How delightful is it to see Lily Tomlin, one of the heroes of Our Community, having such a good year?
First, there has been her reteaming with Jane Fonda ( her onscreen pal from the adored feminist comedy 9 to 5 ) in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, in which Tomlin brings her endearing character, an aging hippie, depth, pathos and plenty of laughs. The series has been a hit; Tomlin has been nominated for an Emmy and she's four episodes into shooting the second season.
Now, Tomlin stars in her first movie in decades, the lovely road comedy Grandma ( opening Friday ), in which she plays feisty septuagenarian Elle Reid, an esteemed lesbian poet and avowed feminist who is enlisted by her pregnant 18-year-old granddaughter ( the lovely Julia Garner ) to find the money so she can have an abortion. Elle doesn't hesitate and off the two go in her vintage car, encountering a host of real characters.
Writer-director Paul Weitz wrote the part specifically for Tomlin, 76. The moviea dramedy that also has wonderful supporting characters populated by Sam Elliott, Marcia Gay Harden, Laverne Cox, Judy Greer and Elizabeth Penais unthinkable without her.
Forty years after being Oscar nominated for Nashville, her first movie, there is buzz about Tomlin getting a second chance at Oscar gold. For Tomlin, who married her longtime partner Jane Wagner last year, that's about the only honor that hasn't been bestowed on her over the course of her laudable career. And as she reveals in this exclusive interview with Windy City Times, she isn't done yet.
Windy City Times: I want to take a moment here at the outset to say "thank you" on behalf of Our People for holding the torch aloft. I just want to rejoice that our own darling Lily Tomlin is playing one of us onscreen so spectacularly.
Lily Tomlin: Well thank youthank you, thank you!
WCT: I love the irony that Paul Weitza manwrote this beautiful part for you.
LT: I know. It's so amazing.
WCT: How close is the character of Elle Reid to you? Did he sit with you and observe you?
LT: No, he didn't. He totally surprised me by springing this script on me. I had no idea. After we finished Admission he called me and asked me to go out to lunch and then he said, "I've written a movie with you in mind" and that sort of struck terror in my heart because I liked him so much after we'd done Admission and I loved his About a Boy and so I said, "Oh God, what if I don't like it? I'll have to tell him that I don't like it. So, I was kind of fearful." Anyway, I loved it; I thought it was a terrific script and he got the most wonderful people to be in it. Every performance is just wonderful. I tell you, I don't know if it's because we did it in 19 days or because we had a low budget but it's just a special movie.
WCT: A real labor of love with you driving your own car...
LT: ...and wearing my own clothes! [Laughs] And everyone who came on the picture was just great. Sam [Elliott] was absolutely fabulous, Marcia Gay [Harden], Julia [Garner], who plays my granddaughter, was delectable and luscious and sweet. Everybody in the movie was good.
WCT: And how unusual to see a movie driven by the abortion issue.
LT: Yes, rightand it's got lots of other issues layered in.
WCT: Yes, yes.
LT: Parenting and kindness, mouthiness, everything. But it's not about those things. It's about the relationships. About creating human beings and not dehumanizing them around an issue.
WCT: For someone to hand you a piece like this that is so deeply layered and complexas it goes along you find out more and more about the character of Ellehow do you work with a director on something like this? Does he say, "Well, you know what you're doing, given your experience…" or do you talk about specific scenes? And also, you had very little time.
LT: Paul and I had time to work on it in advance. I had a lot of other concert and standup dates and other stuff to do. I'd just finished a season of Grace and Frankie and it hadn't come out yet so I didn't know if that was going to have traction. We just gradually talked about it. Mostly, we tried to question everything and see if everything was covered. Any contribution I made was asking questions and Paul answered them by rewriting or thinking about it himself.
WCT: Somehow the planets aligned. One of the things that is so lovely in the film is the generational aspect. That you give this granddaughter the courage to speak up for herself.
LT: Yes, yes. So important and to bring the three of us back together in some semblance of family. When Marcia Gay, the mother, says, "Come for dinner, I'll order pizza" [Laughs]it's just very…moving. And it's got a lot of comedy in it which I had no idea it was going to play as funny as it does.
