Fifty years ago, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford played newlyweds in the classic comedy Barefoot In The Park. In the new film Our Souls At Night, they reunite as a different pair of bedfellows.
Fonda's Addie Moore is a widow who works up the courage to ask her neighbor, the widower Louis Waters (played by Redford), to sleep with her. Her request isn't for sex, but for platonic company. Of course, their small town begins to gossip, and their relationship becomes romantic over time.
The Netflix production is based on Kent Haruf's eponymous book. When Redford read it, he sent it to Fonda right away.
"She's all I thought of," he says. "When I read the book, she's all I thought of."
Fonda interjects: "Because he's smart."
On working together again
Jane Fonda: I never thought I'd get a chance to do this towards the end of my life. It's like bookends — there was [The] Chase and Barefoot In The Park, and then Our Souls At Night at the other end of life. That just felt really good.
Robert Redford: I feel the same way that Jane did. I enjoyed working with her over the years because we developed a rhythm that was natural and easy — didn't require a lot of discussion or psychological exploration or anything like that. It just was. And also, I thought considering Jane and her life, and who she is — [Addie is] wonderful character to portray because she's a driving force. And Jane herself is a driving force.
On being criticized about political activism
Redford: I've experienced that most of my adult life. But on one hand, you don't want to spend your whole life rebutting everything that comes your way, particularly when it's coming from an ignorant place. It's just going to happen. You could waste a lot of your time debating or taking on every criticism that comes your way. It's just going to happen. You're a lightning rod in that respect. All we have to do is focus on what you really care about.
Fonda: You know, the thing about actors always being criticized for speaking out — the fact is, because we are well-known, we amplify the voices of those who can't always be heard. We help their voices, like we're repeaters at the top of mountains, get out of the valley and over the mountaintops to reach a broader audience. And that's why people who don't agree with you attack you — because it's effective and they don't want it to continue. So I view it as a good sign when people attack us and say, 'You're an actor, you have no right to be talking about fair wages,' and things like that.
Sarah Handel and Viet Le produced and edited this interview for broadcast, and Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Fifty years ago, two young actors played newlyweds in the classic comedy "Barefoot In The Park."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BAREFOOT IN THE PARK")
JANE FONDA: (As Corie) Was that a kiss? Because, boy, if that's what kisses are going to be like from now on, don't bother to come back at 5:30.
ROBERT REDFORD: (As Paul) Corie, I can't kiss you anymore. My lips are numb. Now, will you please go inside?
FONDA: (As Corie) If you don't give me a real kiss, I'm going to give you back your pajamas right now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now in the new Netflix film "Our Souls At Night," Jane Fonda is a widow who has a very different proposition for her neighbor, also a widower, played by Robert Redford.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUR SOULS AT NIGHT")
FONDA: (As Addie) Would you be interested in coming to my house some time to sleep with me? See, we're both alone. You know, we've been on our own for years. And I'm lonely, and I'm guessing you might be, too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Reunited again, they join us from New York to talk about their new project and the decades in between. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
REDFORD: You're welcome.
FONDA: It's always a pleasure to be on NPR.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) That's very nice to hear. Tell us a little bit about your character, Jane. Who is she, and what does she want?
FONDA: She is an older woman who realizes that she doesn't have much time left. And she wants to do something very brave. And she knows she still has life to live. And she crosses the street and knocks on her neighbor's door and asks him to come and sleep with her not for sex but because she needs company, and she likes this guy, although she doesn't know him very well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Her name is Addie Moore in this film. And, Robert, tell us about your character, Louis Waters. He's a man who has a row of plaid shirts in his closet, which I thought was a nice touch.
REDFORD: I don't think fashion was on his mind (laughter).
REDFORD: But I think he's a man in retreat. He's a man who's pulled himself back into a shell because of various things that happened in his youth. His wife has passed away. He's living alone. And it's OK with him. So he's kind of in a state of hiding when she comes. And she basically awakens him and galvanizes him and, I think, pulls him out to be the person he's been hiding for so long. What I like about it is that this is a film where love is found again, where love was - thought it was left behind. But I think without Jane's character, without Addie Moore, I think my character would've stayed in retreat until death.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jane, I'm curious what attracted you to this project.
