The Truth About Those Slaps and More: 15 Secrets From Monster-In-Law

It's been more than 15 years since Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda faced off in Monster-In-Law, which J.Lo still calls one of the highlights of her career.

By Natalie Finn Nov 26, 2021 2:00 AMTags
Watch: Jane Fonda Talks "Monster-in-Law" Back in 2005

More than 15 years later, are Kevin and Charlie still married? Did Viola manage to prolong her change of heart and not revert back into being the possessive-and-a-little-bit-homicidal snob who doesn't believe any woman is good enough for her son? (Seriously, you don't mess with a girl's nut allergy...)

Well, regardless of the couple's long-term prospects, at least Monster-in-Law—starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda as the fiancée Charlie and the mother-of-the-groom Viola battling over Michael Vartan, the Dr. Perfect who somehow thinks the two favorite women in his life are getting along fine—ended happily.

Whether or not Vartan's Kevin was great enough to merit this battle of wills is beside the point, even if in 2021 we might prefer seeing a Charlie-shaped hole in the door because she's running away from this unhealthy scenario as fast as she can, with Wanda Sykes' Ruby driving the getaway car. But there are reasons for Viola's breakdown, even if her actions venture into the pathological, and if you dig deep enough beneath this film's woman vs. woman exterior, you can find the feminist edge.

50 Fascinating Facts About Jennifer Lopez

And even if you can't, it's a hoot, featuring the return of Fonda from her premature retirement and the kind of cinematic justice that a rom-com heroine like J.Lo deserves.

So in honor of this very rewatchable burst of eye candy, here are 15 things to know about Monster-in-Law:

1. A Prolific Period of Self-Discovery

When she got the Monster-in-Law script, Jane Fonda hadn't been in a movie in 15 years. Her most recent film was 1990's Stanley & Iris, after which she married media mogul and CNN founder Ted Turner and promptly retired from acting. In a 2013 CNN interview, Fonda remembered Turner telling her on their second date, "'If this is going to work, you're going to have to give up your career.' I'm thinking, this is a little bit early in the relationship for that." The conversation moved on to other things and then Turner came back with, "I just realized, you're not going to give up your career until you win an Oscar.' I said, 'Ted, I have two.'"

"I was planning to do it anyway," she insisted, "so it was partly Ted and partly something I wanted, too."

In 2005, she told LiveAboutDotCom about her decision to retire from acting 15 years prior: "It had become agony. I was not happy inside as a woman and I was kind of in denial about it and sort of cut off from my emotions. I was living on willpower and its very hard to be creative when you're living on willpower. My last two or three movies were just agony and I said, I don't want to be scared anymore. Then I met Ted Turner and I didn't have to."

After they divorced in 2001, "I was celibate for seven years," Fonda shared with Forbes in 2011, "and I discovered I'm fine."

She and Turner remained friends, even though, according to Fonda's 2005 memoir, My Life So Far, Turner was a serial cheater. Still, "it was really hard to leave—I was 62 years old and I had no career anymore," Fonda recalled to The New Yorker in 2018." I didn't have to work, I was being looked after. And yet I knew that, if I stayed, I was never going to become who I'm meant to be as a whole person, as a really authentic person. And I tried to explain it to him, but he doesn't really understand."

2. The Stars Aligned

"I'm really different than I was 15 year ago when I decided I didn't want to do it anymore," Fonda told E! News in 2005, asked why she had returned to acting, "and I was curious to see whether that difference would make the experience more joyful. And then this character came along and I thought, Wow, what a great way to try it out, 'cause she's so over-the-top, and that was why.

"It was" joyful, Fonda confirmed. "It really was. I don't know if it would have been quite the same if it had been a serious movie, a heavy movie. But it was just perfect, it fit in to exactly where I am. I wanted to laugh."



3. Art Reflects Life

"When I first saw the script, I didn't know why the mother was so bad," Fonda told reporters, "so I had to find her a back story." Referencing Viola's multiple onscreen tantrums and flair for drama, she added, "I learned some of the over-the-top behavior from Ted."

