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Jane Fonda Says Getting Fired From an Early Job Led Her to Acting

Photo Credit: John Lamparski / Getty Images
Photo Credit: John Lamparski / Getty Images

It’s hard to think of a world where Jane Fonda didn’t become an award-winning actress, but the truth is that world could’ve very well been a reality. Despite her family being Hollywood royalty, Fonda recently revealed that acting was never a dream of hers. She said that it was actually an act of sexism that caused her to go into the family business, and the rest is history.

Fonda said she didn’t even want to act

Jane and Henry Fonda sitting beside each other.
Jane Fonda with her father Henry Fonda circa 1979, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo Credit: Saxon / IMAGES / Getty Images)

In an interview with People, Fonda revealed that in her early years, she had little to no interest in pursuing that field. This may be surprising, especially considering the fact that her father was the late great American actor, Henry Fonda. However, it was actually her father who turned her away from the profession in the first place.

“He never brought joy home,” she said about her dad when he came back from a day on set. “I never felt he got joy — I believe that he did, actually — but it never manifested when he came home. So it was not like, ‘Oh my god, I want what he’s got.’ No.” Fonda and her father shared a complicated relationship throughout her life, which likely also played a role in her early feelings for the profession he excelled in.

It took an act of sexism to get her interested

Jane Fonda in a black and white photo taken in 1959
Jane Fonda, daughter of film star Henry Fonda, poses July 21st before boarding a TWA jetliner to Los Angeles. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images)

As it turns out, it wasn’t just her father who impacted her decision to steer clear of acting. Jane Fonda actually believed she didn’t have what it takes to become successful in Hollywood even if she were to try it. “I didn’t think I had talent. I didn’t think I was pretty enough. I had a lot of body dysmorphia,” she said. “I was pretty lost as a young person.”

Oddly, it was an act of sexism that ultimately changed her mind. Before she ever tried her hand at acting, Fonda took a job in an office. It was her experience there that kickstarted her path toward acting. Fonda explained, “I got fired as a secretary because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss. I didn’t know what else I could do, and I became friends with Susan Strasberg, daughter of the famous acting coach, Lee Strasberg.”

It was her relationship with the Strasbergs that got her into acting. Fonda continued her story, “And [Susan] told me that I should try to do an interview with him and maybe he would accept me into his class. And I did, and he did. And then he told me I had talent. Nobody had ever said that to me, so that kind of did it.”

She says she was pretty passive early in her career

Jane Fonda sitting on her side in costume for "Barbarella"
American actress Jane Fonda in a promotional portrait for Barbarella, directed by Roger Vadim, 1968. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images)

Following in her father’s footsteps, Fonda went on to star in several films and became a major Hollywood star throughout the 1970s and onward. However, it was her role in 1968’s Barbarella that solidified her status as a sex symbol, although she’s previously explained that she has “complicated feelings” for this film. She said that she always felt like it was a “bit objectifying of me and women” and didn’t even really want to take the role to begin with.

She explained that the only reason she even did the film was because she was pretty passive in her relationship with her husband at the time, Roger Vadim. He was the director of the film he wanted her to take the job, so she did. “If he didn’t want me to do a particular movie, I wouldn’t do it,” she explained. “I was pretty much doing whatever the men in my life wanted me to do.”

More from us: 20 Years After Quitting Acting, Bridget Fonda Has No Interest in Returning to Hollywood

Fonda has long said that being young is difficult, something she recognizes now that she is older and wiser. She reiterated these feelings again in the interview. “Being young is really hard. Don’t let anyone kid you,” she said. “I wish when I was younger, someone had said to me, ‘Don’t give up. Keep going. It’ll get better.'”

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Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!