FONDA: Two things. It's a - you know, it's a book written by Kent Haruf. And Bob sent it to me, and I loved the book. And then, secondly, working with Bob again - I never thought I'd get a chance to do this towards the end of my life. And it's like bookends. You know, there was "Chase" and "Barefoot In The Park" and then "Our Souls At Night" at the other end of life. And that just felt really good.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what's different, though, about working with each other now? I mean, you've obviously punctuated...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You punctuated your career at different times and different ages. Is there anything different about it?
FONDA: Yes. He says not. I say yes.
FONDA: And it's - when I used to work with him, you know, Bob can pull into himself just like the character he plays, in fact. Days would go by on the set of "Barefoot In The Park" or "Electric Horseman," for example, where he wouldn't ever speak to me. It was like I wasn't even there, except when it was a script thing. And I would think, oh, my God, he doesn't like me. I've done something wrong. And this time when that happened, I could joke with him. I knew that it wasn't me - that it was him.
FONDA: And so I could - I said to myself, my God, I'm growing up - better late than never.
REDFORD: I think Jane's never grown up. And I hope she doesn't.
REDFORD: I think - I don't - you're talking about the silences. I don't recall that. I do know that I probably had a tendency to withdraw into myself. But I think I just took for granted that Jane and I had this connection that didn't need a lot of talk. It just was. And I think I relied on that so I could - if I had to go inside myself for whatever reason, I just trusted that if I were to come out, we'd be right in the same place we were.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I normally don't ask celebrities about their politics for obvious reasons. But both of you have a long history with activism. And, Ms. Fonda, Hollywood has come under a lot of criticism lately. Do you think it does more harm than good to speak out in a climate like this, as someone who's lived through other contentious periods?
FONDA: No. I think, in a democracy, it's incumbent upon all of us to speak out. It's important to try to know what it is you're talking about. But everyone should speak out right now. And more and more people are, which is great.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You seem to agree, Bob. But don't you just become a lightning rod for those who disagree with you and say, look, there are the Hollywood elite talking about stuff that they shouldn't talk about?
REDFORD: Yeah, I've experienced that most of my adult life. But, you know, on one hand, you could waste a lot of your time debating or taking on every criticism that comes your way. It's just going to happen. You're a lightning rod in that respect. Well, all you have to do is focus on what you really care about, whether it's politics. In my case, it's pretty simple. It's art and nature. I received a lot of criticism for - particularly from industrial people - oil and gas people. But it hasn't stopped me from speaking out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What advice do you give to the younger generation of actors about activism and about being in the public space?
REDFORD: Yeah. My only advice is pay attention? Whatever you're doing, pay attention not to the screen in your hand or the screen on your desk but to the life around you. You might be missing something.
FONDA: I'm a little more proactive. For example, in two weeks, I've rented a bus that'll take 55 people - young people - down to San Diego to knock on doors and talk to voters and find out what they're thinking and where they come from and what they feel needs to happen.
REDFORD: When are you going to San Diego?
FONDA: I'm not going to tell on the radio. I'm not going to say.
REDFORD: Will you tell me in private?
FONDA: I'll tell you in private. You bet.
REDFORD: Because I'm going to be in La Jolla.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Seems like we've organized a date there. I'm happy.
FONDA: But, you know, the thing about, you know, actors always been criticized for speaking out, the fact is that because we are well-known, we amplify the voices of people who can't always be heard. And that's why people who don't agree with you attack you - because it's effective, and they don't want it to continue.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to ask you both to use three words to describe the other one.
FONDA: Oh, my gosh.
REDFORD: I'm not sure there are words to describe Jane. She's too strong. She's too powerful a person to be described in one word.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I gave you three.
REDFORD: It would take more than three.
FONDA: Mine would be complicated, profound and deeply creative.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right.
REDFORD: I guess mine would be beautiful. I would use the word beauty in terms of myself.
REDFORD: I'm kidding.
REDFORD: I would use the word beauty in terms of Jane being beautiful inside and out.
FONDA: Oh, I meant that about you, too. It's not just physical. It's mostly physical, though (laughter). He's funny, too. That's another People don't realize how funny he is (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Their new film on Netflix is "Our Souls At Night." Thank you both so very much.
REDFORD: Thank you very much.
FONDA: Thank you. It's a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS HANSEN AND MATT POND'S "76") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.