Anne Archer's on trial at the Fringe

WHY would an Academy Award nominee who exudes the calm and gentle warmth of the characters she's played in the likes of Patriot Games and Fatal Attraction sign up for a stint in Scottish theatre?

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Anne Archer stars in the play, The Trial of Jane Fonda,  at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh
Anne Archer stars in the play, The Trial of Jane Fonda, at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh

Why indeed would Anne Archer, the lady of lustrous hair, Hollywood perfect skin and sparkling eyes be about to spend three weeks in the sweat box that is the Edinburgh Festival?

The answer is in the role Anne is playing. She's set to play the lead in The Trial of Jane Fonda, playing Jane Fonda herself.

Now, the world knows how Jane Fonda became a Forces favourite after she played intergalactic sex kitten Barbarella - and then became vilified after she visited Vietnam in 1972 and trashed the Nixon-Kissinger regime, earning her the title of 'Hanoi Jane' in the Republican press.

But what we didn't know was in June 1988, Ms Fonda actually met with 26 Vietnam vets in Waterbury Connecticut after the ex-soldiers protested during her filming of the movie Stanley And Iris with Robert De Niro.

The actress and the vets took to a local hall to settle their differences over a tearful, traumatic soul-searching, heart-wrenching four hours.

And the drama that followed is certainly the stuff of great plays, which is why Emmy Award-winning writer Terry Jastrow has created this tale.

And it just so happens that Jastrow's wife is 66-year-old Archer. That certainly doesn't mean however, Anne is wrong for the part.

But is she a little concerned about playing Fonda, given the lady is a legend?

"Yeh, well, because she is very much alive and very much in the public eye, yeh, it really is a challenge," says, Anne, relaxing over tea in a local hotel lounge.

"But you just do the best you can and remember it's a great story and it's really well done. And I feel very strongly about the issues Fonda felt strongly about it."

Ms Fonda hadn't been politicised until confined to bed in Paris after a difficult pregnancy and began watching the wall-to-wall TV footage coming out of Vietnam.

Inflamed at the astonishing indifference to innocent human life displayed by Nixon and Kissinger she travelled to Vietnam - she was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese rocket launcher - and became 'the most hated women in America.'

"These Forces guys had Barbarella on their locker doors and they couldn't handle the fact their sex idol was now an activist," says Anne.

"It was too much for them."

Anne was never as radical as her counterpart. But she shares her liberal sensibilities. Indeed, her life parallels that of Ms Fonda in many ways.

Her parents, John Archer and Marjorie Lord, were conservative Hollywood actors.

"During the Vietnam war, boys I knew were forced to go over and fight. One boy I knew died and my first boyfriend in college fought against the draft," says Anne.

"Everyone, except in the southern states, protested against the war and there were coast-to-coast college protests. All this informed my thoughts on government policy.

"And don't forget, it all got so violent with the Kent State situation." (Anne was 22 when the Ohio National Guard shot dead four student protesters, including a 19-year-old girl.)

Anne shares Ms Fonda's mindset. But does she have the innate toughness that the star could call upon in real life and in films such as Cat Ballou?

A hint of inner steel emerges when she's asked how she feels about putting her head above a parapet; Edinburgh will allow this political play to be filtered through the prism of social awareness and context.

But what about the less liberal US?

"You know what," she says, her voice a little brittle. "The States can produce great critical art in the form of films like Coming Home or Born On The Fourth Of July.

"And if you put fear out there and the press want to say this is fearful, then you can do that, but I don't agree with your premise at all.

"I think it's smart what we're doing. And I think theatre, going all the way back to Chekhov, has long put forward a notion the public wouldn't agree with."

She adds, on a roll, and indeed in keeping for her role: "In the UK and the States we have democracies that are responsive, respectful cultures."

"I'm not concerned about this play," she says in softer voice.

"I know that it will be controversial, but it you produce a piece of art you want people to go see it."

The actress adds; "This isn't a love letter to Jane Fonda by a long shot. The vets' arguments are very persuasive; you hear their personal stories about loss of life and your heart goes out them."

But will she be nervous on opening night? "You bet," she says, smiling.

"But that's all part of the journey too."

l The Trial of Jane Fonda

July 30-August 24

Assembly Rooms, George St Edinburgh

Arts and Entertainment

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