Why Henry Fonda Walked Out Of The Room The First Time He Saw 12 Angry Men

Henry Fonda starred in some of the greatest movies of all time, from "The Grapes of Wrath" to "Once Upon a Time in the West." However, even on projects where he carried a producer's responsibilities, Fonda remained one of those actors who did not like watching himself onscreen.

In 1957, Fonda co-produced and starred in director Sidney Lumet's feature-film debut, "12 Angry Men," based on the television play by Reginald Rose, who also served as co-producer. The movie is set almost entirely within a jury room at a courthouse, where Fonda's character, Juror #8, tries to sway his 11 peers from immediately moving to convict a defendant who is on trial for murder.

Cinema Garmonbozia has a compilation of interviews with Lumet, where the director and author of influential industry tome "Making Movies" talks about the ones he made during his career, including "Serpico,"  "Dog Day Afternoon," and "Network." Reflecting back on his experience working with Fonda — or "Hank," as he called him — on "12 Angry Men," Lumet said:

"One thing that does stand out is Hank himself. It was the first time he was a producer. I'd always found him one of the best American movie actors. To me the three best American movie actors of that time were Fonda and James Mason and Spencer Tracy. And he had taken on this job as producer. Hated it. For example, he never watched himself. Even when a picture was over, he wouldn't see it 'till maybe a year later or something like that. He couldn't bear watching himself. A lot of actors are like that."

'He said, 'It's brilliant,' and walked out'

Lumet continued:

"Here [Fonda] was, the producer, so theoretically he had to come to rushes. And he came the first day and was sitting in back of me. And the first shot [in '12 Angry Men'] came up, and he reached around and squeezed my neck and said, 'It's brilliant,' and walked out and never came again. He was that shy about himself. That's one of the most interesting memories for me about it, is Hank trying to wear another hat distributing a picture like '12 Angry Men.'"

Given his dislike for watching his own performances — coupled with the single-location setting and dialogue-heavy nature of "12 Angry Men" — it's understandable that Fonda might not be too eager to sit through the movie, since he carried so much of it on his own shoulders as Juror #8. Every actor has their own process, and some tend to focus more on the flaws in their performance. For Fonda, it well may be that seeing himself onscreen would have made him self-conscious and detracted from his ability to be in the moment on set when giving his next performance.

After being nominated twice in 40 years, Fonda finally won an honorary Academy Award in 1981, and he followed that up the very next year with another win for Best Actor for his final movie performance in "On Golden Pond." The American Film Institute also ranked him at #6 on the men's side of its list of the 50 Greatest American Screen Legends. While Fonda may have walked out of "12 Angry Men" for personal reasons, he still recognized from the script that it was brilliant, and his legacy in that film and others is secure.