Pro­lific ac­tress dishes on her siz­zling ca­reer

'Grandma' star­ring Lily Tom­lin opens Sept.18

GA Voice - - Front Page - By JIM FARMER

Lily Tom­lin can’t right­fully ex­plain it, but she isn’t com­plain­ing. Af­ter a pros­per­ous and lauded ca­reer in TV, film and theater, she’s en­joy­ing, at age 76, per­haps the most pro­lific pe­riod of her life. Not only is she star­ring in the pop­u­lar Net­flix com­edy, “Grace and Frankie,” which earned her an Emmy nom­i­na­tion for Best Ac­tress in a Com­edy, but she is also gen­er­at­ing Os­car buzz for her new film, “Grandma.”

Open­ing to­day in At­lanta, the com­edy stars Tom­lin as Elle, a les­bian poet who has just bro­ken up with her girl­friend (Judy Greer). When her preg­nant grand­daugh­ter Sage (Ju­lia Garner) pays a sur­prise visit, the two have to come up with $600 for an abor­tion over the course of a day. Tem­po­rar­ily broke, Elle is forced to visit var­i­ous per­sons from her past to raise the money.

Tom­lin worked with “Grandma” di­rec­tor Paul Weitz on the film, “Ad­mis­sion,” a few years ago. When shoot­ing on that wrapped, he ap­proached her about a new pro­ject he had writ­ten with her in mind. “At first I thought, ‘Oh God, I hope I

like it—and I did,” says Tom­lin, speak­ing via phone while eat­ing soup and set­tling in at home af­ter a long week of film­ing.

They didn’t make the movie right away be­cause of con­flict­ing sched­ules, but they would oc­ca­sion­ally get to­gether and go over the script. “We’d talk about things like why Elle was broke,” says the ac­tress.

“Grandma” pre­miered at Sun­dance this year, and buzz be­gan im­me­di­ately for Tom­lin’s per­for­mance. Many peo­ple have asked how much of her­self is in the of­ten acer­bic Elle. She says she’s not the char­ac­ter, but ad­mits there may be par­al­lels. “There must be a lot of me in it be­cause it turned out so well,” she says. “I re­ally re­lated to it.”

One of the as­pects she ad­mired was the fact that it was an ensem­ble piece star­ring the likes of Sam El­liot, Laverne Cox, and Mar­cia Gay Har­den. “I thought it was ter­rific that Paul got so many great peo­ple in it. Ev­ery­body who took a part just de­liv­ered.”

Tom­lin, who is out her­self, is no stranger to ensem­ble work; she got her start on TV’s “Laugh-In” and brought to life iconic char­ac­ters such as tele­phone op­er­a­tor Ernes­tine and six-year-old Edith Ann. Work­ing with late di­rec­tor Robert Alt­man on ensem­ble films such as “Nashville,” “Short Cuts” and “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion” were ca­reer high­lights. One men­tion of Alt­man and Tom­lin al­most purrs in de­light. “I love Bob and miss him so much,” she says.

“Nashville” was her first film—and it net­ted the ac­tress an Os­car nom­i­na­tion. She had just come off of “Laugh-In” and wasn’t be­ing con­sid­ered for film. “No one would put me in a movie—they thought I was Ernes­tine.”

Tom­lin later teamed with Jane Fonda and Dolly Par­ton for “9 to 5,” her most com­mer­cial suc­cess. Get­ting to work with Fonda 35 years later on “Grace and Frankie,” which stars the ac­tresses as women whose hus­bands come out as gay and de­cide to be a cou­ple, has been a kick. “Jane and I just like each other,” she says. “We are hav­ing a great time. This was a chance to show how older peo­ple can be dis­counted by the cul­ture. It’s re­al­is­tic but not preachy.”

She and Fonda are film­ing the sec- ond sea­son now. Nei­ther had any idea it would be such a hit. Tom­lin is not al­lowed to give much away in terms of plot for the up­com­ing sea­son, but she does say the women con­tinue on their paths. “The guys are to­gether and we are two older women try­ing to make it, sus­tain our lives and our abil­i­ties to not be dis­counted,” she says. “Grace gets in­volved with a tough kid she is men­tor­ing and I get in­volved with a new boyfriend.”

That the show has reached a broad au­di­ence has made Tom­lin happy. She is con­stantly stopped in public by peo­ple who tell her how much they like it.

Her cur­rent hot streak is one she never ex­pected. “I just at­tribute it to the way the vibes go,” she says. At this week­end’s Emmy Awards, she is not fa­vored to win, but will have a great time re­gard­less. “It’s al­ways a lit­tle dicey when you are nom­i­nated or have to present (an award). You get ner­vous. It’s sort of ter­ri­fy­ing. If you don’t win you’re sit­ting there on the hot seat.”

In 2013, af­ter more than 40 years to­gether, Tom­lin and her long-time girl­friend Jane Wag­ner got mar­ried. “We are per­fectly con­tent,” she says. “We think it’s fun—we never planned on get­ting mar­ried. When the op­por­tu­nity came, I fi­nally said, ‘Let’s get mar­ried.’ It’s so im­por­tant to so many peo­ple. Maybe it’s not as im­por­tant to us be­cause we’ve been to­gether so long and it just seems like a fore­gone deal. We got our li­cense, set it up with a friend and she mar­ried us at her house. It was sweet and funny and cute and lov­ing. And we like it!”

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