PARIS — “I had enough of always playing the nice girl next door,” Jane Fonda told a packed Cinémathèque Française theater here, rapping the air with her fist. Kicking off the Kering-sponsored Women in Motion event, the actress explained what drew her to France and its New Wave cinema scene in the Sixties.
She was also ready to throw off her father’s legacy — “I was always known as the daughter of Henry Fonda” — practice speaking French and do a movie with Alain Delon.
“I wanted to see what it was like. But what’s more: Alain Delon, ooh, la, la!” she said, noting a kiss in a movie scenario. “It was good,” she added.
Flanked by Costa-Gavras, president of the Cinémathèque Française, and Frédéric Bonnaud, the head of the Paris institution, Fonda held the room with a lively account of key moments in her life and career, speaking mostly in French.
“It so happens that ‘iconoclastic icon’ perfectly suits Jane Fonda,” said Costa-Gavras in opening remarks, noting he wanted to hear about her shift from modeling herself to entertain men’s desires, as Barbarella, to pursuing militant social battles, against the Vietnam War and then for the rights of African-Americans, Native Americans and, finally, for women.
“We actors are very lucky to be able to enter another being and for that you have to have empathy….We have more and more empathy in ourselves, and I think that allows us to see the world and act in the world in a different manner. We observe differently,” she said.
“If we act well and the director is good, we are lucky to be able to do something that can change certain ideas in the country, in the world. I had several occasions to do that,” she added.
Describing an acting method that calls for introspection, she noted it was not to her father’s liking.
“Yes, it can be painful, which is why my father hated the method…for certain men of a certain age and a certain generation, emotions were dangerous. He didn’t like them,” Fonda said.
The actress also recalled the uncanny way Marilyn Monroe lit up a room.
“It was as if she brought the light with her — she left the light and came toward us but the light came with her. She carried it, but also she carried something so vulnerable, like a child, I felt like she saw me and…we were two kids facing each other and everything was fine and she loved me,” she said, laughing.
Turning serious, she added: “To understand Marilyn, you have to understand that when she was young, she was raped.
“So when you see an actress who is very beautiful, a big star, who keeps under a sheen of makeup, I always thought she was traumatized as a young girl. It’s nearly always the case. We have to be conscious of the frequency with which girls are sexually abused. One out of four! How it affects life and how it affects how someone behaves,” she said, flashing her fiery side and prompting applause from the audience.
Describing a turning point in her life, she emphasized the importance of female empathy.
“I wanted to put my oars in the water, I wanted to direct my own life, I didn’t want to be a leaf in the current, for that you have to work a lot, therapy, especially with a woman, because women therapists are different — you don’t lie on your back and stare at the ceiling with a man behind you. You look at someone in the eyes, someone who knows you, feels what you’re feeling, someone who isn’t afraid of showing compassion; that’s the kind of therapy you need,” she said.
“I feel very empowered because my French family is here,” Fonda added with a bright smile, lightening the mood by pointing out the son of her first husband, Christian Vadim, who sat in the front row.
Cinema in the U.S. tends to cater to a global audience, which calls for a lot of male heroes and special effects, she lamented. “But there are still great films being made,” she added.
Change in the industry is “going to be slow because the men still hold the power, they are the ones that manage the big studios. We need women managing the studios, they have to be in positions of power,” she said.
“But now, when the fate of the world is very unstable, it has to be women who tell the story because we see things in a different way and if we’re going to solve the problems, it’s going to have to be women for many, many, many, many reasons…but everywhere in the world — Kering is part of this, with Women in Motion, there are a lot of efforts like this for women to take their own positions in cinema. I think it will come,” she said.
“If the world still exists. And I’m not sure about that,” Fonda added, referring to looming environmental problems.