.,” a documentary that’s been considered lost for almost 50 years. Originally released in 1972 and directed by Francine Parker, the film documents the performances of the anti-Vietnam War “F.T.A. Show” that Fonda and Donald Sutherland performed at military bases in Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan. With “F.T.A.” standing for “Free the Army” or “Fuck the Army,” the shows were heavy political satire and considered the antithesis to Bob Hope’s USO tours. The film also incorporates interviews with soldiers, many of whom shared this anti-war sentiment.

“It opened in a theater in New York, it played for one week and then it disappeared,” says Fonda of the film’s initial release. She heard rumors that someone in the distribution company was a friend of Richard Nixon’s, but never got any real answers as to what happened. Fonda spoke of the film at an HFPA restoration summit in 2019 and how she was unable to find it. With help from the Hollywood Foreign Press Trust and a grant made to IndieCollect, a film preservation organization, they were able to restore the film. Fonda has taped a new introduction and it will be released March 5 in virtual cinemas through Kino Marquee.

Fonda couldn’t be happier. “This little gem has been resurrected by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” she says. “They restored it.” The new introduction she recorded also provides some historical context. “Then there’s this false myth that the peace movement was over here, and the soldiers were over here and they hated the peace movement,” she says. “This really puts a rest to that to that myth.”

It’s the second doc this year for Fonda; on Feb. 1 PBS’ “Independent Lens” series aired “9 to 5: The Story of a Movement,” from Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar (“American Factory”), looking at the secretaries who sought to create change in the workplaces in the 1970s and 1980s. The group was started by secretaries Ellen Cassedy and Karen Nussbaum, the latter of whom Fonda knew through the anti-war movement. Fonda’s involvement with the movement led to the iconic 1980 film “9 to 5,” and the film’s title song, sung by Dolly Parton. Fonda appears in the documentary, which is now available on the PBS Video app and the “Independent Lens” website.

While activism has always been important to the actor, there was a time where it was much less appreciated by the public — her tour of Vietnam in 1972 earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane.” But now, it’s not at all unusual for celebrities to speak out for causes. She notes that as terrifying as the Trump presidency was, after his election, “A whole lot of people said, ‘Oh my god, I better start figuring out why this happened. And how do we hold back the floodwaters from sweeping away our democracy?’” Essentially, she says, more people started paying attention and getting involved. “How many people knew about the Electoral College and understood what it was? Or the filibuster? I don’t think any of us really realized how fragile democracy is.”

When Black Lives Matter began the demonstrations last year, Fonda points out, the protests were large and diverse. “There were towns in California that are all white that were out marching with Black Lives Matter signs. I think it was just, ‘We cannot let this homophobic, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic toxin take over our country. We have to fight.’”

When the COVID pandemic forced Fire Drills Friday to move online, there was still no slowing down. So far, the weekly livestreams have had more than 8.5 million views overalls and Fonda has welcomed more than 70 guests. Their 20,000-plus volunteers have contacted more than 4 million voters in the general election.

On the acting side, Fonda is looking forward to shooting the final season of her Netflix hit “Grace and Frankie,” currently slated to begin production in June. The comedy that reunites her with Lily Tomlin has turned out to be one of her biggest successes — Pete Davidson and Paul Rudd even sang its praises on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” — “That was pretty great, it meant a lot to us,” says Fonda.

Still, Fonda notes that in the past two years she’s only worked as an actor for about five weeks. “There’s always the question, ‘Can I still do it? Will I remember how to do it?’ I read somewhere, I can’t remember who it was, that it’s not like riding a bicycle. But I think it probably is. And I’m looking forward to starting it up again.”

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