What on earth is Jane Fonda doing in Medford next Wednesday? Isn’t she down in Washington, protesting government inaction on climate change and getting arrested every Friday? Doesn’t even an 81-year-old movie legend, political activist, sitcom star (Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” with Lily Tomlin), and one-time fitness guru have to put up her feet and take a rest?
Maybe that’s what Fonda is doing with her traveling show, “An Evening With Jane Fonda: A Celebration of a Storied Career,” in which she tells tales and answers questions from the audience. On Dec. 11, the Chevalier Theatre in Medford Square brings in the two-time Oscar winner for best actress (1971′s “Klute” and 1978′s “Coming Home”), with former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy moderating. The conversation promises to range across a long and fully lived life — see the excellent HBO documentary “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” for a refresher course — while remaining as urgent as the day after tomorrow.
I spoke with Fonda in late October, just as she was beginning her weekly protests with other activists on the steps of the US Capitol (the most recent “Fire Drill Friday” civil disobedience demonstration was the day after Thanksgiving).
Q. So you’re speaking in Medford on Wednesday and going back to Washington, D.C., on Friday?
A. No, I’m going back on Thursday, because every Thursday night we have a live-streamed digital teach-in about the issue that we’re dealing with on Friday. People can call in with questions for the scientists and experts and celebrities who are going to be there. So I have to be back there by Thursday.
Q. Are you expecting to get arrested again?
A. Oh yes, I’m going to very deliberately get arrested every Friday.
Q. Does that mean you get a mug shot every week?
A. Well, no, it’s not jail. Although it’s a little bit arbitrary, I think after three arrests, they do take a mug shot and put you in jail. But this is a misdemeanor, you’re held for two or three hours, they take your thumbprint, and then you pay $50 and [they] let you go. But since I’m going to get arrested every Friday, I’ll probably end up spending time in jail, and it won’t be the first time. That’s OK. My point is to draw attention to the issue. So.
Q. You’ve done a number of these one-woman shows. What sort of itch does it scratch for you?
A. Well, I get paid. And I enjoy them — I do — because I like to be with a live audience. I’m able to get into conversations that people find interesting, helpful, and that feels good. I do it because it feels good.
Q. After a long and astonishingly varied career, you’ve kind of proved your point. Why not retire?
A. I enjoy acting. I love working with Lily Tomlin. Starting the end of January, we’re going to be filming our seventh and final season [of “Grace and Frankie”], which is going to be three episodes longer than they have been. Usually they’re 13 and this is going to be 16, and I’m grateful for that. But I like working, I enjoy having a regular job — and I have to earn a living. That may sound weird; maybe people think I’m so rich that I don’t have to work, but I do.
Q. Some of your earlier movies, specifically “Klute” and “9 to 5” (1980), seem to be resonating with younger audiences more these days. Young women critics especially find “Klute” refreshingly truthful about sex work and women’s experiences with men.
A. I’m glad to hear that, because I’m really proud of the movie beyond my performance, which I think was Oscar-worthy [laughs]. Everything about it — the cinematography, the script, the sound, the direction — was really great. And then “9 to 5,” well, I know why that’s remained popular. It’s one of those unusual comedies that holds up even if you don’t particularly care about the issues that we’re raising. It remains funny, but it also speaks to very real issues that are as true or more true now than in the late ’70s, when we made it.
Q. Does the current social activism feel different from the protests of the 1960s?
A. Social media obviously makes a huge difference. When I came to D.C. and we began to put together our team, Annie Leonard, who’s the head of Greenpeace USA, said, “We need a digital team,” and I said, “Why?” Which shows my age, needless to say. Well, of course, now that we’re in it, and we have a website and Instagram and Tweet [sic] and Facebook and all that, [and we’re reaching] hundreds of thousands of people, I’m thinking, “How could I have asked that question? I feel like such a fool.”
Number two: When I am in these meetings with 15 or 20 other activists, some of them as young as 15, there is an awareness of the importance of diversity that did not exist before. There is a tremendous sensitivity to the need to have up on that stage every Friday a very diverse representation, cross-generational, cross-race, cross-gender. The fact that part of our team are “they” — in the old days, you didn’t go around the room and introduce yourself as a pronoun [laughs]. And there were several they/thems, and that’s new. The way they show support of something in meetings by clicking their fingers. It ranges from little details like to what I’ve already said.
I find it very moving. The young people are so smart — they’re very polite when they criticize me; it’s not that they criticize, but they say ‘I’m not really sure that that is the way to go; we have to be aware. . .’. And, you know, they’re right. I bow to them, because they’re right and they’re so inspiring. So with all of that and then the fact that social media can reach so many people, the fact that in one arrest I’m getting input from everywhere in the world, it just kind of blows my mind.
Q. What do you think of the irony of going from a one-woman show in Medford to being arrested in D.C.?
A. I live surrounded by contradiction. I bathe in a bath of contradiction every day [laughs].
AN EVENING WITH JANE FONDA: A CELEBRATION OF A STORIED CAREER
At Chevalier Theatre, Medford, Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $42-$177. 781-391-7469, chevaliertheatre.com
Interview was edited and condensed.