What Jane Fonda Learned at Crate & Barrel About Her Emmy-Nominated ‘Newsroom’ Role

A recent interaction with a saleswoman told Fonda her HBO role had made a big connection


Jane Fonda — two-time Oscar winner, political activist, living testament to the power of physical fitness — went shopping at a Crate & Barrel recently. What she heard there told her that her new role in “The Newsroom” is connecting.

“As I approach the salesgirl, she said, ‘Do you want to play golf or do you want to fuck around?’” Fonda told TheWrap. “It was a line spoken by her character on the HBO journalism drama, for which she’s received her second straight Emmy nomination and the fourth of her career. “It’s special when people remember a specific line you had in a series,” Fonda said. “That was a great scene.”

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Fonda has been collecting awards for decades –including an Emmy in 1984 — but she says this year’s nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series is “extra special.”

The actress’ character Leona Lansing operates the fictional Atlantic Media Group, which owns the fictional news network Atlantic Cable News, which produces Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer‘s fictional “News Night,” which covers real news.

“The Newsroom” wrapped its third and final season in July. It might be tempting for the 76-year-old actress to turn in her SAG card, but she’s nowhere near ready to leave acting. Her next project is the upcoming Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” in which she produces and stars in with Lily Tomlin.

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TheWrap: Congratulations on your fourth Emmy nomination. How is this one different?

Jane Fonda: “The Newsroom” was, for me, a very extraordinary experience. After you’ve performed Aaron Sorkin‘s dialogue — and in particular in a character like he wrote for me — it’s like you’ve reached the summit. He writes so incredibly. I love the character that he created. I love saying his words. So, being recognized for it is extra special.

Your character delivers an impressive, pivotal monologue in the seventh episode of Season 2. Would you say it’s her high point?
Well, no. It was one of them, but the last episode in Season 2 also had an amazing scene — beautifully written, completely unexpected. And then we just wrapped the third season, which had six episodes. I thought, “How is he going to wrap it all up?” By George, he really did an amazing job. He wrote me a scene that spread out over a whole period of time in the last episode, that’s just wonderful.

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So your character has a lot to do in Season 3?
It’s particularly in the last episode. But also, my very first scene in the first season, I think it was episode three. Jeff Daniels said to me, “Okay, Sorkin 101, know every word, every line, every period, every comma, backwards and forwards, awake and in your sleep.” And he was right. And so I did. My first scene, it was about four or five pages long. My speech to Charlie, to Sam Waterston, when I came in to shoot it, and usually what happens is, you sit down and you read through the screen with what are called sides, but I didn’t need my sides.

Is Lansing one of the best characters you’ve ever played?

The best?
No, no. I think Bree Daniels in “Klute,” the character in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” and my character in “This Is Where I Leave You,” coming out in September, are terrific characters, too.

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You’re up against quite a class of ladies this year — how do you like your chances?
I read online that the chances… I’m number two. Allison Janney will probably win. And I think she’s fantastic. I like her a lot. So, if I’m going to lose, I’ll lose to her…. but I hope I win.

So, if you had to cast a vote for someone other than yourself, it would be for Allison (for her role in “Masters of Sex”)?

Does this nomination mean anything different to you at this stage in your career?
Yes, it does and I’ll tell you why. I left the business for 15 years and came back at age 65 with “Monster-in-Law.” The fact that I have been able to get back into having a career — I’m 76 now — I feel so grateful. I’m so happy. I left because I was just so unhappy, I just couldn’t act anymore. I didn’t find joy in it for personal reasons. When I thought, “I’m a very different person, I think I could find joy in acting again,” I came back. Guess what? I’m enjoying it more than ever.

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When did “The Newsroom” finish shooting? What was it like?
Last week… I cried. I was really sad. Everybody was so nice and so interesting and fun to be with — I’m talking about cast and crew, hair and makeup, as well as the actors. I feel like I’ve really made friends. I already knew Jeff [Daniels], so I got to know him better. Sam Waterston is going to be in my new series — he plays Lily Tomlin’s husband — and I’m just so happy I’m going to be spending time with him again. I just love him so much. Emily Mortimer — oh my god! — Allison Pill, these are such terrific people. John Gallagher and Alan Poul who directed a number of them and I don’t mean to leave out Aaron [Sorkin] because he is the number one. I owe him so much.

Just in this last episode a new character arrives — I’m not going to say what he does because there are a lot of surprises at the end — B.J. Novak from “The Office.” I just feel very rich from the experience.

In your estimation, had “The Newsroom” run its course or do you wish it could keep going?
All of us wish it was continuing, including HBO. About four or five months ago I was going to do something in Australia and I couldn’t believe how popular the show is in Australia. I felt like everyone in Australia watches this show. They quoted scenes. … But, yes, people that watched it absolutely loved it and all of us are very, very sad. HBO wishes it wasn’t ending. I mean [Sorkin] did such a good job.

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What can you tell us about “Grace and Frankie”?
[Tomlin’s] husband and my husband [Waterston] fall in love and want to leave us and get married.  We’re women of 70, so what do you do when that happens after forty years of marriage? It’s about women of a certain age. We don’t like each other and we are forced to [go through this] together and it’s about how that plays out.  It’s very funny because the humor comes from reality and in a way the humor comes from pain.

So it’s an accurate portrayal of aging?
Of the humorous ways of women find themselves after the rug has been pulled out at a certain age in life. I think it is going to dispel a lot of stereotypes.

The show’s four leads have all done great work with Aaron Sorkin — Tomlin and Sheen on “West Wing,” Waterston and yourself on “The Newsroom” — is that a coincidence?
Yes [laughs.]

What about you and Tomlin’s “9 to 5” co-star Dolly Parton. Any chance she’ll make a cameo?
No, it’s very important for us to differentiate from “9 to 5.” This is not “9 to 5.” If Dolly, in year two or three or whatever, if we continue and she did appear, it would be as herself… This is Lily and Jane, yes, we have been in movies together before, but I’ve done movies with the same people before. I did three movies with Robert Redford. But it’s not “9 to 5.” We are different characters in a different situation. I hope people like it as well.

How is working with Netflix?
We don’t start shooting until August 4th, but they’re great to work with. I love the people. I love their approach. I like them personally. Sky Dance is one of the producing entities,  I like working with Sky Dance as well.

How many episodes are you shooting?
Thirteen episodes, which is nice.

So much of your career now is on Netflix and HBO. How is TV — if we can consider Netflix TV — different than film?
My experience with “The Newsroom” wasn’t all that different from making films. It felt like a film and I said that to many people. We shot a scene and there were like two hundred people and motor homes and trailers. There aren’t as many characters in [“Gracie and Frank”], but I feel it doesn’t feel much different than a film. It’s a single camera.

Do you have any movies lined up? What else is on the horizon?
I’m developing a couple of films, which I won’t talk about because it’s too premature.

Are those movies you’ll act in?

Your father, Henry Fonda, and brother, Peter Fonda, both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but you don’t. Does that bother you?
I think it’s weird, but it doesn’t bother me.