Jane Fonda and Oprah
Photo: Richard Phibbs
This interview appeared in the July/August issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Any woman can tell when another woman is on the verge of something great—she just walks differently. That's why when Jane Fonda strutted onstage at the Oscars this year, clad in a strapless gold lamé dress, gloves up past her elbows—and, oh yes, let's not forget that short new chichi do with the flip in back—it was as if women everywhere clicked their tongues, sat up on their couches and collectively declared: "Ooooh, yes—Jane is back!" And is she ever. Jane Fonda, the queen of self-reinvention, has a time line of reincarnations that stir our own memories. We know her first as Jane Fonda the model and actress. She has been in more than 40 films and won two Academy Awards© for Best Actress—for her performance in Klute in 1971, and for Coming Home in 1978—and co-starred with her late father, the legendary actor Henry Fonda, in On Golden Pond in 1981. She's also Jane Fonda the activist, who is now leading the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention—the same fight-back Jane who protested the Vietnam War and made some Americans so angry that they labeled her a Communist and slapped her with the nickname Hanoi Jane. And, of course, she's feel-the-burn Jane, the woman with the workout videos that will always whip my behind.

Now we behold her newest transformation: She is Brave New Jane, a woman who has finally realized her own power—and acknowledged faith in a higher one. At the age of 62 (can you really look like that at 62?), Jane says she has shed the disease to please and discovered her voice, one she stifled while in relationships with all three of the men (yes, even Ted) she has married: the late French film director Roger Vadim, whom she wed in 1965 and divorced eight years later, after having her first child, Vanessa; activist Tom Hayden, her husband of 16 years and the father of her son, Troy; and media tycoon Ted Turner—from whom Jane separated last January after eight years of marriage.

Jane and I meet at the Atlanta home of her daughter, Vanessa. When Jane and Ted separated, it was here that Jane found a haven, with her daughter at her side, her 1-year-old grandson in her arms and the sweeping green of Grant Park outside the front windows. She came to this neighborhood—to this nothing-fancy purple house with white trim—to perform her most important act yet: the one called self-definition.

It isn't just her split with Ted, so fresh and painful that Jane-still wears her wedding ring, that prompted her introspection. What brought her here—to her daughter's home and to this place in her life—was the choice to understand what she calls her "first and second acts," her first 60 years, as a means to understanding her final act. There's a lot to unravel in the early part of her life: When Jane was 12, her mother committed suicide (as did Ted Turner's father when Ted was 24); as a child, Jane yearned for the love and approval that her father often didn't know how to express; and for more than a decade, up until her mid-thirties, Jane battled bulimia.

Jane and I settle into her daughter's living room—sans shoes, sitting cross-legged, sipping Earl Grey tea and surrounded by ceiling-high bookshelves. When we finish our conversation—after nearly two hours, with her grandson occasionally crying in the background—I know that I have gained a friend. What I also know: It's because of the pain in Jane's past, however arduous it has been, that Jane is indeed a woman on the verge of something great.

Oprah: I've read that, like me, you've always struggled with the disease to please.

Jane: 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.

Oprah: How did you make the shift?

Jane: Hard work. Growing up.

Oprah: Are you still growing up?

Jane: 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!"

Oprah: Do you get it at all now?

Jane: Three or four years after I married Ted, I thought I got it. Wrong.

Oprah: What did you think you had gotten?

Jane: 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, but I really didn't start to get that until I turned 60.

Oprah: Tell me about turning 60.

Jane: As I saw my 60th birthday approaching, I thought, Well, I can do what a lot of my friends do and sleep through it. Or I can really show up. What did 60 mean to me? I figured I'd probably live until I'm about 90, which meant that I was at the beginning of what I call my third act. These are my last 30 years.

As an actress, I know how important the third act is. Third acts make sense of the first and second acts. You can have first and second acts that are interesting, but you don't know what they mean. Then a good third act pulls it all together. And so I thought, for that to happen, I have to know what the first and second acts were about, and I have to know where I want to end up. I knew that, because I sat by my father's side over the long months when he was dying.

When a significant other—a spouse, a parent or someone you're close to—is dying, it forces you to think about your life, about what you feel about death. What I realized from my dad's dying was that I wasn't scared of dying. But I was terrified of regrets. I was terrified of getting to the end of my life with a lot of Why didn't I's.

Oprah: How old were you when your father died?

Jane: Forty-four. My father didn't verbalize much, but I knew he had regrets, and I don't want to. I want to have people around me who really love me, whom I really love. And I know that you can't collect those chips unless you've earned them during your life. What that said to me was that I had one act left to make sure I didn't get to the end with regrets. What would I regret the most? My big regret would be if I'd never had an intimate relationship. But if you never grew up with intimacy, if you were never with parents who really loved each other, and you never saw that and absorbed it as a kid, it's hard to know how to do it.

