Director Susan Lacy has been wanting to make a documentary on Jane Fonda ever since she read her autobiography My Life So Far back in 2005.
Lacy instantly recognized that Fonda’s life and career was rife for such a film. Not just because of her story as an actress and an activist. But, as the daughter of Hollywood legend Henry Fonda, she also knew there would be mountains of material to work with, too.
Even Lacy was surprised by just how much access and footage she was able to get, though.
All of which helped her to make a definitive and all-encompassing piece that reveals how Jane Fonda was able to merge her talent with her activism to become the most important actress in American history, while it also helped Lacy that she was able to structure the film in a particularly precise fashion.
“In Jane’s own book she said she was writing the book to try and understand her first two acts she could try to live out her third,” Lacey recently explained to me over the phone.
“The notion of acts was embedded in my brain when I made this film. When I studied her story and interviewed her, which I did 12 long times that came to over 20 hours of footage, her life really was, even though she didn’t structure the book that way, structured by the four men in her life.”
“Starting with her father. The importance of her father has stayed with her her entire life. Then she married a sexy French film director and lived a certain life in Paris and the French countryside. Then she becomes ‘Barbarella’.”
“Then she comes back and her eyes are opened to what is going on in America, she becomes an activist, comes back to USA. Does her first very serious dramatic roles, and realizes that she doesn’t want to live that life anymore.”
“Marries Tom Hayden, a very famous activist and intellectual. Then she marries Ted Turner. So she has her father and her three husbands. And with each of these men she is trying to be who they want her to be.”
“Somehow believing that if she isn’t who they want her to be then nobody will love her. She finally realizes that she doesn’t need that anymore.”
“And the Jane that has always been in there at her very strong core, even if she didn’t always know it, is able to fly. So the last act is Jane.”
The fact that both the film and Jane’s life are able to be structured into five acts made me wonder if Lacy had considered the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald remark, ‘There are no second acts in American lives’ while making it.
“Of course I did. I am a huge Fitzgerald fan. You think of that often. I think he is wrong. There are many second acts. The aspiration to have a second act is what Gatsby is all about.”
“I don’t think Jane does it consciously. She is very meticulous, very professional, she is very ordered. But I also think there is a lot of spontaneity in her life. She goes with the flow.”
“She is very affected by an attractive, sexy man. So she follows that path. Never allowing the Jane inside of her to die. That is key to her. Even if she didn’t always know it.”
“One of the most fascinating things in the film is when Tom Hayden fell in love with another woman and left her.”
“And Jane is so devastated that she said, ‘If I am not married to Tom Hayden who am I? Who will want to know me.’ It was shocking that she ever felt that. But she did.”
But despite the trials and tribulations that Fonda has experienced in her extraordinary life in activism and in her career as an actress, Lacy insists that Fonda has never been concerned with how the public perceived her.
“Public image is a concern for everybody, but particularly celebrities. I don’t think that was ever a concern for her. I think she operates in a different place.”
“Of course it is a tricky terrain. Especially when you are hated. And you get out there on the frontline and you speak up and you make some mistakes, some of the mistakes she made in Vietnam still haunt her 50 years later.”
“She has lived a brave and unfettered life. I don’t she thinks about the impact that things are gonna have.”
“I think she is surprised at the impact she has had. And she is really surprised at the career she is having at the age of 80. I don’t think she expected it.”
You can revel in her life and work when “Jane Fonda In Five Acts” is shown on HBO at 8pm.