By Steve Helling
June 09, 2008 12:00 PM

With her famous family, three marriages and more than 40 films, Jane Fonda’s life has at times been outrageous, inspiring and controversial—but never predictable. The actress, who turned 70 last December, says her life has unfolded in acts. Act One: an actress and model desperately seeking approval from the men in her life, including dad Henry. “I was brought up to feel that to be worthy of love,” she says, “I had to be perfect.” Act Two: a woman gradually taking control of her own destiny through her career, controversial political activism and a killer workout. But now, Fonda has reinvented herself yet again for Act Three—which she calls her “most significant.” After splitting from third husband Ted Turner in 2000, she became a born-again Christian and immersed herself in the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, an education program she developed to reduce teen pregnancy. “I have huge compassion for adolescents,” she says. Curled up on a sofa in her downtown Atlanta loft, she looked through photos and reflected with PEOPLE’s Steve Helling on her life—all three unforgettable acts.

2008 “I was brought up to feel that to be worthy of love, I had to be perfect, but now I realize that good enough is good enough”

1960 Growing up, Fonda was in awe of her movie-star dad, Henry, but frustrated by his remoteness. “I was always striving for my father’s acceptance and love,” she says. “The distance between us when I was young made me even more enamored with him. I was not only a fan of him professionally, but I was just so fascinated by everything he did. I wanted to identify with him and be close to him. We eventually developed the relationship I wanted.”

1968 “For a long time I was embarrassed about Barbarella,” says Fonda of the ’60s sci-fi flick directed by ex-husband Roger Vadim. “Now I can appreciate it for the fun it was.”

1982 “I didn’t realize that empowerment could begin in the muscles and work inward,” says Fonda of her exercise videos. “I love the fact that I empowered women.”

1949 Fonda’s mother, Frances (with Jane and her brother Peter), could not escape the demons of mental illness. “She came out of an institution for this phony picnic for some family magazine,” Fonda recalls. “She killed herself six months later.”

1981 On Golden Pond gave Fonda a chance to work alongside—and make peace with—her dad. Costar Katharine Hepburn became a mentor. “I learned from her the importance of someone owning the fact that they are a role model,” she says. “That you will leave a legacy, and being responsible for that.”

1967 “He is so handsome and just such a wonderful human being,” says Fonda of friend and frequent costar Robert Redford (in a publicity shot from Barefoot in the Park). “Every movie I made with him, I developed a crush on him.”

1982 Fonda accepted the Oscar for Pond for her father, who was too ill to attend the ceremony. She presented it to him with family, including second husband Tom Hayden (left). “It was a great honor—especially for a film that was so significant to me.”

1970 “It wasn’t easy growing up as my daughter,” says Fonda (with baby Venessa and first husband Vanessa and first husband Roger vadim). “But Vanessa is an amazing woman.”

2007 “I still have a very good relationship” with third husband Ted Turner, says Fonda. “Life is too short to be fighting.”

1972 “There are some things from that era that I would do over if I could,” says Fonda, who has apologized to veterans for visiting Hanoi during the Vietnam war. “I wanted to stop the bombing of civilian targets, and I was successful in doing that.”

2005 “She’s a pro,” says Fonda of Monster-in-Law costar Jennifer Lopez. “Did we become intimate friends? No, but we had some very nice times together.”

1980 “We had a really good time,” Fonda says of working with pals Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin on 9 to 5. “It was so much fun to make.”