Jane Fonda on Marriage, Sex, and ‘Succession’—Plus Looking at Herself in the Mirror at 85

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In addition to blazing an iconic acting career, Jane Fonda has spent the past six decades embodying sexual, political, and fitness revolutions. As her biographer Patricia Bosworth once put it, the Oscar winner “is the ultimate been-there-done-that creature.” So, it’s somewhat surprising that, while recently filming Book Club: The Next Chapter in Italy, the 85-year-old actor found herself confronted by several first-time experiences. Those experiences—wearing a wedding dress and attending a bachelorette party—are a rite of passage for many, but exotically pedestrian for this feminist icon.

“I’ve been married three times, but I never wore a wedding dress,” Fonda tells VF in a recent phone call about the comedy, which reunites book club members played by Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, and Diane Keaton. In the sequel, which opens in theaters Friday, the quartet flies to Italy to celebrate the forthcoming nuptials of Fonda’s character, Vivian, to a septuagenarian stud played by Don Johnson. In one scene, the women take turns trying on bridal gowns. It was Fonda’s first time stepping foot in one. “I wore an antique dress that I had had in a movie years ago when I married Ted Turner,” she says, referencing the high-neck Victorian-inspired dress she recycled for the occasion from 1981’s Rollover. When she married her first husband, Roger Vadim, she wore a white minidress and black boots. “I never had wedding dresses,” she says, audibly shrugging.

At another point in this overseas bachelorette extravaganza, which may or may not result in a brush with the law, Fonda leads the group through the streets of Rome in a bridal veil and sash. It speaks to Fonda’s priorities that she is more accustomed to wearing handcuffs for activism work—she was arrested five times in recent years during climate-change protests—than a bridal sash.

© Focus Features/Everett Collection.

“I’ve never been to a bachelorette party,” Fonda marvels. “Walking around Rome with a big sash across my chest and a bridal veil on—that was a pretty interesting experience. If people weren’t going to be staring anyway, they certainly did then.”

Fonda’s third and last marriage, to Turner, ended in 2001—and the actor, unlike the Book Club 2 character she plays, has since said she has no interest in marrying again. In her conversation with VF, Fonda said there was no “aha” moment for this realization. “I never said to myself, ‘I’m never going to do this again.’ What I did say to myself was, ‘I’m not very good at this.’” When she turned 60, Fonda did what she calls a “life review”—dedicating herself to deep research about her own life, so that she could recognize patterns and mistakes, and ensure that she could move forward in a way that minimized the amount of regrets she would have at the end of her life. 

One of her major regrets is related to parenting, and she’s trying to amend it by being a better grandparent. She offers advice for other parents, so they don’t repeat her mistakes. “Show up and listen and put a lot of time in in the beginning,” she says. “It comes back to haunt you if you don’t. If you’re a working woman, when you come home, leave work behind, and really be there and really listen. If you have a boy, help him to stay emotionally literate. This ‘boys don’t cry, don’t feel emotions’ blah, blah, blah. Keep him emotional and keep him familiar with emotions and feeling okay about them, and help him feel good about asking for help. That’s what I’ve taken away from so many boys.”

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