Jane Fonda delighted with AFI salute, but she’s not sitting still

Has anyone in public life had more disparate phases and identities than Jane Fonda?

There’s the brilliant actress (and daughter of a Hollywood legend), the polarizing political activist, the exercise maven, the rich celebrity wife and now, once again, the working actress.

Whatever the role, Fonda invests it with fierce determination and ambition, so it’s not surprising that the age-defying 76-year-old hit the ground running when she returned to acting, after a 15-year sabbatical, in the 2005 comedy hit Monster-in-Law and hasn’t looked back.

After wowing the red carpet with her stunning looks at the recent Cannes Film Festival as an ambassador for L'Oreal, she went to Switzerland to play an 80-year-old diva in Youth, for Paolo Sorrentino, who directed the Oscar-winning Italian film The Great Beauty. Earlier this year, Fonda made Fathers and Daughters with Russell Crowe (“He just knocked my socks off”) and will be seen this fall with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman in This Is Where I Leave You.

In August, she and her 9 to 5 costar Lily Tomlin begin filming the new Netflix series Grace and Frankie, and she’s returning for at least one episode in her role as the powerful owner of a cable news network in HBO’s The Newsroom, for which she received an Emmy nomination.

Last week, Fonda received one of her hometown’s most prestigious honors — the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award — at the Dolby Theatre. She is only the eighth actress to receive the award. Her father, Henry Fonda, won it in 1978. An edited version of the show will air at 9 p.m. Saturdayon TNT, with an encore at 10:30 p.m. on TNT, and at 8 p.m. Aug. 1 on Turner Classic Movies. Among those paying tribute will be brother Peter Fonda, Michael Douglas, Meryl Streep, Catherine Keener, Sally Field and Penny Marshall.

“If you had asked me three years ago if I thought this was in my future, I would say I can’t even hope for such a thing,” she said. In fact, she said she was so moved when she learned of the honor last fall, “I burst into tears.”

The award, she said, “is not for one film. It’s for a body of work. It’s very competitive and very important, serious longtime heavyweights in the industry make the decision about who gets it. It’s like a major stamp of approval and respect from your industry peers.”

Despite winning Oscars for 1971’s Klute and 1978’s Coming Home, as well as nominations for 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, 1977’s Julia, 1979’s The China Syndrome, 1981’s On Golden Pond and 1986’s The Morning After, she wasn’t happy.

“I didn’t know who I was or where I was going,” said Fonda. “I’d really kind of gone off the track, and I can’t act when I feel that way. So I left.”

She was divorced from second husband Tom Hayden in 1990 and moved to Atlanta in 1991 when she married media mogul Ted Turner.

“That was an important thing for me,” she said. “Ted taught me how to laugh. I come from a family that is very serious, so Ted was a very important part of my healing.”

So was writing her candid 2005 memoir My Life So Far, in which she talked about her three-decade struggle with bulimia, her failed marriages, her mother Frances’ suicide when the actress was just 12, her famous father who was often cold and distant, and her anti-Vietnam War activities that almost derailed her career in 1972.

Fonda has rolled with the times: She is a popular presence on Twitter — she has more than 600,000 followers — and reports she has had “tremendous feedback” from her website, at www.janefonda.com, and her blog posts on subjects including a butternut squash recipe to her music producer-boyfriend Richard Perry’s battle with Parkinson’s disease. Her latest series of exercise “Prime Time” DVDs is geared to baby boomers. She’s managed to write 25 chapters of her first novel.

Fonda knows she has defied the odds in a youth-obsessed Hollywood. “I feel very blessed,” she said. “I did not think my third act would be as rich professionally, and as varied.”

While in her 40s, said Fonda, “I wrote a book called Women Coming of Age, and in it I wanted to give a cultural face to older women. Little did I know I would end up living it in my 70s.”

Susan King

Los Angeles Times