I married certain kinds of men who weren't ever going to demand that I show up; and I didn't realize it consciously, but I never showed up for my kids. So I thought, "My challenge is to learn how to show up."

Oprah: I read that when you married Ted, you said, "Wherever he goes, there I will be." Did that mean you also wanted to "show up"—emotionally, spiritually, intimately?

Jane: Theoretically, that's what I wanted. But it took me a while to realize that it also scared me to death. And I thought I was connecting on the deepest level. Then I realized there was further to go—and I wanted to go there. So I worked on myself for about eight years.

Oprah: Meaning therapy?

Jane: Therapy.

Oprah: Trying to get to what?

Jane: Trying to understand the fear I had of truly opening my heart—first, you have to be whole to do that. The fears, the voices in my mind saying, "Oh, you don't want to do that, you might get hurt, they might abandon you—"those are ghost voices from my mom and dad.

Oprah: Isn't it true that you have to be whole because you have to be able to trust yourself? Even if someone isn't all you need, you have to trust yourself enough to be able to take care of yourself.

Jane: Yeah. You can't give unless you're stepping into a relationship as a full person. That's what I was working on, and it's just fascinating because this was all happening when I was deciding that I wanted to devote my life to kids—primarily to girls, because I understand them. To do that right, you have to think about your own girlhood.

Oprah: That's right.

Jane: Girls lose their original spirit in early adolescence. The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, powerful girls shrink down to the size of a thimble.

Oprah: Yeah, 10, 11, 12—gone. We start trying to be what everybody else wants.

Jane: Are you thin enough? Are you pretty enough? Do you fit in with this little group? It becomes about that. And then our female teachers, our mothers and the other women around us—without realizing what they're doing—send us the message that to survive as a woman, you have to quiet that voice. Virginia Woolf called it "the angel in the house." She would sit down to write from her core, and the shadow of the angel in the house would cast itself over her page to say, "I'm not sure you want to say that. People aren't going to understand that. You should be nicer, a little more feminine."

Oprah: A little cuter.

Jane: That's right. Hide your intelligence. Hide your power.

Oprah: Do we still do that to girls?

Jane: Oh, yes.

Oprah: We don't even know we're doing it.

Jane: No idea.

Oprah: I think most women reading this would say, "No, my daughter knows she can do anything."

Jane: Certainly, a lot of women who have identified with the women's movement and what it represents in terms of owning your voice and power have raised their daughters differently. But for the most part, and certainly among the girls I work with, it still happens. Even if the mother's not doing it, the culture around us is.

Oprah: Girls are dieting now at 10 and 11, because otherwise they can't fit in. They're ostracized by their own little friends!

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."

Oprah: Yourself.

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?

Jane: Yes.

Oprah: You did that with Vanessa's father, Roger Vadim?

Jane: Uh-huh.

Oprah: With Tom Hayden?

Jane: Willingly!

Oprah: Willingly?

Jane: Unconsciously.

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?

Jane: Yes!

Oprah: See you.

Jane: See me. And he would only tell me when I was too fat or when I was doing something bad.

Oprah: Really?

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?

Jane: Uh-huh!

Oprah: There's Jane!

Jane: I haven't joined any church—that's the church I've been to a number of times. I go to other churches too. I'm on a quest. I grew up in secular environments on both coasts—either in New York or Hollywood—and the only people I knew who had faith were Jewish. Most of the people whom I did organizing work with were lapsed Catholics, including both of my previous husbands.

Oprah: So you grew up with no faith? I was raised a Christian in the church, and I'm always fascinated that there are people who never had faith. I don't know how you exist without it.

Jane: My father was agnostic. Once when I was about 13, I wanted to go to church on Christmas Eve. I wanted to go hear the Christmas carols, and my father said I was a hypocrite—that was the environment I grew up in. And yet for 15 years, I have felt guided. I interpreted that in a secular way in the beginning, but then I heard Bill Moyers say, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous," and it unleashed my need to be spiritual. This was about ten years ago. I began to pray. I felt the hand of God on my shoulder. When I got on my knees and touched my fingers to my forehead and prayed—and I always have to do it aloud—I felt this incredible connection to God, or to what I call the Holy Spirit. That only happened once, when I moved to Atlanta, because it was the first time that I had spent time with people of faith—those who go to church and read the Bible. Ted has read the Bible cover to cover, twice. He can quote Scripture better than most preachers.

Oprah: The same Ted who has been quoted as saying, "Christianity is for losers"—that Ted?