She explained further to LiveAboutDotCom, "He's the only person I know who's had to apologize more than I've. He is an absolute hoot and he is outrageous and he lacks any self-censorship. And at the same time, he's extremely lovable and I had never known anyone like him. So when I got an opportunity to play Viola, it was like I had permission to be over the top because I knew what that could look like.

"I don't mean to say that because it's called Monster-in-Law that he's a monster. I'm crazy about the man. Absolutely adore him and we're close friends. Do you know what I'm saying? It's like, just go all the way, hit for the fences."

4. Slap-Happy

"I was so afraid to hit Jane Fonda in the face or hurt her in any way," Jennifer Lopez recalled in 2019 on Making a Scene. "Really her character was very much like her and my character at the time was very much like me—I was so afraid of her, and she was so brazen, like, 'Just hit me, don't worry about it, it's going to be fine!'"

Charlie is understandably a little miffed that Viola has chosen to wear a white dress on her big day, and when her future monster-in-law continues to insist that the bride will never be good enough for her son, Charlie starts with a poke. Then Viola pokes back and it devolves from there.

"She really went for it on one of those slaps," Lopez remembered. "...The scene took on a life of its own in a way that we never imagined. I didn't even think we were supposed to slap each other."

"Oh, they were fake slaps," Fonda assured reporters at the time, "but I did get cut."

Lopez remembered seeing a "blood blister" on top of Fonda's eye. "My nail went up into her eye," she said. (Fonda recalled J.Lo's diamond ring being the culprit.) "I was mortified. I was just like 'I'm so sorry.' And she was like, 'It's fine, it's fine!' …She didn't care. She's such a gangster bitch," the Hustlers star declared happily. "I just love her."

5. Cake Boss

When Viola was slamming Charlie's face into a cake over and over again, that was entirely J.Lo face-planting in the cake with Fonda's hand on the back of her head. That's the story and they're sticking to it.

"I love physical comedy, I really do," Fonda told E! News. She complimented Lopez's skills as well, pointing out her natural grace as a dancer. "She really knows how to choreograph things and use her body in a way that makes it look like it's dangerous without really being, and I learned a lot from her."

Was shoving J.Lo's face in a cake difficult? "No, it was fun," Fonda chuckled.

6. Parting Gift

The ladies got along great on set and, though they didn't really become the sort of friends who hang out off-camera, Fonda gave Lopez a diamond watch when they were done filming.

"There were really no problems," Fonda told in 2005. "Basically, it doesn't get any better than this."

"Working with Jane Fonda was one of the highlights of my career," Lopez said on Making a Scene. "She is such a powerful presence and so in the moment. It is everything you dream of when you're coming up as an actress and you think about working with the greats." Better yet, "I didn't even think she was going to do this movie…Later on she said she did it because she wanted to work with me. I was floored."

7. Forces of Nature

Why yes, Michael Vartan was nervous about working with Lopez, the glittering singer and rom-com star of the moment, and Fonda, a living legend. "I was shaking like a leaf" the night before they started filming, he recalled to E! News in 2005.

"I had made a conscious decision not to believe anything I've read about any of them, and just thought, just go do your job, and let whatever happens, happens, and you'll make your own decisions about who these people are. And they made such a concerted effort, right off the bat, to make me feel welcome." Their efforts were greatly appreciated. "They didn't have to do that," Vartan explained, "and the fact that they did meant so much to me, and they're such sweet and human and down-to-earth people that, you know, most people who see them peripherally would never get to see… I was fortunate enough to [be able to] tell you that these are really, really wonderful women."

He wasn't alone. Both Fonda and Lopez have said they were incredibly curious what the other would be like as well, and even Wanda Sykes called working with Fonda "intimidating."

