Bridget Fonda: Funny Face

Though she's certain she's not a good interview subject, Bridget Fonda talks about everything you could hope for, from doing drugs and shooting nude scenes to growing up a Fonda and falling in love with Eric Stoltz. But whatever you do, don't call her a "hot" actress!


When Bridget Fonda decided to come to my house to do this interview I wondered how we'd manage, since the house is currently being remodeled and the only sanctuary is my study, which is so crowded I felt it wouldn't be comfortable for a movie star. But her publicist said Bridget was cool, so I got some cookies, figs, cinnamon and peppermint chips, and placed them within arm's reach of the chair she'd be sitting in. When she arrived, she ignored the goodies I had set out and asked for an ashtray. For the next five and a half hours, smoke was all she needed.

"Please don't write about this," she pleaded after her third cigarette. "My grandmother doesn't like that I do it."

Neither did my dog, but I didn't say that. Instead, I asked her why she does it.

"Off the record?"

"No, on."

"I smoke when I'm nervous," she said. "I get nervous about not being a good interview."

Just like her grandfather, who said that he never liked doing interviews because he didn't have the words. But the truth was, Henry was a good subject--he was honest, he didn't bullshit, and he could be brutal about himself and his family. I told Bridget this and she said she never got to know Henry as an actor, though she feels she relates more to him professionally than she does to her father Peter or her aunt Jane.

Bridget grew up a Fonda from a distance. After her parents split up when she was eight, she and her younger brother lived with her mother in L.A. Her father lived in Hawaii for a while, then moved to Florida, and finally to a ranch in Montana with his second wife. Bridget got along with her new stepmother better than she did the agent/movie producer her mother remarried. Bridget went to Westlake School for Girls, which she says she despised. During the only school play she appeared in, Harvey--which her grandfather's pal Jimmy Stewart had immortalized on film--she got an inkling of her future. "I was terrible in it," Fonda recalls, "but one day in rehearsals I was just fucking around and that's when I suddenly knew that I wanted to do this."

After graduating Bridget went to New York, attended NYU and studied drama at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. In 1986 she auditioned for--and got--a part in the Franc Roddam section of the film Aria. The role had no words and called for her to be nude, but Fonda never blinked or balked. And just like that, she was noticed.

In 1988 she appeared in You Can't Hurry Love and Shag, where she did a sexy dance which was later noticed by David Hare, who cast her in Strapless. She played Christine Keeler's party friend in Scandal, and Mary Shelley in Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound, then went to Italy to play a photo-journalist in The Godfather, Part III. Her boyfriend at the time, British actor/screenwriter Lee Drysdale, directed her in Leather Jackets, which went straight to video. In 1991 came Doc Hollywood and Iron Maze, a film that "never came off on-screen the way I had hoped it would." Then, in '92, came two films which brought her some attention: Singles and Single White Female. This year she's been in Point of No Return, a remake of the French-Italian film La Femme Nikita, and Bodies, Rest & Motion, with her boyfriend Eric Stoltz. Two other films will be out soon: Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha and Camilla with Jessica Tandy. She is currently working on Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip with Nicolas Cage and Rosie Perez.

At 29, Bridget Fonda seems to be a very in-demand actress on the verge of finding that breakthrough film that will help define her the way Klute did her aunt Jane, and Easy Rider did her father Peter. But she has already left no doubt that the Fonda genes have now passed to the third generation. Grandpa Henry would be proud.

LAWRENCE GROBEL: Did you ever wish you had a different last name?

BRIDGET FONDA: No, though I wonder what kind of satisfaction I would have with where I am now if I wasn't part of a family that has done such phenomenal work. I wonder what it would feel like to know that you've made it completely under your own steam. I sometimes wonder if I would be more at peace if I could know I made it by myself, instead of always wondering how many times my name got me in the door.

Q: But, once in the door, you've still got to get cast--and no one's casting Jane or Henry or Peter when you're there.

A: That's what the people who love me remind me.

Q: Was it always something you needed to be reminded of?

A: I always felt that I had to struggle to make people like me in spite of the name. When you're a kid it's very important that you fit in.

Q: And when you're a movie star... ?

A: Being a movie star is not really anything, it's just a title.

Q: What about being a "hot" actress?

A: That's a term I despise, because it scares me. You're hot one second and the next second you're not. It's not a really good way to look at things. I mean, this is my life.

Q: Your next picture is Bertolucci's Little Buddha. What can you tell us about it?

A: I haven't seen it yet, and I'm reluctant to talk about the plot.

Q: How much of it relates to the Buddha and how much is in modern times?

A: Little Buddha is the name of the book which is the story of Prince Siddhartha that is given to my and Chris Isaak's son by these Tibetan monks. So you have modern times and then within the story you can be taken into the past. The part that I was in was in Seattle. I play a teacher. Not too epic.

Q: When you asked Bertolucci what he did when he acted, he told you he laughed a lot. Did you relate to that?

A: Yes, I get quite hysterical sometimes. Giddy. It happened once on Single White Female. It also happened on Camilla with Jessica Tandy. When I started to get the giggles, the director, Deepa Mehta, who has a devilish sense of humor, would encourage it. And Jessica is very, very funny.

Q: What interested you in Camilla?

A: I play a musician with terrible stage fright who has these big hungry dreams. She's got talent, but she is so acutely aware of those who are geniuses that she feels small and not good enough. It's my life, which is why I felt so strongly about it.

Q: Single White Female is the movie that broke the million dollar barrier for you. Did that change your position in the industry?

A: Unfortunately that amount was printed, otherwise I wouldn't say. I was very upset, because nobody likes to talk about money.

Q: Why not?

A: Because money is ugly in and of itself. I never minded telling people how much I made, I didn't care, until I started getting bad feedback. Suddenly it was like you were exposing a part of yourself that people were very eager to chop off, so to speak.

Q: Since you were given the choice of playing the terrorizer or the victim in Single White Female, what made you opt for the less showy victim part?

A: That was a harder part for me to play, because it's mostly reaction. And I'm better at doing than I am at reacting. It was some of the most satisfying work I've ever done.

Q: In spite of--or because of--the fact that your co-star, Jennifer Jason Leigh, was once Eric Stoltz's girlfriend?

A: That wasn't something I wanted to dwell on. She was somebody who did go out with somebody who I'm in love with, yet I got along with her really well.

Q: Didn't you both learn self-defense, so you could duke it out at the end?

A: Jennifer and I wanted to learn as much as we could for the fights. You could have the stunt doubles do it, but then you can't show the faces, and if you can see our faces as they're in the middle of this life-or-death struggle, it's much more powerful.

Q: Are you a natural fighter?

A: I hate fights.

Q: Even with your boyfriend?

A: I get so afraid that it's all going to end.

Q: Are we talking physical or verbal fighting here?

A: I don't get physical. It's verbal. A lot of times I get very defensive, but even if I start a fight I feel like I'm being attacked. It's like having a terrible fever, because I get so upset and so afraid.

Q: You were eight when your parents split up. How much do you remember of when they were together?

A: Not very much. I remember a dinner where my dad pretended to swallow an apple. I remember him skateboarding around the tennis court. I've talked about this with my shrink, wondering if there is something wrong with why I can't remember in detail these things. I've been told that it's my way of dealing with the pain.

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