Fatal Attraction star comes to the defence of war-hating Jane Fonda in new play

plays upstairs at the gatehouse

plays upstairs at the gatehouse - Credit: Archant

When Jane Fonda travelled to Vietnam in 1972, the Oscar- winning actress was campaigning against the “war crime” of American bombs targeting the country’s vital dyke system. But during her visit, the political activist was photographed laughing while seated on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, an act which infuriated US war vets and earned her the nickname Hanoi Jane.

Sixteen years later, while filming in Connecticut, she was confronted by those who had served in the bloody conflict and forced to justify herself.

Hollywood producer Terry Jastrow has turned that event into a play – The Trial of Jane Fonda – with the part of Fonda taken by American actress Anne Archer.

Like Fonda, Archer is the daughter of an actor, with a distinguished movie career including Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction and two turns as Harrison Ford’s beleaguered wife in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.

Archer, who is married to Jastrow, says the play argues Fonda’s case in a court-style setting.

“Connecticut is a hotbed for war vets. While she was filming Stanley and Iris with Robert de Niro, she met with 26 angry vets in a church meeting room and addressed them for four hours, talking about Hanoi and explaining why she went.

“It’s a beautiful premise for a play – like 12 angry men. It’s very balanced, we present both sides of the story and, at the end of the night, we don’t know which way it’s going to go – some nights I feel I won in putting her point of view across.”

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Jastrow, who also directs, travelled to Hanoi to interview Fonda’s guides and interpreters, spoke to eyewitnesses and interviewed Fonda herself as well as dozens of war vets.

He originally wrote it as a screenplay and asked Archer to do a “table-read”.

“My husband became interested in this story – about the military hatred of her – and found so much about her on the internet but a lot of it not true.

“When I got a sense of the play, I fell in love with it. It seemed a natural fit because of the issues that resonated for me, about the sanctity of human rights and the massive loss of life in that war, issues that resonate today with the Iraq war – we can ask the same questions all over again.”

Archer, who is a decade younger than Fonda, recalls the anti-war feeling in America in the late ’60s.

“I was definitely against the war when I was a young girl at school, as almost all of American youth were – the whole hippy movement.

“There were many actors and celebrities against the war but she was probably the most controversial activist.

“She went to Hanoi because of reported bombing of the dykes by American planes, to warn that would cause mass genocide. Unfortunately, she sat on an anti-aircraft gun and was photographed and although she has apologised many times it remains controversial.

“She made some mistakes but the play seeks to address that – that’s what great theatre is all about – drama at its best is touching, emotional and has you on the edge of your seat .”

Archer has both met Fonda and watched old movies and footage to capture the essence of the actress, “her energy, and articulacy”.

“You can’t play a character unless you understand their viewpoint and believe in it. I can’t pretend to be Jane, but I give it everything I can to recreate her beingness at that time, her emotional state, her posture, her physical gestures – she was blonde and I wear a wig – luckily it’s not her today, or during the Vietnam War, but in the ’80s a period when we don’t have strong images in our mind of her.

“The part has lots of outbursts, we see everything.”

Archer, who was nominated for an Oscar for Fatal Attraction is frank that film parts dry up for older actresses.

“I look back and I feel blessed that I got to be in a movie (Fatal Attraction) that became such an iconic film, but there is nothing for women as you get older. After your 30s, it’s a fight to the finish. You can list the exceptions to the rule on one hand. Wonderfully talented actresses who deserve it, but there isn’t a lot out there.”

She wishes she had learnt the lesson 15 years ago that “if you want to do something go do it yourself – create your own product and other things will happen because of that”.

She adds: “I have done a fair number of plays. I am pretty comfortable in the medium and enjoying it more and more. Right now, I am having a ball – I love telling a story from beginning to end, it’s so satisfying. Then doing it all over again the next night

“Getting there every night is the biggest challenge I have ever done as an actress.”

The Trial of Jane Fonda runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until July 26 and then at the Edinburgh Fringe at the Assembly Rooms Edinburgh from July

30 until August 24.

Box office: 020 8340 3488, upstairsatthegatehouse.com.