LYON, France — Jane Fonda wowed a packed house at Lyon’s majestic Théâtre des Célestins on Friday, delivering a masterclass at the Lumière Film Festival, in French no less, that was in turns humorous, emotional and downright militant, at one point even expressing gratitude to Donald Trump for making activism stronger than it has ever been.
Speaking with Institut Lumiere director and Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux, a relaxed Fonda joked with the crowd and with her interpreter, who was left with little to do as she spoke about her love of France, her favorite directors, her campaign of protest agains the U.S. war in Vietnam and the impact that had on her career, and her call for activism not only against the current U.S. regime but also against rightwing, patriarchal movements across Europe and other parts of the world.
Fonda said her early activism ultimately made her a better actress. “It helps to be in popular culture when you’re a militant, so I want to continue to be very popular in my work so that I can do better militancy,” she added to loud applause.
Pointing out that political engagement was a very personal calling and not something all artists should be involved in, Fonda noted: “You have to believe it. It’s got to come from inside.”
She stressed, however, that activism was more vital now than ever before. “We are at such a precarious time. We must protect democracy. But beyond that is the climate issue. It is the first time in Homo Sapiens history that we are facing a truly existential question.
“It’s the first time that racism is so obvious. Activism has never been so strong and that’s the only thing for which I would thank Trump. … There won’t be a future if we don’t persist. It’s very dangerous.”
Recalling the civil unrest that rocked France in May 1968 – a momentous occasion that left an indelible mark on the country and which is being remembered this year with 50th anniversary celebrations – Fonda, who was in Paris at the time, said: “It was an upheaval for me. We thought students could unite against the government. And I felt everything more intensely because I was pregnant.”
Fonda was married at the time to French director Roger Vadim, who directed her in the 1968 sci-fi romp “Barbarella.”
“It was very popular with adolescent boys – the first erection,” she quipped, eliciting great laughter from the audience.
Fonda noted, however, that she was initially unhappy with “Barbarella.”
“Feminists accused me of doing a film in which I was objectified and I was ashamed. But with maturity I now think it’s a good movie.”
Asked if it was difficult to work with her husband, she answered: “No, it’s sexy. He was half Russian, so quite complicated.”