8. Something Different

Vartan, whose career had taken off with Alias and playing the romantic lead in Never Been Kissed, was drawn to Monster-in-Law because it wasn't your average romantic comedy. "There's a lot more comedy than romance, and a lot more darker sides of certain characters," he explained to E! News. "I could only imagine, when I read the script, what Jane and Jennifer would bring to these parts." And "trying to keep a straight face" when Wanda Sykes was doing her thing was "virtually impossible," he said.

9. Natural Comedians

Wanda Sykes being hilarious was expected, Vartan told, but Fonda and Lopez were comedic revelations. "Those two are out of their minds," he said, smiling.

Sykes, meanwhile, said that Michael Vartan, though he played the straight man in this movie, had a dark sense of humor off-camera—and he agreed. "Absolutely morbid and disgusting and perverse, and that's what keeps me honest in this crazy business," he told E! News.

And Fonda said she had a wonderful time with Sykes, who plays Viola's loyal and fabulously outspoken personal assistant, Ruby. "We got along from the get-go and she likes to improvise, I like to improvise," Fonda said. The part where Viola heads into the house and screams after Kevin proposes to Charlie, and Ruby quips that they'll need "something stronger" than the champagne she's holding—improvised.

10. Esteemed Company

Very few people could wrest control of a scene away from Jane Fonda, but that's exactly what Broadway titan Elaine Stritch—playing Viola's own monstrous former mother-in-law, Gertrude—did. Lopez said on Making a Scene, "I think I still recite the line she says: 'And you used to drink wine—from a box!' [Red wine, to be exact].

"It's one of my favorite things from a movie of mine ever. It's hard to steal a scene away from Jane Fonda when she's doing her thing, but Elaine came in like a veteran and just annihilated. It was such a great day for a little girl like me."

11. On Her Last Leg

Then 67, Fonda was gearing up to have hip replacement surgery after the press tour was over, but you would've never known she was physically anything less than 100 percent.


12. Paying It Forward

Fonda gave half of her salary to various programs she started in Georgia while she lived there with Turner, including the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.

13. Grandmonster-in-Law?

"I wanted to have fun,'' Fonda told Entertainment Weekly about taking the part. ''And I've never played anybody like [Viola]. Totally over-the-top, outrageous. I loved it—I want to do a sequel."

Monster-in-Law was a hit, making more than $155 million worldwide on a reported $43 million budget, so likely there was at least some talk of a sequel. Instead, Fonda played another supporting role, this time in starlet-culture history, when she took on the role of a no-nonsense family matriarch who takes in her wayward granddaughter, played by Lindsay Lohan, in 2007's Georgia Rule–which became far more famous for the letter the studio CEO sent to Lohan scolding her for off-set behavior that was taking a toll on the production.

"I think every once in a while, a very, very young person who is burning both ends of the candle needs to have somebody say, 'You know, you're going to pay the piper, you better slow down.' So I think it was good," Fonda told Access Hollywood after her co-star's public scolding.

Later on there was a Monster-in-Law sitcom in development at Fox in 2014, "loosely inspired" by the film, but that didn't ultimately happen, either.

14. And the Winner Is...

Fonda and Lopez named each other when asked who would win in a real throw-down. "I think it's clear in the movie that Jane wins," Lopez told, laughing, while Fonda said J.Lo, "because she's younger."

"That would be a very close fight," Vartan said diplomatically. "It would probably be a split decision, but I will say right off the bat, Wanda Sykes would kick both their asses."

"It's like prison," Sykes offered, "you gotta go in, punch the big guy in the face, let 'em know, that's how I roll."

15. Welcome Home Party

"The moving day was the first day that I was actually in front of a camera after 15 years, which was the costume and make-up test that everybody does," Fonda told LiveAboutDotCom at the time. "Before the camera rolled for the first test, [director] Robert Luketic just got everybody quiet and said, 'Welcome back Ms. Fonda,' and I cried I was so moved."

This story was originally published on Wednesday, May 13, 2020 at 6 a.m. PT.