Oprah Talks to Jane Fonda
Jane: They're starting with makeup so early, and it happened to me. I participated in taking the voice of my daughter away. I can look at photographs of her now, before early adolescence and after adolescence, and I can see what I did to her, without realizing what I was doing. Carol Gilligan, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote a groundbreaking book called In a Different Voice in the eighties. She said that women's experiences and voices did not appear in [critical] psychological studies. Everything's based on what Freud and Erickson analyzed. So we don't fit. And not hearing our authentic voices means we don't know what we know. Or we learn when we're young, and then we forget what we knew.
Oprah: Because no part of us has been validated.
Jane: Gilligan said that [women] sometimes lose their voices consciously—as a survival mechanism—and sometimes without realizing it. And the channels through which breath and sound pass are constricted, so the voice gets high in the head and doesn't reveal the depth of your feelings.
Oprah: Oh! That is soooo good!
Jane: I started crying when I read that, because I remembered my voice in my early movies. I went back and looked at the videos—of Tall Story, Sunday in New York, Any Wednesday—and there's my voice, all high and thin, not revealing any of what I was. I went back and tracked my growth as a woman, and my voice dropped in [the 1971 movie] Klute. It was the first-movie I made in which I identified myself as a feminist. It was also my first Academy Award. And there was a resonance there, because my voice was here [from my diaphragm].
Oprah: So in a way you had become—or made a pact with—the women you played up until Klute?
Jane: I did those characters well because that's where I was. Somebody sent me an early tape of What's My Line? when I was the mystery guest. Vanessa could tell you—it's shameful. My voice—it was like some other human being's.
Oprah: You say you can look at pictures and see when you started to take your daughter's voice away. How did you do that?
Jane: Intuitively, Vanessa has always known my strength—and she has always seen me give it up for a man. It has made her very angry, which is one reason it's great that I'm here with her. She knows that I'm getting my voice back. But that was the main thing—her seeing me stuff it in, in order to make a relationship work. And the inherent message in that is, "You're supposed to give up everything that matters to be in a relationship."
Jane: Give yourself up. Give your voice up. Relationship is all. So you lose your relationship with yourself in order to be in a relationship with somebody else. Which is untenable. It can't work.
Oprah: Have you given yourself up in every marriage?
Oprah: You did that with Vanessa's father, Roger Vadim?
Oprah: With Tom Hayden?
Oprah: Is that what being a wife means to you— giving up your voice?
Jane: It's what being a woman means to me—meant to me. But I didn't think about it. That's what you want me to be? No problem! There are many successful, famous and strong women. But it's in a relationship that this [behavior] shows up.
Oprah: Because you take on a role?
Jane: You can conquer the world in every other area, but in that man-woman relationship, you lose your voice. For me, it was that I had a father I just couldn't—
Oprah: Communicate with.
Jane: I'd turn myself inside out, I'd become a boy or a man, or I'd stand on my head—just anything.
Oprah: To please him?
Oprah: So he would pay attention to you?
Oprah: See you.
Jane: See me. And he would only tell me when I was too fat or when I was doing something bad.
Jane: Yeah. So then you act out and become bulimic, and I can't blame that on him, but what you learn, real young, is to turn yourself inside out to keep the relationship. And that's what I'm learning.
Oprah: Learning to get over. Did you learn that after your mother committed suicide? You had to start showing up for yourself at the age of 12. Wasn't it 12?
Jane: No, no, no! Age 60 is when I started learning it. I made a movie in preparation for my 60th birthday, [at the start of] this third-act business. I went back and looked at my movies and interviews, and I figured out what the first and second acts had been.
Oprah: And what was your first act about?
Jane: As a child, climbing trees was my thing. At the top of an oak tree, I could hear triumphal music, and I could see myself, like Joan of Arc, leading armies up the side of a hill. I was a conqueror. Then when my family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, I became this itty-bitty little thing. And all I thought about was being too fat and too shy, and the tomboy turned into someone who was trying to figure out how to fit in and look girlish, and it was horrible. So the second part of that first act was about being popular. Being loved. Becoming an actress. Trying to be loved by multitudes if I couldn't be loved by one.
My second act was about becoming an activist. That took me closer to my core. And the third act is about finding my voice. It's about who I really am on my own, not in relation to somebody else or in trying to please somebody.
Oprah: 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.
Jane: In many ways, that's true. We are very much alike.
Oprah: Was it exciting to be in love again in your fifties?
Jane: Oh, yeah.
Oprah: Did you believe that was possible?
Jane: I've never become cynical about love. Ted is a soul mate. I care about him. He was wonderful for me.
Oprah: How did he help you show up in ways that you hadn't been able to?
Jane: 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.
Oprah: Learned to do it too much?
Jane: 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.
Oprah: Which is different from saying he made you happy. He taught you to be happy.
Jane: 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.
Oprah: Why are you and Ted separated?
