NEW YORK — She went head-to-head onscreen with Robert Redford, robbed banks in “Cat Ballou” and saved the world in the sci-fi camp classic “Barbarella.” She’s won two Oscars, married three very famous men — filmmaker Roger Vadim, politician Tom Hayden and business tycoon Ted Turner — and become the nation’s most vilified Vietnam War protester. But in an autobiography being released today, “Jane Fonda: My Life So Far,” the legendary actress describes herself in very different terms: As a woman so lacking in self-esteem, she binged and purged for 30 years, agreed to threesomes to please Vadim and virtually upended her life for every man that followed. On Monday, wearing a semisheer printed top from Vertigo and Armani slacks, the perennially outspoken Fonda, 67, talked to WWD about finding Christianity in her 60s, her views on the war in Iraq, and the greatest love of her life.
WWD: You were the daughter of Henry Fonda, you went to Vassar, won Oscars, starred in more than 40 films and sold more exercise videos than anyone in history. How could you have been so colossally insecure?
Jane Fonda: I think I was objectified as a child. I was never really seen and I was made to feel — though it wasn’t a conscious effort on my parents’ part — that if I wasn’t perfect, I wouldn’t be loved. Then I hit adolescence and realized I wasn’t perfect. Food became my addiction. I was anorexic and bulimic and stricken with the disease to please. And that’s part of why I wanted to do this book — to show how a very successful woman can be handicapped because of how insidious misogyny is.
WWD: You talk a lot about the men in your life in the book, two of whom are the fathers of your children. How did your kids react to the treatment of their fathers?
J.F.: They read everything before, as did both living husbands. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and I made adjustments according to what they said to me. There were no surprises for my daughter. She grew up watching me give away my voice to men.
WWD: You say that, during your relationship, Ted Turner tried to block out four months of weekends with you on his calendar. Did you find that too similar to a business arrangement?
J.F.: Well, that’s Ted. But that marriage was not a business arrangement, not even close. I use that term to describe the latter part of my marriage to Tom, but not at all with Ted or Vadim. With Ted, I think the part about pulling out our calendars was because he can’t leave any empty spaces, because he’s just pathologically afraid of being alone.
WWD: How did he take the book?
J.F.: He made some corrections. I think it made him sad. But we are always honest with one another. There’s no dishonesty with Ted, because he’s never not told the truth.
WWD: You still seem to have a great deal of affection for him.
J.F.: There’s a lot of love for Tom and Vadim, too. But Ted was the love of my life, and he helped me heal. He gave me tremendous confidence and the fact that he needed me as much as he did helped me to get whole.
WWD: Are you still in love with him?
J.F.: No. Not in the sense that you’re suggesting. But I just got an e-mail from his secretary this morning saying he’d broken his collarbone skiing, and I raced to the phone and tried to find out where he was. We speak all the time, and he knows I’d be by his side in a minute if something happened. I know who’s with him taking care of him, so I feel good about it, but I care a lot about him and will till the day I die. He’s totally extraordinary. It’s just that what makes someone extraordinary in public life often makes them impossible in private.
WWD: What movie star did you most love working with?
J.F.: Robert Redford.
WWD: Tell me a little about your life today. How do you reconcile your newfound faith with your liberal activism?
J.F.: Very easily. Wean away the political baggage that faith and Christianity have gathered in the last few years, wean away the association with fundamentalism and what you have is ethics, morality and a belief that our purpose in life is to help people. These are the teachings of Jesus, and I think they’re being betrayed today by people who give lip service to Christian values. [Jesus] was a feminist. He believed women and men should be able to achieve their full humanity.
WWD: What has occurred to turn Christianity into a tool of the right wing?
J.F.: I think something happened in the last couple decades that led the Christian right into thinking more in terms of political power than public morality. But it doesn’t matter what you give lip service to. What matters is how you live, and if you’re in the political arena, what your policies end up doing. Are your policies helping the poor or solidifying the rich? Are they promoting peace or preemptive war? Are they promoting life or are they promoting something that actually causes death? And it’s time for progressive Christians to not be afraid of speaking our faith in the public arena.
WWD: Are you surprised by how apolitical young stars are today? Do you notice that?
J.F.: It was easier in the Sixties and Seventies to become an activist. You could drop out of school and become a full-time organizer and go back to work and get a job. The economy today is such that that’s not so true. Also, the tremendous upsurge of activism against the war really penetrated the campuses after the invasion of Cambodia, at which point things were very clear. The war had been going for seven years and most of America was opposed to it. Returning veterans were speaking out against the war, the majority of Congress was against the war and suddenly Nixon had totally betrayed us. This war is different. It’s more complicated.
WWD: But are you opposed to it?
WWD: On to a lighter note. You’re about to star in the film “Monster-in-Law,” your first in 15 years. Was it fun?
J.F.: It was really fun. I was curious because the last few films I had I didn’t want to go to work on. I was so frightened, and I know why — I was living out of my head. Now, I’m a very different person, and I wondered how that would manifest itself not just onscreen, but in the daily process. And it was great. I’m not looking to restart a career, but I had a good time. And it’s funny.
WWD: Will you do more?
J.F.: I’d do a few more, but I have a pretty full life and I don’t like to leave home too much. I have two grandchildren in Atlanta.
WWD: Do you get good scripts?
J.F.: No. I’m not sure there are a lot of good scripts. But I’ve never played anyone like my character in this film. She’s really outrageous. And I hadn’t done that before. So that was part of why I did it.
WWD: What does the former exercise queen do for exercise now?
J.F.: Not much, because I’m sort of like a jalopy. I’m losing hubcaps and fenders. I just had orthoscopic surgery on my knee and I’m having a hip replacement in June. I asked them to put a bike in my [hotel] room, so that I could get some kind of exercise. By next year, I’ll be kicking ass again. Before, I was doing yoga and lifting weights. Sometimes I watch my videos. It’s kind of a combination.
WWD: And your hair. Sally Hershberger, right?
J.F.: Mmm hmm.
WWD: How’d that happen?
J.F.: I went into Sally’s salon, looked at her hair and said, ‘That’s cool. Can you cut my hair to look like yours?’ I started reading a book and the next thing I knew, I had short hair. It was an epiphany.