September 19, 2014 / 2:39 PM / 3 years ago

A Minute With: Jane Fonda on learning from the young comic set

Cast member Jane Fonda poses at the premiere of "This Is Where I Leave You" in Hollywood, California September 15, 2014.Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Jane Fonda says one of the blessings of growing older is that "you learn what you can and can't do" and she freely admits she doesn't have what it takes to do comedy improv.

Fonda has 55 years in the business and two best actress Oscars on her shelf for 1978's "Coming Home" and 1972's "Klute."

But in her new comedy film "This is Where I Leave You," she was in awe of co-stars Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver and Ben Schwartz when it came to going off script.

Fonda spoke to Reuters about playing the vivacious mother of a dysfunctional family, the chemistry with her cast and her new favorite actor.

Q: What drew you to the role of Hilary?

A: Well, I am 76 and it is unusual to find a character that is multidimensional, funny, sassy and still has some libido going for her. People don't write those kind of roles for older women very often.

I liked the fact that it was a very well written film that had many different parts to it. It was funny, but it was also poignant. That doesn’t happen often enough and I am so proud of Warner Bros that they stood behind a film like this. A big studio these days, they go for the tent poles and special effects, so I really want the movie to do well so that it will encourage more studios to do more films like this.

It spoke to family dysfunction which is universal and it showed that in spite of those issues we can heal and forgive.

Q: You say dysfunction, but I wouldn’t mind being a part of this family.

A: Well it shows where you are coming from! Fortunately, Jonathan Tropper (author of the novel that inspired the film) found a way of writing about this kind of dysfunction that makes it kind of lovable. But it must be kind of hard if it was in real life.

They are all very wonderful, wonderful actors saying great words and some times it is their own words. I mean Tina and Jason were improvising. Really great, funny stuff that came out of their mouths.

Q: What was the chemistry like on set?

A: We got along really well. We shot it at a house on Long Island and we just got to the house to work in the morning and stayed and got to know each other. We looked forward to coming to work.

Q: Did you feel like the elder stateswoman of this cast?

A: No, I felt like a student because I can't do what they do. I can improvise. I improvised most of "Coming Home." But I don't know how to improvise comedy. I've done like Neil Simon comedies, but you say the words that were written and you don’t improvise.

They have a whole other gift. When the film was over, Ben Schwartz got me into Upright Citizens Brigade and I tried. You either were born with that gene, and you can hone it and make it better. But if you weren't born with it, you can't do it. I don’t have that kind of brain.

So, I just watched in awe and paid close attention and paid a lot of attention to Adam Driver. I mean this guy you could watch him forever and be fascinated. He is so interesting. His choices, his energy, his instincts as an actor are peerless.

I thought 'What’s big deal?' Yeah, I saw him once, Adam Driver, in 'Girls.' And then from the very first table read, I thought 'Oh my God, I’ve never seen this before.' He is just unique and he is my new favorite actor.

Q: Are you looking for more comedy roles?

A: I am making a series right now with Lily Tomlin for Netflix that, like this film, has drama as well.

I love doing comedy. I would also love to do a drama again. You go for the word. You follow the good word. If it's written well, you go there.

Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Cynthia Osterman

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