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Jane Fonda: 'Here I am'

Jane Fonda reflects on a more 'authentic self' as she rides a wave of late-life activity, including an L.A. staging of Moises Kaufman's '33 Variations,' new films and fitness videos plus a dip into blogging.

January 30, 2011|By Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times

As Jane Fonda strides across the marble entranceway of the 1940s hillside home she shares with her boyfriend, music producer Richard Perry, she's already explaining her most recent break with convention: their living situation.

"I have an apartment over there," she says pointing out the window to a building in the distance, rising up from the neon blur of city lights below. "But I've never slept there. I never thought this is where I'd be at this point in my life — 73, shacked up with somebody in the music business," she laughs. "But here I am."

Jane Fonda: A photograph of actors Jane Fonda and Zach Grenier on the cover of the Arts & Books section elsewhere in this edition is incorrectly credited to Jay L. Clendenin of The Times. It was taken by Lawrence K. Ho of The Times. The error was detected after the section went to press. —

"Here" is a place, for Fonda, that's both enormously active and quietly introspective at once — a self-described "third act" that's buzzing with new people and new projects, but equally awash in self-reflection. Settling onto a brown velvet couch in Perry's media room, her white puffball of a dog, Tulea, nestled beside her, there's much talk of synchronicity, bucket lists and parental forgiveness. She is thoughtful, giving careful consideration to each question — until the silence is cut by a crisp assuredness when she finally answers. There's the sense that if Fonda felt her time was being wasted, she might snuff out the conversation. She has too much going on to dawdle.

Even now, on a languid Friday evening, there's a cacophony of familial noise in the background: doorbells and buzzers, distant voices fading in and out, a phone ringing, the collective clickety-clack of multiple dogs' paws on hardwood floors, the arrival of a tree (a gift from Perry), a car engine starting up in the distance.

Of her professional endeavors, front and center is starring in the Moises Kaufman play "33 Variations," which begins previews at the Ahmanson Theatre on Sunday night. Add to that the recently released fitness videos for boomers and seniors, the blog, a book about aging due out in September, two just-completed films and an upcoming LACMA film retrospective opening Feb. 11. Yet all these disparate parts seem bound by a sense of calm and purpose.

"33 Variations," especially, embodies that same sense of cyclical completeness for her. The play mirrors much of what she's been thinking about these days, like late life resurgence, healthy aging and how the freedom and release that come with age can facilitate creativity and deepen one's art.

"It just fit into where I am right now, and how I feel, and what I believe, and what I'd just written about [in the new book]. And I thought: 'I'm supposed to do this'" she says of the play's initial run on Broadway in 2009, which earned her a Tony nomination. So fulfilling was the experience for Fonda that she agreed to revive her role in L.A.

The Broadway play marked Fonda's return to the stage after 46 years — an event that could have been daunting considering how different the process of acting is for stage and screen. But Fonda says she took it in stride. "I did not feel afraid. I felt challenged. And I like challenges," she says. "It felt like closure. My father loved the theater more than anything, he loved that immediate live response and reaction from the audience. So [in returning to the stage] I wanted: a) the chance to perform the things I was feeling in my body and my mind, and b) to try and find out what my father experienced."

Written and directed by Kaufman, who has revised parts of the production since its New York run, the play concerns Beethoven's 33 variations on a single waltz that was written by his publisher Anton Diabelli. Fonda plays aging musicologist Dr. Katherine Brandt, who is struggling with ALS and becomes obsessed with unraveling the riddle of why the by-then-deaf Beethoven descended into obsession over the relatively mediocre waltz. In the process, she learns to let go and confront her own mortality with grace.

"My character has physical infirmities, but right up until the end, she's focused on her obsession" says Fonda, who has had hip and knee replacements in the past and recovered from non-invasive breast cancer in 2010. "And I have physical infirmities, but it doesn't define me. Her illness doesn't define her — and I like that. I like that she's not afraid of dying."

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