After a 16-year acting sabbatical during her marriage to Ted Turner, Jane Fonda returned to the big screen for 2005’s Monster-in-Law. With her new role in Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding, though, Fonda turns back the clock. Way back to 1969. In the film, which premiered Tuesday night at the Toronto Film Festival, Fonda plays Grace, a groovy free-spirit – Dylan once had a thing for her! – still living to the daily rhythms of the ‘60s in her modern-day Woodstock home. When her conservative and judgmental daughter (Catherine Keener) flees her crumbling marriage and crashes her coop with her two teenaged children (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) in tow, Grace bridges the generation gaps utilizing pearls of wisdom buried deep in special-recipe brownies. It’s an unapologetic chick-flick – with Chace Crawford and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the man-candy – but seeing a girlish and glowing Fonda tackle and tease her past at age 73 is still a trip.
You might think the director of such a film would have to possess a certain nostalgic reverence for those freewheeling times. But you’d be wrong. Bruce Beresford, 71, who’s been making movies in and out of Hollywood for nearly 40 years, says “That was an era that frightened me quite a bit.” He’s adjusted nicely, of course, directing award-winning films like Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy. When he bursts through the door for this interview just a few hours after a very positive festival Q&A session about his new film, he’s got a thick envelope tucked under his arm. “This producer has just given me two scripts,” he beams. “He said, ‘Ah, you’re a master of comedy. You’ve got to read my comedy scripts!’ I’d never realized this before.”
While waiting to see what the future holds for Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding – the film’s still awaiting a distribution deal – Beresford talks about his not-so-swingin’ ’60s, protesting the war, and his leading lady, who he’d never met. Feel free to turn on, tune in, and/or drop out.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I imagine you can’t tackle a project like this without a certain fondness for that period. What were your 1960s like?
BRUCE BERESFORD: I was in London from 1962 to 1972 so I was there right through that swinging London era. Although I had to work so hard then that I never really noticed it that much. Carnaby Street was all the rage, and everyone was dressed in hippie clothes. I felt like that era was quite hypocritical, though, even if colorful. There was a great affectation about, you know, “We’re really free, we don’t really care about money, we just want love,” and all that stuff – but they were all being supported by families who were pretty well off. Only middle-class kids could afford to be so cavalier about money. They used to look down on me, [because] I had to work so hard then.
So you don’t think today’s generation could learn something from a quick hit of the ’60s?
I don’t think so. I remember when I started to make films in Australia, the drug scene was very big, and so many of those people did themselves in. Staggering numbers of them overdosed and died. That was depressing. I think one of the things that was attractive about Jane’s character was that even though she was still into the dope and stuff, she was surprisingly level-headed. She was quite down to earth in many ways. So she’d survived it, and she does make a point at one stage that many of them didn’t.
You couldn’t have dreamed a better symbol of that era to play the role of Grace.
It was perfect for Jane, yeah. She’d been married to Roger Vadim and did all that Barbarella stuff, and she was, of course, a political activist and anti-Vietnam. I’d never met her, and I think [producer] Claude Dal Farra sent her the script, which she loved. And then we got her on the phone and she said, “Yes.”
Jane took a lot of heat back then.
She did. Hanoi Jane, yeah.
Whether it was intentional or not, that scene in the film where she’s protesting our current wars is going to have…
…some resonance. Yeah, I think that’s true.
Are you fearing any reaction from people who criticized her actions during the Vietnam era and don’t care to see her re-enacting or parodying them on screen?
Well, she didn’t write the script. I don’t think they’ll be any backlash about that.
Another chapter of Jane’s life that I couldn’t help but think of was her role in On Golden Pond, opposite her father. The generational politics are reversed here, but the failure to communicate between aging parent and adult child is here, too. Did that ever cross your mind?
Until you said it, I wouldn’t have thought about it, but I see what you mean. Well, I suppose you move to another generation. That’s sort of what happens. I’m sure my kids regard me as a hopeless old fuddy-duddy.
What did Jane bring to Grace from her own life experiences?
We chatted a little bit about her past, but the character was really fully formed in that script, and the dialogue was all in that script. I think what she did do was bring a lot of insight to it because she certainly knew those kind of people.
Did it take much convincing to get two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda to call her onscreen daughter a “c—block”?
No. Oh, no. She’s a scream. She’s very witty. That is a terribly funny line.