WCT: Well, that's inherent in almost everything you do. Now, having gone through the feminism, the gay liberation, the ACT-UP movement in the '80s, when you go out and do these concert dates and young people come, do they know your work ahead of time?
LT: Well, a lot of young people don't come. I mean, they really don't know who I am or have my history. Some young people come; their parents bring them or they get on to me for some reason. A lot of people are middle aged and I play to them because they're my fans and I love to perform live.
WCT: Well, that's one of the lovely things about this movie and the effect it's having and is going to continue to have is that it will speak to a whole new generation. The scene between you and Laverne Cox
WCT: It's so wonderful to see a scene with a transgender actor and I was thinking about how groundbreaking that was but, then, I realize who she's acting with: Lily Tomlin, the trailblazer who, 40 years ago, was doing male drag with Tommy Velour and other characters.
LT: [Laughs hard] Yeah!
WCT: There you were, "hiding in plain sight" for all the world to see.
LT: You know, all those people interested me. I just wanted to do as many different kinds of people as I could or have the opportunity or find the vehicle for them.
WCT: Is there any chance that your wife Jane Wagner is at some point going to write a sequel to "In Search for Intelligent Signs of Life in the Universe?"
LT: I am sooo eager for her to do it; I just beg her and push her and beg her and push her but she'll do what she wants to do.
WCT: I was inspired to take my film-critic gig because of Vito Russo, your dear friend; I wanted to write about movies from a queer perspective, and he set the standard with The Celluloid Closet. I know that you passionately fought to get that documentary made after his untimely death and here we are, all these years later and you're starring in a movie where you play a lesbian; you're on a hit television showcongratulations on your Emmy nomination and probably the Oscar, tooand the premise is that these two men leave their wives for each other, right?
I mean, all of a sudden, gay is good again or trendy or something. Are you just a little bit gobsmacked by this?
LT: I am, I am. I'm gobsmacked by the last 10 years. The things that have turned around … but I'm very vigilant, too. I don't take anything for granted. I so feel that the wrong people could get in a position of power and I just don't know what could happen. So you have to be aware; you have to hold dear those things that … the progress that's been made.
WCT: Absolutely. I'll never forget watching the March on Washington on C-SPAN in 1993 and the announcer came out and said, "We just got a call from Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner saying, 'You guys are doing great.'" It was so delightful to have just that little bit of encouragement so long ago.
LT: Oh, thank you, thank you.
WCT: I know you're working on a second season of Grace and Frankie, and you've hinted that Dolly Parton is going to [appear]. Can you talk about that?
LT: Well, we don't have any specific plans for Dolly, Jane and I. She's still an old pal and the only thing we're trying to guard against for this next season is to keep a Grace and Frankie identity and not bring in Dolly in to make it look like 9 to 5 but we'd like to work something out if we could in the future. I think that would be great fun.
WCT: You've done pretty much everything but is there anything left that you haven't done that you want to do?
LT: I guess that I'd like to do a new Broadway show that Jane would writethat's what I would really like to do, or just a show. I don't care where it goes. We say "Broadway" because that's like, "Well, when it's good enough, we'll take it to Broadway." That would be one of my wishes.
WCT: Will you write a book at some point? I mean, I know you've done most of your life onstage and Jane's written things for you.
LT: I don't know; we might. Only if we could think of a really funny, clever way to do it. You know lots of people have written wonderful booksFonda included and Lauren Bacall. Some people are really good writers. Jane [Wagner] and I thought about writing like, you know, I'd write one half of the book and then you'd turn it over and she's written the other half.
WCT: [Laughs] A "she said, she said."
LT: Or else we might do it from the perspective of all the characters writing about it. Mrs. Beasley and Tommy Velour would have a chapter...
WCT: ...the Tasteful Lady.
LT: The Tasteful Lady would have a chapter. All these characters would have some sort of say about the kind of life they had with us.
WCT: I just want to again thank you so much for giving us so much pleasure.
LT: Oh, Richard, thank you.
WCT: It's meant the world and continues to mean the world and I wish you all the best as you and Jane go forward. If she doesn't write the show, then I think you should divorce her. [Laughs]
LT: [Laughs] Ooh!!!
See related article at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Gilded-lilies-Lily-Tomlin-Laverne-Cox-unite-in-Grandma/52599.html .