Jane Fonda sits very erect, chin up, sitting on a chair. At 74, the two-time Oscar-winning actress and fitness guru is sporting a black leather jacket. She gives off a vibe that is both determined and relaxed. Ever watch one of her workout videos from the '80s? She would push and push as she powered through the exercises, but at the same time remind you, as you huff and puff, to breathe.
That drive is still there as she talks about her new movie, "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding." But having had time to reassess her life in the past decade - in other words, to breathe - the actress seems comfortable with where she's going in "the small future that exists."
"I'm a person that's basically quite happy," Fonda says. "Quite at peace, which is not what I expected at 74. I think this movie reflects a lot of who I am now."
In "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding," opening Friday in limited release, Fonda stars as Grace, a free-loving, pot-smoking refugee from the 1960s who still lives in Woodstock, N.Y., and a Woodstock frame of mind. Catherine Keener plays her estranged daughter, a New York City lawyer who suddenly appears at her door with her teen children (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) after her husband has asked for a divorce.
"I was never a hippie - never wore tie-dye. Missed that whole thing," the actress quickly points out. Though Fonda is remembered for her anti-Vietnam War activity and her leftist stance, she hadn't become a political figure yet and was living in France married to director Roger Vadim when the massive rock festival took place.
"PLM" is Fonda's fourth film since returning to acting in 2005 with "Monster-in-Law." She describes "PLM" - directed by Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Tender Mercies") and was shot around Woodstock - as a "story about love and forgiveness."
"I like that," she adds.
Fonda had left Hollywood in 1990. Her last film, "Old Gringo," was with Gregory Peck.
"You know, I had never wanted to make a movie again. I was very, very unhappy. My second marriage (to Tom Hayden) was ending, and I saw no future," Fonda says. She says she thought of moving to New Mexico and becoming an environmentalist when Ted Turner "swooped" into her life.
The couple were married for 10 years, until 2001.
"They were happy years," she says. "I got my confidence back, and then I began writing my memoir. And when I was almost done writing that I realized it was a totally different person than I was 15 years earlier, and I thought I could find joy in movies again."
Fonda says when she first read "Monster-in-Law," in which she played the disapproving mother of a man engaged to Jennifer Lopez, it wasn't that great of a script, but after some rewrites the filmmakers created a character she could get into.
"I learned from living with Ted that you can be completely outrageous and over-the-top and still be lovable," she says. "So that was a big help."
Fonda also figured that J.Lo fans would discover her, and notes that young girls still recognize her from the film.
The five years prior to that, Fonda had worked on her 2005 autobiography, "My Life So Far," which gave her plenty of time to contemplate her life.
"It's not that wisdom automatically comes with age. It doesn't," Fonda says. "There has to be a certain amount of reflection, which I did with my memoirs. Studies show that most people over 50 are happier and tend to know what they want out of the small future that exists."
Fonda certainly knows want she wants to do -- act -- but she is still writing, too.
Last year, Fonda published a book called "Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit -- Making the most of all of your life," stories from her and other people's lives about how to live better as you grow older. (By the way, the actress says she watches Steve Martin in "The Jerk" when she's depressed.)
"So many things in your life become better if you stay active," she says. "It doesn't mean you have to do marathons and exercise videos, walking instead of drive."
The actress blogs at her site http://janefonda.com about such subjects and has more books on the way, including one for teens about sex and being careful about your body and the importance of love.
"A lot of Grace is in me," she says, referring to her "PLM" character.
"I teach. I was a born teacher as a college dropout," she adds with a smile.
About three years ago, Fonda moved back to Southern California from Georgia to get a new knee and "to be an actor again."
"I hooked up with a new lover, whom I've been living with for three years now, and I'm a resident of California," she says. "It's good because I have a son and his wife and a lot of friends here.
"And it's not so good because I don't see my grandkids so much anymore because they live in Atlanta," she adds, her voice catching a bit.
The winner of best-actress Oscars for "Klute" and "Coming Home" also made a well-received return to the stage after 46 years in 2009 in Moises Kaufman's "33 Variations." After a run on Broadway, it played at the Ahmanson Theatre last year.
Still "the ultimate movie fan," Fonda raves about Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games" ("a major screen presence") as well as "Avatar" ("I can't keep the 3-D glasses on because I'm wiping my eyes all the way through"). And while she has praise for the latest "Mission: Impossible," she admits she doesn't always like those movies, but that it's important, she feels, to be part of the zeitgeist.
She prefers "quirky, sweet movies" like "Little Miss Sunshine," "Love Actually," "Juno" and "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding."
Meanwhile, she is watching more television than she used to - partly because of the quality and partly because she's interested in doing more. In fact, Fonda says, her favorite role was in the 1984 TV movie "The Dollmaker," in which she plays an Appalachian woman who moves to Detroit. She won an Emmy for the role.
It turns out you will get to see the actress on TV soon in a recurring guest role in "The Newsroom," the HBO series debuting June 24 created by Aaron Sorkin (multiple Emmy winner for "The West Wing" and Oscar winner for "The Social Network"). And in what can only be seen as irony in some circles, Fonda is slated to play Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels' "The Butler."
Born Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda, the actress was named after Henry VIII's third wife. Hollywood royalty, she produced and starred in "On Golden Pond," the final feature of her father, screen legend Henry Fonda.
But the actress says she doesn't look back much these days. "Once I finished my memoir I got out of my past what I wanted to learn from," she says.
When she set out to write the memoir, Fonda says she was asked why she thought people could relate to her story given who she was.
Her response was that if you scratch under the surface of anybody there is something universal.
"Who I am is out there for anyone who's interested," she says. "There are people who have set ideas about who I am, and there is nothing I can do about it. I've tried, but then I can't let that get me down. I know who I am. It took a long time."
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