Jane Fonda, the two-time Oscar winner, fitness empire entrepreneur, multi-bestselling author, and producer has been upending convention for the past six decades. And while her life onscreen has established her as a bonafide Hollywood heavyweight, it’s her work offscreen as an activist and organiser of major movements that’s made her the super star we need most, especially now.
With the launch of her much followed #firedrillfridays, Fonda has connected her lifelong devotion to environmental issues with a whole new generation of visionaries and changemakers. Back in the early 1970s, she first made headlines protesting the Vietnam war (and years later the war in Iraq), as well as speaking out publicly in support of Civil Rights and the Women’s movement. But her latest commitment to climate change moved Fonda to spend three months in Washington DC, asking people from all over the country to join her to speak out alongside her. "I called Annie Leonard, who is the director of Greenpeace USA. And I said, 'Annie, I want to move to DC for a year and camp out in front of the White House and protest.' And she said, 'Well, that's really great Jane, except that it's illegal. You can't do that,'" she tells Refinery29 global editor-in-chief Christene Barberich on this week’s episode of UnStyled.
Younger fans may know Fonda most for her work on Grace & Frankie, the hit Netflix series she stars in opposite Lily Tomlin, a close friend she’s known for 40 years, dating back to when they co-starred in the legendary feminist workplace comedy 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton. “It's long hours but we all love each other so much,” Fonda says of their occasional 17-hour filming days. “But then, when I'm doing activist work in Michigan, [Lily] comes with me and we do stuff together, and we've done stuff together all over the country that has nothing to do with [the show].”
It’s that unmistakable spirit of showing up and speaking out that has long been at the heart of pretty much everything Jane Fonda does. In many ways, Fire Drill Fridays, which are now continuing once a month in California in partnership with Greenpeace, ties together much of the intersectional work she’s been engaged in for decades, “Hanging over every single aspect of our lives is the climate crisis. It impacts the question of war. It impacts the question of women’s empowerment. It impacts everything,” she says. “People can rise up,” she says. “History shows that when enough people decide this is unacceptable and they rise up, they can change history. And that's what I'm trying to do, along with all of the millions of people out here longer than I’ve been, trying to build La Resistance, because we're going to need it if we're going to have a future.”
In her own everyday life, Fonda drives an electric car, is in the process of ridding her home of all single-use plastic, and has chosen to refrain from buying any new clothing. And admits the ability to do those things is a privilege. But what’s most impressive about Fonda is that somehow—even through all that she’s experienced and fought for, even in the midst of our climate crisis and the Trump administration and so many other seemingly insurmountable problems—is that she maintains an incredible, completely contagious optimism. But that kind of persistent hope has been hard won.
"I was so old at 20. I'm 82 now. I am so young, and that's the truth,” she says. "One of my mantras is it's more important to be interested than to be interesting,” she adds. "Stop worrying about being interesting. Stay curious. People say, I'm young for my age. It's because I'm curious. I learn things all the time and that, and that informs my life."
Hear the rest of Fonda and Barberich’s conversation by listening to UnStyled and subscribing via Apple Podcasts today. And, of course, thanks for listening.