Jane Fonda Talks "Aging," Her "Only Smart Career" Move and Feeling "Like a Newbie"

Jane Fonda Stephen Colbert - H

"When people say, 'when were you your happiest?' I have to say now," the 'Grace and Frankie' and 'Youth' star told Stephen Colbert.

Jane Fonda, who is starring in the Dec. 4 release of Youth, visited Stephen Colbert's Late Show on Thursday to discuss the film, Netflix's Grace and Frankie (which she also stars in opposite Lily Tomlin) and aging. 

The 77-year-old veteran actress told the late night host that "change is good" before revealing thoughts on her past marriage to Ted Turner. "When I was about 62 and I knew that the marriage wasn't going to work, [Ted] said, 'people aren't supposed to change after 60.' I said, 'I don't agree with that at all.' I'm almost 78 and I'm still changing. I feel like a newbie."

Colbert quipped at the actress, who was bedecked in a lace see-through black top, "You definitely are. You look like you're halfway changing out of that dress right now, actually. That's quite daring," he said as Fonda looked down at her top and smiled. "I just wore it specially for you, Stephen," she joked back at the host.

The pair then discussed Fonda's expansive career and what's she's learned in her many years of performing on camera. "It's not from your successes that you learn, it's from your failures and how you handle them. That you grow and that you learn," she said. "I read somewhere that God comes to us through our wounds, not our awards and our successes and I think it's true. Everything I've learned comes from when I haven't done so well," she explained, but didn't offer any specifics when Colbert inquired.

Fonda said that her new film, Youth, is about "aging" and compared its theme to her own life. "I think it's about how if you still have passion, and if you haven't become cynical and you've remained open to life, then no matter how old you are chronologically, you're still young. Aging is relative," she told audiences. "If people say that I look young for my age, it's because I feel like I'm a newbie. I feel like I'm just beginning, just learning how to do things. It's not what I expected at all. That's kind of what the theme of the movie is."

When asked if she has enjoyed acting her entire career, Fonda said the reason she took a 15-year break from being on camera was "because I wasn't enjoying it anymore. I don't know about other actors, but for me, if I feel bad about myself, it's hard for me to be creative. So I just left for 15 years. People think I did it because of Ted, but I had already decided to go, and then Ted sailed into my harbor and swept me away and it was great. So I spent 10 years with him and then five writing my memoirs and as I finished my memoirs, I realized I was a very different person. I said to myself, 'I think I can find joy in acting again, and so I came back with the film Monster-in-Law, which was the only smart career thing I ever did. I thought, 'People are going to come to the movie to see JLo, Jennifer Lopez, but they'll rediscover Fonda, and that's what happened."

The Grace and Frankie star — who explained that the Netflix show is also about "aging" — said that when she wrote a book about aging in her forties, the goal of the book was "to give a cultural face to older women," which she now says she is doing with Tomlin in their show.

Asked if she would go back to her forties, Fonda said, "I wouldn't go back 10 years. I was so old at 20. I was ancient at 30. I'm so much younger now. That's really kind of the theme of Youth," she said. "When people say, 'when were you your happiest?' I have to say now."

"It's like what the hell do you have to lose?" she said of being happiest in present day. "So arrest me already. So I'm going to go to the barricades. So I'm going to be an activist like you've never seen. So what. What can they do to me now that they haven't already tried and failed?"

To wrap up her time on the CBS show, Fonda, who is a user of emojis and believes there are no "feminist" ones, looked at emojis and was asked to deem if the ones shown were feminist or not (including the woman raising her hand, the queen and twin dancers). He then showed her emojis that the show created and asked her if she believed they were feminist enough, including a burning bra, a woman leaning in, 70 percent of a dollar, Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball ("I like that," she said of Cyrus. "I'm big on Cyrus."), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Fonda in her iconic workout pose and an emoji of Fonda sitting on Colbert's lap.