Jane Fonda and Cast Dish on ‘Book Club 2’: ‘I Have This Problem, Maybe It’s Narcissism’

Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen tell IndieWire why Italy was "magnetic" for "Book Club: The Next Chapter" — and the unsung projects they want young people to see.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 08: Jane Fonda attends the premiere of "Book Club: The Next Chapter" at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on May 08, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Jane Fonda
Getty Images

Book Club: The Next Chapter” is one of those rare sequels that feels like an earned inevitability rather than a desperate bid. That’s because its quartet of genuinely iconic stars — Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen — all wanted to make another movie with director Bill Holderman, and the 2018 original film’s $104 million global gross certainly sweetened the deal.

So did a two-month-plus, all-expenses-paid trip to Italy.

In the Focus Features sequel, the four bookish besties rekindle after a long pandemic slog of dishing on books and slurping wine over Zoom. Here, Vivian (Fonda), Diane (Keaton, and of course, she’s named Diane, and in outfits that could have only come from Keaton’s closet), Sharon (Bergen), and Carol (Steenburgen) are all tangling with crises that apply to any stage of life: love, marriage, and career.

But they’re doing so on a glitzy trip to Florence, Rome, and beyond, and with their book club selection, Paul Coehlo’s “The Alchemist,” as their guide. (Indeed, it’s a bit of a dial-down from their last selection, “Fifty Shades of Grey.”)

Except, as Fonda, Steenburgen, and Bergen revealed in a lively interview with IndieWire, not all had read the book prior to filming on location in Italy, including at the famed Cinecittà Studios. And they still haven’t.

“It’s a parable. It’s not easy. It’s a little tiny skinny book. I read it a couple of weeks ago, in fact, because I knew Mary was reading it, so I thought I had to be prepared,” said Bergen.

But Fonda hasn’t read the Portuguese novel about an Andalusian making his way to mythic treasure, which has been co-opted in literary circles as a kind of self-help text for those hoping to realize a far-off dream. Maybe it felt like homework.

“She gets an incomplete,” Bergen, who plays an acridly witty judge not quite over her retirement, said of her co-star.

“I don’t read novels very much,” Fonda said with a laugh. Whether Keaton has read the book, who knows. She couldn’t participate in the junket, as she’s off filming a movie called “Summer Camp” with Kathy Bates.

Book Club 2 review
Book Club: The Next ChapterFocus Features

So why Italy? “It was like a magnet,” said Bergen who, with Steenburgen back at CinemaCon 2018, hatched the idea for the follow-up film, knowing Italy had to be the place.

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” is not groundbreaking cinema, but after decades of provocative, Oscar-winning movies from these leading ladies, that probably comes as a relief for the cast, who were presumably looking to relax on set and hang out with their friends. Keaton, in a recent New York Times interview, demurred that the movie is “fine.” It’s fun, corny, escapist entertainment that should please fans of the book and especially the late-in-life set (and gay men) who adore seeing these women together onscreen.

“Book Club: The Next Chapter,” for Oscar-winner and post-“Grace and Frankie” Fonda, did offer a kind of “older woman with pizzazz” role she rarely sees anymore. Her Vivian is a grab-life-by-the-collar hotelier who’s largely avoided romantic attachment until this sequel throws a curveball her way.

“I get a lot of attempted pizzazz-y old women or all these stereotypes, and they’re always one-dimensional. It’s very hard to find good scripts for older women,” Fonda said.

“I think it’s hard for her to ever get a movie about a woman with pizzazz who can come close to who she is in real life, but all of us love playing not just strong women, weak women, every kind of character we can explore,” said Steenburgen, whose chef Carol is dealing with unhappiness in her marriage.

“And strong women can also be weak and vice versa!,” Fonda added. “She’s 86!,” Burgen chimed in of Fonda. “She has more stamina, more motivation, more drive than anyone I know.” “More than any teenager!,” Steenburgen said.

BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER, (aka BOOK CLUB 2: THE NEXT CHAPTER), from left: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, 2023. © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Book Club: The Next Chapter”©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

“But you know the problem? I have this problem which, maybe it’s narcissism. I think it’s my responsibility to fix everything. It’s like, if I don’t end the war, it’s not going to end. If I don’t fix the climate crisis, it’s not going to happen, and it drives me. I guess it’s good, but I have to be reasonable,” said Fonda, long an advocate for feminism and human rights dating back to her Hanoi Jane countercultural days circa the Vietnam War. Amid it all, she’s also in remission from the non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis she revealed in 2022.

“You’re saying it’s not narcissism? I worry about that,” Fonda pressed. “I don’t want to be a narcissist.” “You would never!,” Bergen said. “She’s not a narcissist,” Steenburgen added.

Younger audiences who stumble into “Book Club: The Next Chapter” might not have the same connection to these stars (who have piles of Emmy and Oscar wins between them) that older generations do. People of a certain age or demographic (myself included) would probably run to anything they make blindly just for the joy of seeing them all up on screen together. So I asked them what unsung past project they’d want someone of, say, the Gen Z set to check out.

Fonda mentioned 1981’s “On Golden Pond,” a film she made as a sort of peacemaking ode to her complicated and often distant showbiz father, Henry Fonda, who died the year after it was released and whose Best Actor Oscar Jane accepted. “It’s kind of universal,” she added.

We also talked about her 1986 Sidney Lumet film “The Morning After,” starring Fonda (in peak Original Workout fashion) as a boozy actress implicated in a murder. “I play a drunk! I did that movie… well, that’s another story. What was the question?,” she said.

CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, 1971
“Carnal Knowledge”Courtesy Everett Collection

Fonda advocated on behalf of Candice Bergen for audiences to check out “Carnal Knowledge,” Mike Nichols’ vicious 1971 chamber drama starring Bergen as a college student tangled in a toxic erotic triad with Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson (whose character is the definition of a 2023 Toxic Male).

Steenburgen wants audiences to see Bergen’s Steven Soderbergh film “Let Them All Talk.” Bergen plays Roberta, a hanger-on of Meryl Streep’s literary celebrity character, who hilariously in that improvised film said a line we can all relate to: “I hate my job. I loathe my life. I desperately need money.” But Fonda said, “I’m not sure if Gen Z people would like that movie very much.”

As for Steenburgen, check out the 1980 comedy that won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, “Melvin and Howard.”

But they’re not living in the past because, hey, “Book Club: The Next Chapter” got them a vacation and a job in one package. “And a lot of good meals,” Fonda added.

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” hits theaters everywhere on Friday, May 12.

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