EDINBURGH — Half a century after Hollywood’s liberal revolution, Oscar-nominated leading lady Anne Archer says she has never been more depressed about the prospects for women in the movie industry.
The 1960s and ’70s were supposed to have been a watershed for equality, but Archer feels there is absolutely no prospect of women gaining equal status in the movie world. “People have been asking that question for 40, 50 years and I haven’t seen it happen,” she said. “Ten years ago I probably thought it would change, but now I’m more realistic.”
The Fatal Attraction star is currently performing in a production at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland where she’s playing Jane Fonda—the most outspoken activist and woman’s rights campaigner in Hollywood history. Despite the hard work of women like Fonda, Archer said, there had been no sea-change in attitudes within the industry. Serious parts for older actors are usually written for men; while women are predominantly relegated to roles for the young and the scantily-clad. “The world market is young men, usually 18 to 25, that is your big market where they make the big money. And that is what everybody wants: to see young women naked in films,” she said. “A lot of women are major stars all through their 20s and 30s—it is always a big struggle for a woman when she hits 40.”
Archer’s experience was a little different, her Oscar nomination for Fatal Attraction and Golden Globe success in Short Cuts both came after her 40th birthday. For a decade in the 1990s she was a familiar face in the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, including Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger opposite Harrison Ford.
Roles in major films have been less frequent since Rules of Engagement in 2000, however, and she has turned to independent movies, TV including It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and latterly the stage. At Le Monde Hotel in central Edinburgh this week, she was still captivating at the age of 66. “You know, I will always be creating art,” she told The Daily Beast. “I really don’t care what the industry does; I will find my own way. And that is the way all artists have to think today.”
Her latest creation is the Trial of Jane Fonda, a truthful examination of the backlash against Fonda’s Vietnam campaigning. Archer plays the lead in a ponderous but thoughtful one-act play penned by her husband, Terry Jastrow. Based on a real meeting between Fonda and six angry Vietnam vets in 1988, the actress tries to convince the men that the Hanoi Jane persona is overblown—she does not hate America and should not be considered a traitor.
Fonda tried in vain to convince Jarrow and Archer to ditch the project. “She said, ‘You have no idea what a hot potato this is, and the problems it would cause for me and the problems it would cause for you and what it stirs up,’” Archer explained. And Archer has felt that first-hand. Her own brother, who was a Navy pilot in Vietnam, refused to come and see the show when they were workshopping it in Los Angeles. “He doesn’t like her,” she said. “He has that part of him that is a band of brothers with the military and they don’t break ranks.”
Archer says the controversial defense of Fonda made it hard to sell the story as a movie screenplay; both sides of the argument are rehearsed during the show but it’s clear where the writer’s sympathy lies. “My husband very much feels that she was the most effective anti-war activist—certainly in the Vietnam War and maybe in almost every war,” Archer said.
Fonda was always willing to speak out even when it might be detrimental to her career. “She got a lot of bad press,” Archer said. “She had the guts to stand up there and it was still tough, you know. I wouldn’t have had the guts.”
Dealing with bad press used to be one of the main preoccupations of her son, Tommy Davis, a former spokesman for Scientology and head of the church’s Celebrity Centre International in Los Angeles until 2011. Davis now works as a senior vice president at Colony Capital, one of the world’s largest real estate investment firms.
Archer denied that he had left the prominent role in the church after a bust up with David Miscavige, the head of the church. “There was no falling out. Not even remotely so. No, he is a Scientologist, he always has been and he always will be. As much as anyone. Absolutely,” she said.
And with a fixed smile and a determined look in her eye, she added: “This article should not be about Scientology.”
The Trial of Jane Fonda is at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh until August 24.