For the first time since she and Ted Turner split, the actress opens up about what she fears most—and the life-changing promise she has made.
Oprah: I've read that, like me, you've always struggled with the disease to please.
Jane Fonda: I used to walk into a party and think, Oh, my God, will I be interesting enough? Will people like me? Will I be pretty enough? Do I fit in? Now I go into a room and think, do I really want to be here? Are these people I want to spend a few hours with? It's a big shift.
O: How did you make the shift?
JF: Hard work. Growing up.
O: Are you still growing up?
JF: To do life right, you have to feel like you're growing up until the day you die. The thing I'm proudest of is that I have stayed curious. I have every intention, when I'm on my deathbed, of saying, "Oh, my God I get it!"
O: Do you get it at all now?
JF: Three or four years after I married Ted, I thought I got it. Wrong.
O: What did you think you had gotten?
JF: I thought I had learned how to have an intimate relationship. And I thought I'd learned how to be happy. Everybody has issues. For me, the challenge is intimacy.
O: I read that when you married Ted, you thought you'd found your soul mate. You said that he had helped you to show up in ways that you hadn't.
JF: In many ways, that's true. We are very much alike.
O: Was it exciting to be in love again in your fifties?
JF: Oh, yeah.
O: Did you believe that was possible?
JF: I've never become cynical about love. Ted is a soul mate. I care about him. He was wonderful for me.
O: How did he help you show up in ways that you hadn't been able to?
JF: He kept challenging me. He kept saying, "I need you here. I need you to be intimate." And so I tried to figure out what that meant. I went into therapy, and I worked hard on it. And I finally learned to do it.
O: Learned to do it too much?
JF: There's no such thing. When we started off, we were on the same level. And then I moved somewhere else. And I don't mean [somewhere] better or worse, just different. The relationship is very much in flux, [but] we're very close. He means the world to me. He taught me to be happy.
O: Which is different from saying he made you happy. He taught you to be happy.
JF: He did. In some ways, he's like my father, but he's not dour. He's full of life and funny, in fact, he's a riot. And I tend to be overly serious, because I'm my father's daughter. So it was wonderful for me to be with somebody lighthearted, well, Ted's not really lighthearted, he's deep, someone who gets that much of a kick out of life.
O: Why are you and Ted separated?
JF: Because we changed. I changed. I changed probably more than he did, and we need to see what that means. Are we happier by ourselves than we were together? It's not clear. I don't know what's going to happen.
O: What do you want to happen?
JF: I want to not lose my voice again. And being by myself, that is to say, without a man, it's been a long time, is allowing me to know what it feels like to live in my own skin, to remember what I miss and don't miss about a relationship.
O: Jane, it's been rumored that you're going back to theater. Is that true?
JF: I would love to do theater if it resonates with me and speaks to things I really want to say.
O: Was your appearance at the Academy Awards this year a coming out?
JF: No. O: It sure looked like one, if that wasn't coming out, I don't know what is! What was that?
JF: Fun. Apparently [the show's producers] called [my friend] Paula, who used to be my agent, and said, "We want Jane to present the special award." Paula called me right after the separation was announced. I was still in the crying stage, and she said, "You better do the Academy Awards." And I said, "I can't do that! People will resent it. I'm not in the business anymore. It looks like I'm trying to hog the limelight." And she plain bullied me into saying okay. About 15 years ago, I had hosted with Robin Williams and Alan Alda, and I wore this fabulous dress. I said to Paula, "I've got just the dress!" And she said, "You're not gonna wear a dress that you've worn before! Are you kidding? Ask Vera Wang." And Vera made my dress!
I raise money every year for [charity], I auction everything but my underwear, and [after the Oscars] I thought, I'll auction the dress! That got into the papers, and then I got to liking the dress. So I got a second round of publicity saying I'm not going to sell the dress, I'm going to wear it for a year and then sell it!
O: Did you feel sexy when you walked out onstage?
JF: I owned the stage. I was inside my body. I was a little worried when I had to turn, I had on heels that were about four inches high. I was curious about how I would feel being back [in Hollywood]. I felt welcomed. I went to the parties, and I sat there thinking, Everybody is so nice, and I'm so glad I don't live here! I've done it already. And I wouldn't go back there if you paid me.
O: Even if they paid you a lot?
JF: A lot. Because at my core, I'm an activist. And California is so big, and the problems are so vast, that you can never feel you have an impact. Here, I can matter.
O: Who are you now, Jane?
JF: Who am I? I'm a survivor. I'm a woman with tremendous inner resources and resilience. I care about people. I believe in "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," and I live by that. I am becoming authentic, and that's important to me. I have surpassed both my parents in terms of emotional stability, happiness and well-being. And I'm a lucky woman. I've deserved my luck.
O: Do you believe you created your luck?
JF: No. I think that, like most of us, I was born with an innate goodness. And I believe that God has seen that in me and has protected me through times when I should have died so I could fulfill my potential and do his work.
O: The Bible says, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Do you believe you're called?
JF: I believe I'm called.
O: And what is your calling?
JF: To provide opportunities for people who don't have the opportunities they should.
O: Is there anything that scares you, Jane?
O: Not even death itself?
JF: Not at all. I feel so full. I just feel good. I'm 62, and I'm finding my voice. I mean, if that's not fabulous.
O: That is!
JF: Ted said, "People your age aren't supposed to change!" I said, "Oh?" I can't tell you what living in Atlanta means to me. I can't tell you what having the opportunity to hang out with my girlfriends means to me. I feel like the world is before me.