Jane Fonda As Nancy Reagan: Vets And Conservatives Are Outraged, Nancy Is Not

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Former President Ronald Reagan was and still remains the poster boy for America's hardline conservatives. Jane Fonda was the most outspoken leftist activist in Hollywood during the 1960s and '70s. So casting Fonda as Reagan's wife Nancy was bound to ruffle a few feathers.

And what does Fonda have to say to those who don't care for her playing Nancy Reagan? "Get a life."

Jane Fonda and Alan Rickman will be playing Nancy and Ronald Reagan in the upcoming film "The Butler," inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, a domestic servant at the White House from 1952 to 1986. For the movie, the butler has been named Cecil Gaines and will be played by Forest Whitaker; while the story focuses on Gaines and his co-workers, the story also touches on the eight presidents he served during his years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, from Harry S. Truman to Ronald Reagan. Some see Fonda's participation as a slap against Reagan's reputation.

Larry Reyes, a Naval veteran who hosts a Facebook page titled "Boycott Hanoi Jane Playing Nancy Reagan" (which has 435 followers), told a reporter, "The moviemakers are free to choose, but it seems like it was their way of giving people like me the middle finger." And on Brietbart.com, John Nolte wrote, "The casting of Fonda was meant to be a finger in the eye of conservatives from the start, and now it looks as though the entire film is as well."

Fonda, however, isn't especially concerned with right wing anger. Asked what she thought, Fonda replied, "Get a life. If he creates hoopla, it will cause more people to see the movie."

Besides, Fonda not only insists her performance is no hatchet job, she has the approval for the former First Lady herself. "I know that (Nancy Reagan) was happy that I was doing it, and I sent some questions to her that she answered," Fonda told a reporter.

According to Fonda, the original script for "The Butler" included a scene that showed Nancy Reagan in a highly unflattering light. Fonda questioned if the incident actually happened, and when it proved to be less than entirely factual, she refused to do the scene.

"They had me doing something that wasn't very nice," Fonda said. "And I said, 'If she really did this, I'll do it. But if it's made up, I don't want to do it.' I don't want to take cheap shots at her."

"I might not have always agreed with Nancy Reagan, but I admire her, and I'd never try to insert my views when playing her," Fonda said. "I tried to be who she was: a forceful, loyal, powerful first lady."

"The Butler" also features several other outspoken liberals in the cast, including John Cusack, Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, and Oprah Winfrey. (The latter tweeted photos of Fonda in costume as Reagan, bearing a striking resemblance to her real-life counterpart.) But Fonda has been an especially controversial figure since 1972, when she spent two weeks in Vietnam, posed with North Vietnamese soldiers and weapons, met with American Prisoners of War, and made appearances on radio denouncing American military actions against North Vietnam. Fonda has on several occasions apologized for posing with a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, though she has also made clear that she has no regrets about her statements against the war or her meetings with P.O.W.'s

But Fonda seems encouraged by the fact that at least Nancy Reagan is willing to put the past behind her. "Back when she was feisty she wasn't nice to me,” Fonda said. “We all mellow. We all mellow.”