Jane Fonda on telling the truth and understanding 'the language of the wounded'

Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda is seen at an event in May.
Willy Sanjuan | Invision via AP

"Grace and Frankie" star Jane Fonda comes to St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts July 6 for a ticketed talk on her decades-long career. She gave MPR News host Tom Crann a preview of some of what she'll discuss. Below is an excerpt. Hear the full conversation using the audio player above.

Are you noticing any threads or themes in the roles you've played?

The movies that I've done in some way track my evolution as a human being. They were sort of light, romantic comedies, sci-fi, sex trips — I'm talking about "Barbarella," things like that. And suddenly they became about something — "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" "Klute," "Coming Home," "9 to 5" — and that was when I became somebody who decided to take my destiny in my own hands and create my own work. And that was a very rich and exciting and wonderful part of my life. Now I'm just interested in giving a cultural face to older women, and it's worked out pretty well so far.

I want to ask about the HBO documentary about your life. It goes through some tough stuff: your parents' marriage, your mother's suicide, it shows you nervous and vulnerable. What is it like to look back and watch that all unfold?

Well it's emotional for me to watch. I decided, look, if you're going to allow a documentary to be made about you, what's the point unless you tell the truth? So, as I did in my memoir, I told the truth, because I think if women tell the truth, it's universal.

I'm wondering, for you, is acting more about the head or the heart?

Heart. It's all heart. And that's what's so great about the profession of acting. It's based on empathy. In order to play a character, in order to inhabit a character, you have to have empathy. And to have empathy, you have to really understand the character, get inside the character. Even if the character is evil, you have to understand the whys and wherefores of evil. Basically, bad behavior, including evil, is the language of the wounded. So you have to find the wound and have empathy for it. So it's all about heart. If you're all in your head, you're in trouble.

MPR's Stephanie Curtis will moderate "An Evening with Jane Fonda." It will include a lengthy audience Q&A, "which is always my favorite because I love to hear what people want to know and I'm willing to talk about anything," Fonda said. Tickets are still available.

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