Thirty-five years after they co-starred in the feminist workplace dramedy “9 to 5,” Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin reunite as frenemies in “Grace and Frankie,” a series that hit Netflix today. They play two women of their own age whose lives go into a tailspin when their husbands leave them for each other.
Tomlin starred in my favorite film at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Grandma,” in which she plays Elle, a 70ish academic who is brainy, complicated and feisty, a character you never see onscreen. (The movie received raves at Tribeca and Sundance, and will open wide in August.)
On the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival last month I got a chance to ask the legendary comic actress about “Grace and Frankie,” which is executive produced by Marta Kauffman (“Friends”) and Howard J. Morris (“Home Improvement”) and tackles issues of aging with gusto, comedy and heartbreak.
Here’s my short red carpet interview:
Talk about “Grace and Frankie.”
Lily Tomlin: Jane Fonda and I play women of our own age. She’s married to Martin Sheen and I’m married to Sam Waterston – we have great casting. Waterston and Sheen’s characters have been law partners for 40 years. They take us to dinner and we think they’re going to retire and we’re going to get rid of each other because we don’t like each other. Jane’s very uptight, Republican and well dressed.
Wait a second. Jane Fonda plays a Republican?
Kind of. We’ve even toyed around with her teaching Sunday school at one point. She may still do it… I’m kind of funky, down dressed, big wild hair, and I paint, and so we don’t get on so well but we’ve been thrown together for 40 years. And so we’re hoping our husbands are going to retire and we’re going to get rid of each other. Then they tell us they’ve been partners for forty years and that they’ve been having an affair with each other for 20 years! We’re devastated.
So your two characters never noticed your husbands were attracted to each other?
No, we haven’t noticed it. She (Grace) wouldn’t notice it because she’s so uptight. I don’t notice it because I’m so tolerant and easygoing. And Sam and I have a great relationship.
There’s so much and it’s very dramatic, too. You have to treat it seriously. We’re women in our seventies who are abandoned by our husbands. They just pull the rug out from under us, you know, and I said, we had to learn how to levitate. We didn’t know what else to do. We had to reinvent ourselves.
In a trailer for the show, I saw you do a lunge to show off how limber you are. How much physical comedy will you do?
There is quite a bit of physical stuff.
How do you think we can get more female-driven works like this in television and films?
It’s like anything, if you have a success or it’s well done, then maybe someone else will try to add to it or do another one or get another shape.
Just like the young kids who have come up, who have feminist mothers, they’ve changed the landscape somewhat and kids who had gay parents or knew someone in their family who was gay, they’ve changed the way Americans look at culture types in certain parts of the country.
My family’s Southern, they’re from Kentucky, and my relatives, my generation is much more embracing and inclusive. My mother’s generation, all her sisters and brothers – there were a lot of them – they’ve all died now, but they would be very shocked and horrified and that’s because of biblical stuff, their religious training.
Times have changed, but how would Ernestine take all this?
Oh, she likes it! (Tomlin pursed her lips as she put on her old telephone operator persona.)