Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin interview like an absorbing 2-woman play
(First of two parts)
LOS ANGELES—Talking to great actresses seated beside each other, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, is like eavesdropping on an absorbing two-woman play. Friends for about 40 years, since they made “9 to 5” with Dolly Parton, Jane and Lily occasionally held each other’s hands or tapped each other’s shoulders.
They often laughed and sometimes got emotional. One of my questions about their friendship even got Lily all choked up while Jane teared up. The pals became even closer when they started their Netflix comedy series, “Grace and Frankie,” in 2015. They are filming the show’s Season 5.
Jane (Grace) and Lily (Frankie) play two women whose lives are shaken when their husbands come out as gay and leave them for each other. The two women form an unlikely yet strong bond. The show, now streaming its Season 4 on Netflix, also stars June Diane Raphael, Baron Vaughn, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen.
Lily was clad in all pink, down to her glasses and mobile phone. Jane, in black and tan blouse and black pants, took off her earrings and fiddled with them as she and Lily traded quips and dished about each other.
Excerpts from our rambling conversation:
How has your friendship evolved since doing the “9 to 5” movie?
Lily (L): I just came to love Jane more every season. In fact, we were just reading a new script from Season 5, which will be out next year. In it, we were having a fight and we’d really come to a kind of impasse.
It was like we were going to say goodbye to each other in some way. I started to cry in the table read. I didn’t want to think it could be true.
Jane (J): We were being asked about how much longer we wanted to do the show. I started imagining that I wasn’t doing it anymore and I got so sad, too.
Does the show help you examine your friendship with other people?
J: I can’t say that it’s the show that makes me do that. Age is making me do that. I’m 80 and people say, “You really can’t make new friends when you’re older.” But I’ve not found that to be true.
It feels really great to be making a show about older women who didn’t start off liking each other, who have become so close and to be able to show that.
L: And carry on looking after each other, having each other’s back and counseling each other when we feel as needed. And just being there.
What has been the biggest surprise or discovery about each other since you first met?
J: I wasn’t super familiar with Lily when I was in the process of developing “9 to 5,” the movie which I produced. I don’t even know why I went to see Lily in a one-woman show here in Los Angeles called “Appearing Nightly.”
This person became so many different people and there was such depth and wisdom besides the comedy. I was smitten.
L: Tell him about “9 to 5.”
J: “9 to 5” started off as a kind of dark comedy. But after I saw Lily, I said to myself, I don’t want to make a movie about secretaries unless Lily Tomlin is in it. I want to get to know this person. I want to work with her and what a great performance she could give.
As I was driving home, I turned on the radio and Dolly Parton was singing a song called “Two Doors Down” and I suddenly had this epiphany—Lily, Jane and Dolly as secretaries. That would be really cool. That’s how a very successful movie that I did came about.
L: I was acquainted with Jane before I had any friendship with her. I’d seen her movies. I was just crazy about her as an actress. I even had a “Klute” hairdo for two or three years, way beyond the movie.
So it was a thrill for me when she came to my show.
J: Did I go backstage?
L: Yes, you had a black cape on—very dramatic (laughs).
What are the scariest aspects of getting old? And how do you keep your optimism?
L: It’s hard to keep buoyant as every time you see something else is happening to you, your body, face or hair. The demands of the business are so stringent. And yet, I feel like I am Frankie. Like I’m just as wholesome, heartfelt and dynamic as Frankie is. And Frankie doesn’t seem to age. So luckily, I identify with Frankie.
J: And I’m the opposite (laughs). I’ve written two books about aging. I’ve really studied it deeply because whenever I’m afraid of something, the way I deal with it is I get to know it very well. Know thy enemy.
When we talk about aging, what we mean is that we come to the end of life and then die. It’s important to be very aware of that, think about it a lot and prepare for it because what you don’t want to do is get to the end with a lot of regrets.
And so you have to think, well, how do I want to be at the end of my life? And then you have to work. I may only have a couple of decades left at best. So I want to be sure that I continue to stand up straight (Lily comically sits up straight upon hearing Jane say this). Posture becomes really important.
People say I’ve had plastic surgery and I’m not going to lie about that. But that’s not really how come I look good. It’s because I have a good attitude and good energy. That’s very important. Staying curious as you get older, staying interested and continuing to learn things, making new friends, preferably younger than you (laughs) so somebody is left to mourn you when you go. I have great friends, including Lily. You learn from your friends.
(Conclusion on Sunday)
E-mail the columnist at email@example.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.