These days, coming home is Georgia

Jane Fonda, 66, plans return to films - if given a role

June 09, 2003|By Eleanor Ringel Gillespie | Eleanor Ringel Gillespie,COX NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA - Jane Fonda drives herself to interviews. No limo, no entourage, not even a Mercedes. Just a little silver Toyota Prius. When she pays the parking attendant, the woman doesn't even recognize her. Told she just took a couple of bucks from Jane Fonda, she gasps, "That was her? I love her movies."

It is indeed her. devoted mother and grandmother, Oscar-winning actress, Henry's daughter, Ted's ex, political activist, entrepreneur, Braves fan. Fonda keeps re-inventing herself, in life as well as in her career. The hard-eyed hooker in Klute couldn't be further from the resentful daughter in On Golden Pond, who couldn't be further from the sex kitten in Barbarella (the Fonda movie for those not very fond of Fonda).

But it's the naive secretary in 1980's 9 to 5 that brings her out for a chat. The film is being given a "retro-premiere" at Atlanta's Symphony Hall, a benefit for the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, which Fonda founded.

The junket to publicize 9 to 5's release was held in Dallas late in 1980 - the same weekend the world would find out who shot J.R. Asked if she had a guess as to whodunit, Fonda replied, "I don't know, but I hope it's the secretary." It was.

At 66, Fonda is beautiful. It's not a question of having "aged well," but the plain fact that beauty exists in different ways at different stages. Dressed in a simple black turtleneck and a long flowing skirt, she comes off as smart, energetic, passionate. And ready to talk about anything.

9 to 5 tackled sexual harassment and the glass ceiling long before these issues were taken seriously. Do you think it succeeded?

I do. There's been a tremendous evolution that I think emanates from the core of women. Women perceive themselves differently. They realize they have a right to be respected, to be safe, to be free of harassment. It's not about asking your assistant for coffee per se. It's, do you, as the boss, treat the people who work with you respectfully. If you see someone as a human being, then it's fine to ask for a cup of coffee. You'd do the same thing if they needed something.

I think that's beginning to enter the work force. Enough? No. 100 percent? No [laughs]. But we've definitely made progress, and I'd like to think 9 to 5, through its use of comedy, helped. I've met a lot of women who say it made them rethink their position in the office.

How did the movie come about?

Some of my friends were organizing clerical workers. The National Association of Office Workers was headquartered in Cleveland, so I took Colin Higgins [the director] there to meet 40 clerical workers, most of whom worked for large institutional companies. We sat in a circle and everyone said something about themselves and the conditions of their work situation. It was interesting stuff, but when we'd gone all the way around, Colin had this inspired idea. He said, let's go back around and tell me if you ever had a fantasy about killing your boss? And from that came the core of the movie.

It was originally meant to be a much darker film.

Well, my co-producer, Bruce Gilbert, and I had read an article about a secretary in southern California who'd actually killed her boss. It was kind of a dark story. But you know how it changed? I went to see Lily's one-woman show and I was smitten. I said, I have to work with this woman. I want her to be one of the secretaries. Then, when I was driving home, Dolly was singing on the radio and I thought, Omigod, Dolly hasn't ever been in a movie, but what a combination. Dolly, Lily and me. The moment it was us, obviously it was a comedy.

You've made a lot of movies. Where does this one rank as far as being a favorite?

It's way up there. There are four movies that are at the top: Coming Home, because it was the first movie I was actively involved in creating. Klute, because it was my breakthrough as an actress. On Golden Pond, because it was such a tremendously universal movie and it gave me a chance to do something for my dad before he died. And The China Syndrome, just in a different kind of way.

Since you made 9 to 5, there've been other movies about women in the workplace. In Working Girl, Sigourney Weaver reminded us that female bosses can be every bit as bad, if not worse, than male bosses. Does that surprise you?

No, it doesn't surprise me. We still live in a culture that privileges men and there are women who, consciously or unconsciously, step into a male role. They think that's what you do in a position of power. You want to have a little of the masculine in you - things like strength, efficiency, drive. The problem happens when it gets out of balance, man or woman, and these things become aggressive killer competition.

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