You put four seasoned superstars together in one film, point a camera at them and turn them loose in Italy, and you can bet there will be plenty of fun to be had both on that camera and off it.
That’s exactly what happened when screen legends Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton reunited for “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” Watching the film, you can see the connection these women have, which makes one wonder, are they acting or are they members of a mutual admiration society behind the scenes? TheWrap got the answer rather quickly while sitting down with Fonda and Steenburgen.
“I’m in love with her, and I’m sure it’s quite obvious,” Steenburgen said, shooting Fonda a smile.
“We like each other a lot,” Fonda responded with a laugh. “I feel one of the greatest things for me about ‘Book Club’ is that I got to know Mary. She is an incredible human being. She’s a magical human being. I feel so lucky.”
When you think about it, it really is no surprise that Fonda and Steenburgen are soul sisters, as they both work tirelessly to protect the environment. Steenburgen and her husband Ted Danson have been longtime activists in ocean conservation — Danson published his first book “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them,” in 2011 — and Fonda, who has famously been arrested five times during climate-focused fire drills and is the author of “What Can I Do? My Path From Climate Despair to Action.”
“I do have a ton of respect for her, but I think the secret in our friendship, speaking from my point of view, is from the minute I knew her, I knew her,” Steenburgen said. “Like, I feel like I didn’t know the little girl Jane, but I sort of do. And I feel like I know her throughout time. I do.”
“And she is a person that I aspire to be,” Fonda interrupted, pointing to Steenburgen, who let out a “wow.” Fonda continued with a grin. “Although, I’d have to go back in time because she’s a good 10 years younger than me.”
The charismatic cast, the fun story and the gorgeous sites combined for quite the feel-good movie. But feel-good movies frequently lack good character arcs. In “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” each character starts someplace and then evolves beautifully. And the message it communicates is a timeless one: You’re only as old as you feel.
“When I was a young woman in the ‘70s… I met actresses who were a generation ahead of me. And for a lot of them, they were no longer being offered anything. They weren’t working,” Steenburgen said. “I love that (writer/director/producer) Bill Holderman and (writer/producer) Erin Simms wrote a film in the first place about four women who are not young, who are not talking about how much of a geezer they all are. They’re just enjoying life and going for things that scare them and taking chances. And then he wrote a second one and put it in Rome! I have three daughters and I don’t want them to feel like their 70s are not gonna be fantastic.”
Judging by Steenburgen, 70, and Fonda, 85, those years are better than just “fantastic.”
“I’ve been to all the places that we went to in this movie. I’ve been to them in my 20s and my 30s. It’s way better now. I am more present,” Fonda said. “When I was in Venice now, I was in Venice! I wasn’t worried about, ‘Will he still love me?’ I always went with men, husbands and, you know, ‘Am I gonna be able to be entertaining enough and am I thin enough?’ I mean, all those stupid things that we spend so much time worrying about. And now it’s just, ‘God, this place is beautiful.’”
There was one long weekend that Fonda, Steenburgen and Bergen spent in Florence playing tourists, which Fonda called “divine.” And in the film when the foursome were in a boat on the Grand Canal, Steenburgen said, “It is the four of us ourselves that are oohing and ahhing at this miracle that is Venice. It’s so improbable that it even exists and it’s supposedly very fragile. I’m sure it is. And so just the honor of going and making a film about it being there, it was just so crazy. The film was sort of this weird paid vacation that we got to make with our best friends.”
It didn’t hurt that they had a chance to build on that kinship in a place as majestic as Italy.
“I mean the meals, the drinks, the laughs, the sights that we saw,” Steenburgen said. And then there was the Prosecco wine, which lightened the load during the wedding gown scene.
“Two things I learned to love while I was in Italy: One was Prosecco and the other was Wordle. I have never done anything like Wordle in my life,” Fonda said. Grabbing Steenburgen’s arm, she added. “She and her husband convinced me to start doing Wordle. And now it’s the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning… Yesterday I got it in one!”