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Fonda in the 1968 cult movie Barbarella
Jane Fonda regrets that she began her career as a sex symbol. At a Sundance Film Festival event on Monday morning, Fonda, 77, and her longtime friend Lily Tomlin, 75 discussed their experiences as women in Hollywood through the decades. In Fonda’s case, she took her career into her own hands in order to change the “sex kitten” image that was bestowed on her in the late 1960s, particularly after she made the campy movie Barbarella.
Watch a trailer for Barbarella:
“I took the easy road for awhile. I would say that ended with��Barbarella. [But] I liked playing somebody that caused a certain generation of men to have their first erection,” Fonda quipped (via Vanity Fair). “When I became an activist I didn’t want to be put into that [sex object] slot anymore… There were no movies that I wanted to be in, so I thought maybe I would just leave the business. But a very wise person said to me that the movement doesn’t have a lot of movie stars, so you career is important. So I thought, ‘If my career is important, then I’m going to start making my own films.’”
Fonda and Tomlin at an event last fall
Now considered a cult classic, Barbarella (1968) is an erotic science-fiction comedy (how’s that for a genre?) in which Fonda plays a planet-hopping government agent whose greatest weapon is her sex drive. Following Barbarella, the actress began to take a more active role in the content of her films, which paid off immediately with her first Academy Award nomination for 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Fonda would go on to win two Oscars and earn four additional nominations, one of which was for the period drama Julia (1977). At the Sundance panel, Lily Tomlin revealed that Fonda tried to get her the title role in Julia about two friends on the edge of World War II. (The role eventually won an Oscar for Vanessa Redgrave.) “You would have done a great job,” said Fonda. “I could swing just as well as Vanessa,” joked Tomlin, who’s also starring in the new Sundance movie Grandma.
Fonda and Tomlin, who co-starred in the 1980 female-empowerment comedy 9 to 5 and will be reunited in this spring’s Netflix series Grace and Frankie, urged the packed audience at Sundance to support films made by women. “The studio heads are mostly men and they have to meet their bottom line. They’re scared to take a chance on people who aren’t like them,” said Fonda (via the LA Times). “We have to shame the studios for being so gender-biased…. We have to show that movies made by women make money. So we need to go to movie theaters and see them and talk about them and Tweet about them and tell our friends to go.”
Watch the vintage trailer for 9 to 5:
Image: Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP