Jane Fonda sits very erect, chin up.
At 74, the two-time Oscar-winning actor and fitness guru is sporting a black leather jacket. She gives off a vibe that is both determined and relaxed. Ever watch one of her workout videos from the '80s? She would push and push as she powered through the exercises, but at the same time remind you, as you huff and puff, to breathe.
That drive is still there as she talks about her movie Peace, Love & Misunderstanding. But having had time to reassess her life in the past decade - in other words, to breathe - the actor seems comfortable with where she's going in "the small future that exists."
"I'm a person that's basically quite happy," Fonda says. "Quite at peace, which is not what I expected at 74. I think this movie reflects a lot of who I am now."
In Peace, Love & Misunderstanding (in limited release nationwide; not in Tampa Bay theaters, but at Burns Court in Sarasota), Fonda stars as Grace, a free-loving, pot-smoking refugee from the 1960s who still lives in Woodstock, N.Y. Catherine Keener plays her estranged daughter, a New York City lawyer who suddenly appears at her door with her teen children (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) after her husband has asked for a divorce.
"I was never a hippie - never wore tie-dye. Missed that whole thing," Fonda quickly points out. Though she is remembered for her anti-Vietnam War activity and her leftist stance, she hadn't become a political figure yet and was living in France married to director Roger Vadim when the massive rock festival took place.
This is Fonda's fourth film since returning to acting in 2005 with Monster-in-Law. She describes the independent film, directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), as a "story about love and forgiveness."
"I like that," she adds.
Fonda had left Hollywood in 1990. Her last film, Old Gringo, was with Gregory Peck.
"You know, I had never wanted to make a movie again. I was very, very unhappy. My second marriage (to Tom Hayden) was ending and I saw no future," Fonda says. She says she thought of moving to New Mexico and becoming an environmentalist when Ted Turner "swooped" into her life. She and Turner were married for 10 years, until 2001.
"They were happy years," she says. "I got my confidence back, and then I began writing my memoir. And when I was almost done writing that I realized it was a totally different person than I was 15 years earlier, and I thought I could find joy in movies again."
Fonda worked for five years on the 2005 autobiography My Life So Far, which gave her plenty of time to contemplate her life.
"It's not that wisdom automatically comes with age. It doesn't," Fonda says. "There has to be a certain amount of reflection, which I did with my memoirs. Studies show that most people over 50 are happier and tend to know what they want out of the small future that exists."
Fonda certainly knows want she wants to do - act - but she still is writing, too.
Last year, Fonda published a book called Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit - Making the Most of All of Your Life, stories from her own and other people's lives about how to live better as you grow older. (By the way, the actor says she watches Steve Martin in The Jerk when she's depressed.)
"So many things in your life become better if you stay active," she says. "It doesn't mean you have to do marathons and exercise videos, walking instead of drive."
The actor also blogs at her website janefonda.com about such subjects and has more books on the way, including one for teens about sex and being careful about your body and the importance of love.
"A lot of Grace is in me," she says, referring to her Peace, Love & Misunderstanding character.
"I teach. I was a born teacher as a college dropout," she adds with a smile.
About three years ago, Fonda moved back to Southern California from Georgia to get a new knee and "to be an actor again."
"I hooked up with a new lover, whom I've been living with for three years now, and I'm a resident of California," she says. "It's good because I have a son and his wife and a lot of friends here.
"And it's not so good because I don't see my grandkids so much anymore because they live in Atlanta," she adds, her voice catching a bit.
Fonda will have a recurring guest role in the first season of The Newsroom, the HBO series created by Aaron Sorkin that premiered Sunday. And in what can only be seen as irony in some circles, Fonda is slated to play Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels'The Butler, due out next year.