ON June 18, 1988, Hollywood superstar Jane Fonda confronted 26 hostile war veterans in Waterbury, Connecticut. All were intent on boycotting the filming of her latest movie, Stanley & Iris, in their town.
Their wrath fuelled by Fonda’s activism during the Vietnam War, which saw the actress branded unpatriotic by many vets.
That meeting is recreated at the Assembly Rooms, during the Fringe, when another Hollywood star, Anne Archer, plays the actress and work-out fanatic in the world premiere of The Trial of Jane Fonda.
Addressing the challenge of playing such an icon figure, Archer, best known as Michael Douglas’ long-suffering wife Beth Gallagher in the 1987 movie Fatal Attraction, admits, “It is harder to play someone who is still living and very much in the public eye. Often, when you are playing iconic characters, they are no longer with us, that gives you a little more leeway.
“What’s interesting about this play is that it is so specific to a particular event and issue. It’s not Jane today, or Jane when she was in her 20s or 30s. It’s not her exercise video. It’s actually Jane when she was in her 50s. It comes from a specific time.
“I feel very comfortable with how she physically looked then. We are going to recreate that. I can’t do her exactly, because that would never work, but I will capture her.”
The most famous actress of her era, Fonda was vocal in her opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1972 she went to the capital of North Vietnam, Hanoi, to call worldwide attention to President Nixon’s cover-up of the USA’s policy of deliberately bombing Vietnam’s vital system of dykes. During the trip she made radio broadcasts denouncing the US use of antipersonnel bombs banned by the Hague Convention as a war crime, and visited US POWs.
On the final day of her trip, she was photographed laughing and clapping astride a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. The image caused controversy and sparked a hate campaign amongst the US military and supporters, who tagged her Hanoi Jane.
The Trial of Jane Fonda is written and directed by seven-time Emmy award-winner Terry Jastrow, who is married to Archer. One of his driving motivations, she explains, is their shared belief that if we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.
“Fonda was one of the most effective anti-war activists. She was very disciplined. She spoke to so many vets as they returned from Vietnam. That’s how she got started. She talked to these young men who were fighting a war they didn’t want to be fighting. They were dying – 58,000 young men were lost in that war. Because of the draft, it wasn’t a volunteer army. No-one really understood what we were doing in Vietnam. On a visceral level, families were seeing 18, 19, 20-year-old boys, with bright futures, being sent off into the jungle to die. Seventy per cent of America was against the war by 1972.
“But she made some mistakes too, which the play also deals with – she went to Hanoi and visited an anti-aircraft site – but then there were also many lies that were told about her on that trip.”
Jastrow went to Hanoi, hired her guides and interpreters, followed in her footsteps and talked to those she had travelled with individually to “set the record straight.”
Golden Globe winner Archer, however, is keen to point out that while Fonda contributed time and information to ensure the story is told accurately, she has never read or seen the play, and is not in any way involved with the production.
“She has nothing to do with the show. When Terry talked to Jane, she spent the first hour trying to talk him out of it. When she realised she couldn’t, she said, ‘Well, I’ll give you my story and the names of people you can talk to...’
“She has nothing to do with the show, which is appropriate, otherwise it would seem like we were putting on a play for her... or not, as the case may be, because the play is very balanced. It tells both sides of the story.”
For many, the chance to see Archer on stage will play second fiddle to the subject matter, after all, it’s not every day you get to see a Hollywood star up close and personal, which leads us to her most famous film, Fatal Attraction.
“That was a turning point in my career. It made me a public face. A public name. It was a joy to shoot. One of those magical shoots where everybody was a delight. I am very proud of it.
“Also it hit quite an important button in society. People went to see it because it dealt with the issues of fidelity and destroying relationships. It pitted men and women against each other. It was a movie you went to see, and then talked about for hours. To be in a movie that does that was a wonderful experience.”
Archer is hoping that The Trial of Jane Fonda will create similar debate.
“People will go away and argue because you get both sides. My brother, who fought in Vietnam, loves me and loves what I’m doing, but he won’t come to see the play. Right there you can see the two sides to it. It’s just too painful for him.”
The Trial Of Jane Fonda, Assembly Rooms, George Street, tomorrow-24 August (not 11), 4.50pm, £10-£16, 0131-226 0000.