Girl next door, sex kitten, activist, fitness tycoon: Oscar®-winner Jane Fonda has lived a life marked by controversy, tragedy and transformation, and she’s done it all in the public eye. Directed and produced by award-winning documentarian Susan Lacy, JANE FONDA IN FIVE ACTS, an intimate look at her singular journey, debuts MONDAY, SEPT. 24 (8:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO. The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.
Jane Fonda has been vilified as Hanoi Jane, lusted after as Barbarella and heralded as a beacon of the women?s movement. This film goes to the heart of who she really is, a blend of deep vulnerability, magnetism, naiveté and bravery, revealing a life transformed over time.
The documentary draws on 21 hours of interviews with Fonda, who speaks candidly about her life and her missteps. She explores the pain of her mother’s suicide, her father?s emotional unavailability, 30 years of an eating disorder and three marriages to highly visible, yet diametrically opposed, men. JANE FONDA IN FIVE ACTS also includes interviews with family and friends, as well as rare home movies and verité footage of the 80-year-old Fonda’s busy life today at, as she puts it, “the beginning of my last act.”
Where “girls” of her generation were raised to be passive and compliant, Fonda has always seemed like very much “her own woman.” But her memories reveal the extent to which she was defined and controlled by the desires, ambitions, and fortunes of the powerful men in her life, and how much her own secret insecurities, unresolved anxieties and impulsive actions often prevented her from being the person she aspired to be.
Featuring interviews with Robert Redford, Lily Tomlin, producer Paula Weinstein and former spouses Tom Hayden and Ted Turner, among others, the first four acts of Fonda’s life are named after the four men who shared “and hugely influenced” her personal and professional ambitions. The fifth act is named after Fonda herself, as she finally confronts her demons, reconnects with her family and resumes a successful career as both an actress and an activist, entirely on her own terms.
Fonda recalls growing up “in the shadow of a national monument” in the form of her father, Henry. One of the most beloved actors of his time, the elder Fonda was a distant father in private, neglecting his family and having an affair while her mother descended into mental anguish that led to tragedy.
Fonda’s name and good looks brought her modeling gigs and a chance to study acting with Lee Strasberg, but “it never felt real,” she recalls. She impulsively went to France to experience the cinematic revolution of the French New Wave, and married director Roger Vadim, agreeing to live a “heady and hedonistic” life and reluctantly allowing herself to become a sex object with films like Barbarella.
Fonda’s proximity to leftist politics in Paris inspired an awakening about America?s role in Vietnam. Despite being a new mother, she threw herself into anti-war activism, eventually earning the nickname “Hanoi Jane” and a place in the crosshairs of the Nixon administration, and meeting her second husband, activist and organizer Tom Hayden.
“I’m proud of most of what I did,” Fonda recalls of the period when she became a divisive political figure, “but very sorry for some of what I did.” While her acting career soared in films like Klute and Coming Home, she lived a deliberately stripped-down life with Hayden and their son, Troy Garity (who recalls the family arriving at the Oscars in a station wagon), funneling just as much energy into Hayden?s career and ambitions as her own. She produced an exercise video to raise money for their political work, only to see Jane Fonda’s Workout become the best-selling home video to date.
With a newfound sense of purpose, Fonda began to confront her chronic discontent, leaving Hayden, going “cold turkey” on a lifelong eating disorder, learning more about her mother’s life and death and fostering an emotionally creative reunion with her father on the film On Golden Pond. Buoyed by the affection of third husband, billionaire mogul Ted Turner, she went into semi-retirement, until she recognized that she still had more to contribute and finally struck out on her own.
Today, still challenging herself creatively and still active politically, Jane Fonda continues to demonstrate that there is no limit to the possibilities in a life full of self-determination, honesty and hard work.
Susan Lacy is the creator and former executive producer of the celebrated WNET series American Masters, which is shown on PBS nationwide. She has won countless awards, and has produced and directed a broad library of acclaimed films exploring the lives of America?s most enduring cultural icons. Her previous HBO documentary, Spielberg, debuted on the network in Oct. 2017 and was recently nominated for an Emmy® in the category of Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.
HBO Documentary Films presents a Pentimento production; produced and directed by Susan Lacy; produced by Emma Pildes and Jessica Levin; edited by Benjamin Gray; co-edited by Kris Liem; director of photography, Sam Painter; music by Paul Cantelon.