Jane: That's right. Ted is a fallen angel. He was going to be a missionary. He was saved seven times, he says. He felt betrayed by God when his sister died horrifically from lupus when he was about 19. And it turned him hostile—and it's not hard to be hostile to the church. Because you can go through history, the Crusades and the inquisitions, and the formal church has a lot to apologize for.

Oprah: Amen.

Jane: But that's facile. And Christianity or any religion doesn't necessarily have to be about a church. You carry your God inside you.... It's been difficult, because when you're famous and the word gets out that you're a Christian, every church is saying, "Even Jane Fonda." People come up to me in airports and throw their arms around me.

Oprah: Jane, a whole generation of women knows you as the workout queen who urged them to "go for the burn." How do you feel about—

Jane: Conflicted.

Oprah: Why conflicted?

Jane: There are two sides. What got me into it was my move from eating disorders to compulsive exercising. So what's bad about it is that it was compulsive in the beginning. But it is a healthier way to deal with body image than having eating disorders.

Oprah: I remember trying to keep up with your workouts, when you wore that pink striped bodysuit and headband. You were being compulsive then? No wonder I couldn't keep up!

Jane: After Vietnam, Tom and I started the Campaign for Economic Democracy, a California organization, and I raised a lot of money. Then it became hard to raise money, because there was a recession. Tom and I sat down and said, "Why don't we start a business to fund the political work?" That was the workout [series]. It was owned by the political organization and raised 17 million dollars.

Oprah: That's a lot of tapes!

Jane: And I was nervous about it, because I'm an actress. Was this going to upset my career? But the minute I started doing it, I started hearing from women. Women would say, "I don't take sleeping pills anymore. I haven't had to take insulin. I can stand up to my boss." And I realized it was about more than the shape of one's body. It was empowerment.

I always tried, in the books I wrote, to make it clear: Thin is not the goal. But I was thin. So no matter what I said, the subliminal message was, "You have to look a certain way." And I'm not happy about playing into that.

Oprah: But you helped so many women define their boundaries—and you really started an exercise movement.

Jane: That's why I'm conflicted. Because so many women say how positive it has been for them, but then there are also women who say—

Oprah: "I can never look like Jane." But what you intended was for every woman to find herself.

Jane: What I intended was to raise money for a political organization. Then it turned out that along with all the other women, I began to realize it was about a lot of stuff, including empowerment.

Oprah: In the years just before those tapes, you were bulimic. When did you stop the bulimia? I read that you stopped at age 36.

Jane: Yeah.

Oprah: What was that like?

Jane: It was like hell. No one quite understands what causes it. And I think some people are more prone to it than others, but it has something to do with living a lie. Not being authentic. Faking it. It's like becoming a woman and then rejecting it. Like alcoholism, it's a disease of denial. And the problem—which you don't realize in the beginning—is that it's just as addictive as a drug.

Oprah: Which is hard for people to understand. We all think that you can stop yourself from throwing up.

Jane: It's very difficult. I saw myself going down a dark hole, and I had two children, and I was making a difference in the world, and I had to make a choice between the light and the dark. Life and death. And I chose life. I stopped cold turkey. I don't advise everybody to do that, but I did. But it was years before I could sit at a meal without feeling anxious.

Oprah: I would imagine that every time you saw food, you would feel anxious. Because how could you do this and keep it a secret?

Jane: I think I lived on apple peels and the crust of bread, because if I went any further into the food, there'd be no stopping. So that's what caused the anxiety—I preferred not even to be around food.

Oprah: This started when you were 12?

Jane: No. I learned it in boarding school, the way a lot of girls did. But it was mostly when I became an actress at 21. There was the pressure to be thin—and I was a model.

Oprah: Jane, because of all that I have read, I thought that you and Ted were finished. But you don't seem finished at all.

Jane: We'll never be finished. Whatever happens in terms of our living arrangements, we will always be close. We've shared too much. We have too much in common.

Oprah: Is it hard to be at places with Ted now?

Jane: Not at all. We have a blast. We went out when my brother was here, with my brother's wife and Ted's kids, who adore me, and I adore them. It's hysterical because Ted's ex-wife Janie was there, too. We had such fun—Janie and I can relate better now. I said, "Janie, you sit on that side of him, I'll sit on this side and we'll breathe really hard!" We picked on him, and he laughed!

Oprah: But what about dating—do you intend to date other people?

Jane: I haven't been. I'll tell you what, I haven't thought about it.

Oprah: You haven't?

Jane: I haven't the need. I don't know what's going on. At the end of my last marriage, man, I was lookin'! But now I don't care.

Oprah: What do you need in a companion?

