Home / World News / Jane Fonda on her new film, “Book Club,” senior sex and the Brown Palace Hotel — The Know

Jane Fonda on her new film, “Book Club,” senior sex and the Brown Palace Hotel — The Know

Jane Fonda still knows how to drop a provocative quote.

The 80-year-old’s film career is splashed with them, of course. And certain quarters of our culture — particularly the older, more conservative ones — have never forgotten or forgiven her protests of the Vietnam War, nearly half a century after she first registered them.

But despite being famous for at least that long, Fonda is not always given credit for her verbal savvy, which serves her as well in press junkets as her ongoing feminist and anti-war activism.

When asked, for example, where she took inspiration for her hard-charging character Vivian in the new movie “Book Club,” an ensemble dramedy about rediscovering love (and sex) later in life, she doesn’t hesitate in her answer.

“I just pretended I was a man,” she said over the phone from Los Angeles, in advance of the movie’s May 18 opening. “Vivian has a lot of lovers and she doesn’t care about any of them. She’s hard working. She’s all business. She has to be in control and she doesn’t want to be vulnerable. She’s kind of emotionally illiterate.”

Like men, you mean?

“No, that was in the writing, and then I created a back story for her that made me understand why she is the way she is,” she added. “So in my head it all made sense. It wouldn’t have worked if all the other women were like that.”

Indeed, Fonda’s character is the reflective surface off of which esteemed co-stars Candace Bergen, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen play. As the film’s story goes, the quartet of friends has met for decades in their treasured book club, which is as much a wine-centric social group as an intellectual or emotional exercise in unpacking whatever they’re reading.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jane Fonda, from left, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen in a scene from “Book Club.” (Peter Iovino/Paramount Pictures via AP)

Diane (Keaton) is mourning the loss of her husband after decades of marriage while her children attempt to shunt her into retirement. Carol (Steenburgen) is trying to spice up her marriage to a seemingly lobotomized husband. Sharon (Bergen) is grappling with insecurity as her ex-husband gets engaged to a younger, Barbie-dollesque blonde.

But Vivian? She’s a multimillionaire hotel owner who needs and wants nothing. At least until Arthur (Don Johnson) surfaces in her life.

Alongside all this, the ladies begin reading the erotic best-seller “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and the give-and-take between what’s happening in the book and their lives provides the spark for the rest of the film.

Here’s what Fonda had to say about that — and other subjects.

Q: You shot the film “Our Souls at Night” in Colorado in 2016. Were there any highlights of the experience?

A: It was so much fun. We shot at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, and on the Plains. It was great being there with Bob (co-star Robert Redford). And I even went up to Pikes Peak, where I had never been, and loved it.

Q: Your character in “Book Club” is the lightning rod of the movie. Was it hard to play her?

A: My character is the least easy to identify with. I think most people know those other characters better. My character is a little bit more confusing. She’s not very likable.

Q: Does she remind you of anyone you’ve been in a real book club with?

A: I’ve never been part of a book club, but I’ve spoken at book clubs when they’re reading my books. Books clubs are what consciousness-raising groups used to be in the 1960s and ’70s. It’s a way for women to get together, and the raison d’être is the book. But they usually end up talking about themselves and their lives and issues and what’s happening in the world.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jane Fonda in a scene from “Book Club.” (Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures via AP)

Q: Had you read “Fifty Shades of Grey” before this?

A: When it first came out I read it because I just wanted to understand the zeitgeist. I have read great erotic novels — I’m thinking specifically of the history of the French, of course — so I’ve been there before. But I did like the fact that it was romantic. That’s really why it was so popular in this country. As somebody says in the movie, “Even Christian Grey fell in love.”

Q: I love that this movie unapologetically takes on sex in your 70s. It’s an implicitly anti-ageist theme, and one that feels genuinely subversive.

A: Absolutely. Totally. That’s why the four of us wanted to be in it so badly! It’s just like my (Netflix) series “Grace and Frankie” (with co-star Lily Tomlin). We want to show older women in all of their complexity. We need some close-up shots down there. Some people need a little nudging to get back in the saddle, and some never get off. The saddle, I mean.

Q: There are few things more stereotypically traumatic to younger people than thinking of their parents, or grandparents, having sex.

A: Children don’t think of their parents as sexual beings, but I think between “Grace and Frankie” and, hopefully, “Book Club” they may start to more. And older women are being more hopeful because of these cultural experiences. The movie’s also a reminder of the importance of female friendships. When you get older, in particular, women’s friendships become kind of what keep you up, keep you standing (and) put starch in your spine.

Q: There’s a scene in the movie where Candace Bergen slaps you, hard. Was that a one-take situation?

A: We did a lot of takes and she didn’t slap me in all of them. We’d go right up to point of the slap. It was hard to get her to really slap me. I kept saying, “Candace, really give it to me!” and it was hard for her to do. But I was important.

Q: It looks painful. Did it hurt?

A: It didn’t. I think they enhanced the sound.

Q: How many of these other folks had you worked with in the past?

A: I had worked with Craig T. Nelson and Ed Begley, who have been in “Grace and Frankie.” But I had not worked with anybody else. I hardly knew them.

Q: That’s not what I expected, given your long film career.

A: You’d be surprised. When we were casting “On Golden Pond,” my father (Henry Fonda, who won an Oscar for his role) and Katherine Hepburn had never worked together. They’d never met. People travel in their own circles. I mean, I had met all of those women at parties or at events, but I had never been able to really talk to them. And I wanted to. It was one of the reasons I did the movie: I wanted to get to know them. And we have pledged to become friends.

Q: Life imitating art, perhaps?

A: Well, we’re not starting a book club. But we’ve all been to each other’s houses for dinner. Mary cooks her own food. She’s a good cook. In fact, when we went to dinner at Candy’s house … she had this adolescent crush on Tab Hunter. He was the big heartthrob in the early ’60s. He was huge. He was gorgeous. So she invited him to dinner, and asked all of us to come. And so the two single women — me and Diane — came. Mary brought Ted (Danson) and Candy had Tab Hunter. It was so much fun. We knew he was going to be there, but what was a surprise was how lively and gorgeous he still was. So nice.

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