An interview with Patricia Bosworth, whose Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Of your three previous notable "star" biographies—Marlon Brando, Diane Arbus, and Montgomery Clift—how did the writing of this one compare, and how would you position those books with this one?

The Fonda is the most documented, complex, and researched of my "star" biographies. It is more multileveled than the previous three because it is not just the story of Jane's amazing life, it is also a cultural history of the time. We are celebrity-obsessed in this country, so it was especially interesting to chart Jane's particular celebrity as she transformed herself from 1960s movie star to 1970s peace activist to exercise guru during the 80s at the height of the Me decade. Her shifting images would become projections of precise social moments. For example, you can trace her political evolution with some of the movies she starred in, like the Vietnam vet's wife in Coming Home to the muckraking TV reporter in The China Syndrome, to the secretary-turned rebel in Nine to Five. Women's roles were changing drastically throughout the middle and end of the twentieth century, and Jane's life has reflected this.

You've known Fonda since you were students at the Actors Studio 40-plus years ago; in what ways did this long-time relationship help or hinder your writing her biography?

Knowing Jane for that length of time was definitely a plus. I know and still see many of the friends we both made at the Studio; they were all able to share countless anecdotes. First, Andreas Voutsinas, Jane's coach and lover; actors such as Madeleine Sherwood, Susan Strasberg, Tanya Lopert, my dear friend Marty Fried, and Timmy Everett's family, helped me understand Jane's bulimia and depression, as well as the effect Lee Strasberg had on all of us as a master teacher. Directors such as Arthur Penn, Mark Rydell, and Sydney Pollack (all Studio members) talked to me at length about the movies they worked on with Jane, especially Mark and On Golden Pond and Sydney and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The Studio was a hugely rich connection, but our relationship has continued beyond that. I began writing articles about Jane after I became a journalist in 1965 and I was able to follow her career from Barbarella to Hanoi Jane. I even attended some of the antiwar rallies in Washington that Jane led during the ‘70s. In recent years we've shared mutual friends like Eve Ensler and Gloria Steinem, both of whom were particularly eloquent on the subject of Jane as an artist and an activist.

In what ways did chronicling Fonda's life change your opinion of her?

It has made me understand why she has such universal appeal. She lives her life out in the public, keeps everyone interested in what she's doing. She's always doing something new and wants to share it, so that her audience feels a part of everything she does. Of course, she polarizes and not everyone approves of the way she does things. She's allowed me to see her in a variety of roles—matriarch, philanthropist, movie star, friend, teacher. I've seen her at her foundation, empowering teenage girls. I've listened to her talk in workshops and at places like the Y, revealing her vulnerability and discussing her mistakes. I invariably come away from time with her amazed at what she is able to accomplish in one day. She is organized down to the minute, but always wants to live fully and in the present; she doesn't want to dwell on the past.

In the publisher's Q&A, you say that you and Fonda are "partners and antagonists." Re the latter, how did you and she work out your differences on your biography vis-à-vis her new bestseller?

There were no differences. Jane and I have always talked very openly about the existence of our two books and we've encouraged each other in all our efforts. I have followed her progress as she followed mine. I believe the books complement each other, and I've told her this. My book is about her evolution as a woman; hers is a compilation of what she considers her most important life lessons, whether about sex, diet, exercise, or love.

Jane Fonda has had a variety of careers and personas, perhaps requiring the approximately 150 sources you thank in your acknowledgments. How difficult was it to create an underlying through line for Fonda's life?

One of the themes in my book is the impact of suicide on a family, and it runs throughout the narrative. Frances Fonda's suicide was the defining incident in Jane's life, in Henry's, and in Peter's. Jane is a suicide survivor, and because she is, she's a workaholic. But the overall story is a woman's struggle to be affirmed and recognized. Jane has spent her whole life trying to find love, with her father and then with the different men she chose, from Roger Vadim to Ted Turner. That is the theme that runs through the book; it is her primary action, which she accomplishes through achievement in everything she tries to do, and everybody I spoke to celebrated on this in different ways. She is not afraid of change; she thrives on it. Her friend Eve Ensler says, "Jane is what the Buddhists call " a seeking spirit."