Jane: 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.
Oprah: What do you want to happen?
Jane: 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. And I have the opportunity to do this in the home of my daughter.
Oprah: What is that like? Did you call your daughter up and say, "I want to move in"?
Jane: I said, "Vanessa, Ted and I are gonna do a trial separation. Gosh, where am I gonna live? Um, you know, I could get a hotel room, and, of course, I could live with you." And she said, "Okay." And I said, "Oh, good!" It was like that.
I would not have wanted to do a separation if it were not for Vanessa living here. She and I have not had an easy go of it in our relationship. We're very much alike. I didn't show up for her as much as I should have. I was a busy professional woman. I always feel guilty when I say that, because it sounds like, "See? When those women work..." But it has nothing to do with the work. It has to do with what happened when I came home. And when I came home, I didn't really come home in my head, in my heart, to her. So I paid for it later.
Oprah: Did you raise your daughter and son differently?
Jane: I did. I had a nanny with Vanessa, and I barely breast-fed her. I was 31 when I had her, but I wasn't ready to be a parent. I was just a little screwed up and not happy in my marriage. When I married Tom, Troy's father, I was more stable. In some ways, Tom taught me to be a better parent. I breast-fed Troy for seven months—and I showed up as a parent. Though I would go away for long periods to make movies, when I came home, I connected. And when Tom and I would tour nationally, we'd take Troy with us. I just took him more than I took Vanessa.
Oprah: Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that you're living here with your daughter, in a real neighborhood. I thought you'd be in a Shangri-la, little doo-da of a place.
Jane: You should have seen the house Vanessa grew up in: This is fancy by comparison! My whole life has been about having opulence, and then moving into a situation where I'm living off the Salvation Army in one suitcase, and then getting opulence again and then moving into something humble. I'm proud of that.
Oprah: So being surrounded by pretty things is not important to you?
Jane: I like comfort, yeah. I'm not going to live here for the rest of my life. I'm having a loft apartment built with 20-foot-high ceilings. But it's not in Buckhead. It's in downtown, in a hood.
Oprah: Jane Fonda in the hood!
Jane: It won't be a hood for long, trust me, but I like that I know an Atlanta that Ted doesn't know exists. My friends are people he never would have met. And it's the Atlanta that I've come to love.
Oprah: Is there part of you that wants to deny the privilege you came from?
Jane: No. It has to do with the Vietnam War. I was living in France with Roger Vadim, who was a major movie star. I was pregnant with Vanessa, I had blonde hair and I was looking at TV from France and seeing the antiwar movement here in the United States. The French were saying to me, "Your country is crazy to be there. Look what you're doing—you're bombing hospitals!" And I would say to them, "No we're not. My father fought in World War II, and we would never do that." But then I talked to the guys back from Vietnam, and I realized we were doing those things. And I was living this fun—but rather empty—life.
Oprah: But why take that issue on, Jane?
Jane: I wasn't thinking in those terms. I was thinking, "Look at those people back in my country." I didn't want to be in France saying my country was wrong to be in Vietnam. I wanted to be home, to know what was going on here. So I packed a bag and sold everything I had, and I came here and lived in my father's servant quarters, traveled around the country, got into a lot of trouble.
Oprah: How did you handle the hostility? A whole country—to a great extent—turned against you.
Jane: Not a whole country. Coming home was like getting in a warm bath—there were people who really looked at me and asked me questions, like, "Who are you? What do you believe in?" I made new friends, including Tom Hayden. I met people who were living for more than just themselves. When I first returned from France, I was about to close on a lease of a house way up on a hill in Bel-Air, and then I was driving cross-country, headed east to do Klute, and I had an epiphany: I didn't want to be one of those people who live on a hill and do fund-raisers, and then dole out money. I wanted to live at the bottom of a hill, with the people I was working with. So I canceled the lease.
Oprah: But as a person who wanted to please—to be liked—how did you handle being seen as a traitor?
Jane: I put a callus over my heart. I felt that what we were doing was right. And I had a strong network of friends, and I just went ahead. Except for intimacy, I'm very brave! You have to stay vulnerable to be open to intimacy, to keep learning and growing. You have to be able to say, "I was wrong." You have to accept responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them.
Oprah: Have you done that?
Jane: I will go to my grave regretting the photograph of me in an antiaircraft carrier, which looks like I was trying to shoot at American planes. That had nothing to do with the context that photograph was taken in. But it hurt so many soldiers. It galvanized such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless. I wasn't thinking; I was just so bowled over by the whole experience that I didn't realize what it would look like.
Oprah: I recently read that you were converted to Christianity by your chauffeur, who took you to a black church. True?
Jane: No. I have become a Christian, but it had nothing to do with a driver. And I do go to a black church.
Oprah: You do?
Jane: Providence [Missionary] Baptist Church.
Oprah: I grew up in a black church, and when whites would come, it was a big deal. So are you a big deal there?