Jane: I have always been with men who were type A, alpha males. I must exist because I'm with him, I'd think. But what made them what they were [also often meant] they were lacking empathy genes. And now I know I don't need an alpha male; I need somebody who's interesting. I'm not pretending that I'm 100 percent healed, so I might not know [if a man is right for me] right away, but it wouldn't take me seven years to figure it out. Maybe a month or two.

Oprah: You said earlier that it's in the third act of life—the last 30 years—that everything gets pulled together. What do you need to pull together in your third act?

Jane: When I began making On Golden Pond [in the eighties], I met [co-star] Katharine Hepburn, which was terrifying. She looked at me and asked, "Are you going to learn to do the backflip?" And I had no intention of learning to do the backflip; I'm terrified of going over backward, and I hate cold water. But what was I going to say—no? So I said, "Of course."

Knowing I would have to shoot this scene in which I had to do a backflip at the end of the summer, I started taking lessons with a swimming coach. First I practiced on a mattress, and then I graduated to the raft on the water. On the days I wasn't shooting, I'd go out there and practice my flip. And Katharine used to hide in the bushes on the shore and watch. One day, I finally did a backflip! I was covered with bruises, and I crawled up on the shore. And she was standing there. "You made me like you, Jane," she said. "I've watched you day after day. You know, you've got to conquer your fears. Otherwise you'll get soggy. You have to do what you're afraid of." That really stuck with me. What am I afraid of now? Intimacy. So that's what I have to work on. In the third act, I don't want to be soggy—to get to the end and have regrets.

Oprah: And when you say intimacy, you're not talking about sex, right?

Jane: Sex and intimacy are not the same: You can have sex all your life and never be intimate with a person. There has to be empathy in the relationship. You have to enjoy seeing through their eyes. When you're with them, you're there and not thinking about what you're gonna do tomorrow.

Oprah: Doesn't intimacy require a fully opened heart?

Jane: Well said. You can think that you have a fully opened heart, but as with an onion, there are layers to the heart. You can think it's fully opened and then discover a whole other layer.

Oprah: Do you think that what has happened to you—this finding your voice, continuing to grow—is possible for everybody?

Jane: Not for everybody. Some people have been wounded beyond repair. Some people just can't come back. And at best, they can maintain. That notwithstanding, I think anybody else can. But you have to be prepared to take leaps of faith. You have to be brave.

At the end of my second marriage, I had a nervous breakdown. I needed a wheelbarrow to carry my heart: I thought it weighed ten pounds. I thought blood was coming through my skin. I would step outside and be shocked that the sky was still blue. How could the sky still be blue when life was such pain? I couldn't believe I could hurt so bad. I couldn't speak above a whisper. That was when Ted first called me and asked me out. I said, "I can't talk; I'll call you back." Then I thought, "If God is asking me to suffer this much, there has to be a lesson." And my friends were telling me, "You have to keep busy." I just sat at home. I was careful who I had around me. I would take-bike rides with my girlfriends. And I began to notice these coincidences—like the incredible people who came into my life....

Oprah: Because you started to pay attention.

Jane: Yeah. I wasn't living authentically before, but I didn't realize it. So what's the lesson? Don't give up. There are lessons to be learned even in the most horrendous pain. And you don't know that when you're young.

Oprah: Maya Angelou has taught me, when I'm in the deepest pain, to say, "Thank you, God." Because no matter how dark the day, there's a rainbow. So now I say, "God, what are you gonna teach me?" And that makes it about the lesson, not the event.

Jane: Exactly.

Oprah: Jane, it's been rumored that you're going back to theater. Is that true?

Jane: I would love to do theater if it resonates with me and speaks to things I really want to say.

Oprah: Was your appearance at the Academy Awards this year a coming out?

Jane: No.

Oprah: It sure looked like one—if that wasn't coming out, I don't know what is! What was that?

Jane: 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!

Oprah: Did you feel sexy when you walked out onstage?

Jane: 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.

Oprah: Even if I paid you a lot?

Jane: 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.

Oprah: Who are you now, Jane?

Jane: 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.

Oprah: Do you believe you created your luck?

Jane: 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.

Oprah: The Bible says, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Do you believe you're called?

Jane: I believe I'm called.

Oprah: And what is your calling?

Jane: To provide opportunities for people who don't have the opportunities they should.

Oprah: Have you had different callings in your three different acts?

Jane: The innate calling is the same.... I've always felt like a teacher. Whenever I've learned something important, my reaction has always been to tell everybody about it. I read a book, I buy 100 copies and I send them out.

Oprah: Tell everybody!

Jane: That's what I live for.

Oprah: Is there anything about the third act that scares you, Jane?

Jane: No.

Oprah: Not even death itself?

Jane: 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—

Oprah: That is!

Jane: 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.


Next Story