There's life after 70

Lily Tomlin (far left) and Jane Fonda star in Season 2 of Grace And Frankie.
Lily Tomlin (far left) and Jane Fonda star in Season 2 of Grace And Frankie.PHOTO: NETFLIX

The television show Grace And Frankie affirms something Hollywood typically ignores: that life goes on after age 70 and can often include sex, self-doubt and as much life-changing drama as it did in one's younger days.

The series, which recently unveiled its second season on the streaming service Netflix, captures this with the help of an all-star cast: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as Grace and Frankie, two women forced to reinvent themselves in their seventies when their husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, come out of the closet and leave the women for each other.

Speaking to The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles, the cast and creators of the show share their insights about getting older, and the shock value of their frank depiction of this underrepresented demographic.

Fonda, 78, says that in many ways, life really began for her at 70.

Asked how turning 50 freed her up for adventures she would have never considered when she was younger, the two-time Best Actress Oscar winner (Klute, 1971, and Coming Home, 1978) says: "Well, I can't remember - 50 was too long ago.

"But the 70s have been pretty good that way for me. And I think one of the reasons that this show is successful is that it gives people hope. I think 70 is when things started to really happen for me. I mean, sort of knowing what to look for in a partner, for example, or having a steady job.

"When you're 78, having a steady job like this, I absolutely love it," says the iconic star, who was an exercise guru in the 1980s and 1990s, and a prominent feminist and anti-war activist in the 1970s.

The new steady job she is referring to is her role on Grace And Frankie, which she says is "a revolutionary experience when you're my age - that's pretty great".

"So I love the 70s."

Her co-star Tomlin, 76, jokes that she herself "had enough adventures when I was maybe 15 - and I didn't go to juvenile delinquency school".

"So I don't know," says the Emmy- and Grammy-winning actress and comedienne, who appeared in the sketch comedy show Rowan And Martin's Laugh-In in the 1970s, and in films such as 9 To 5 (1980) as well as various successful Broadway shows.

"I don't even remember what room I'm in here at the hotel," she deadpans. "I don't cling to those things in the past. I think I probably had a pretty good time. I think I did."

On the show, much of the comedy comes from the friction between Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin), a chalk- and-cheese pairing who find themselves moving in together and reluctantly becoming friends after their husbands Robert (Sheen) and Sol (Waterston) reveal they are gay.

But in real life, Fonda and Tomlin were already friends before they signed up for the series, which debuted in the United States last year.

This is apparent as the vivacious pair tease each other and bicker like old pals during the lively question-and-answer session.

Fonda, who has been married to director Roger Vadim (1965 to 1973), activist Tom Hayden (1973 to 1990) and media mogul Ted Turner (1991 to 2001), says: "We do have a special bond and a friendship. I love being with her for all kinds of reasons, but she has a funny bone. I come from a long line of depressed people. And she has a true funny bone.

"That's one of the reasons I love going to work every day - I get to spend time with somebody whose take on everything comes from a place of funny, which for me is total catharsis. I mean, it's just fabulous."

And, right on cue, Tomlin - who is married to long-time writing partner Jane Wagner, 81 - interrupts Fonda with a joke.

"Then why do you look at me like you're kind of empty-faced sometimes, like you don't know what happened just then?" she asks.

The actress - whose more recent films include I Heart Huckabees (2004) and Grandma (2015) - also cracks wise about a scene in which Grace and Frankie do drugs together.

Asked if the scene reminded them of "the old days", she says: "I know I didn't have old days like that. I learnt mostly from Jane."

Fonda smiles. "I taught her everything about it."

According to their co-star Waterston, this scene, and the show's overall depiction of these characters' twilight years, has shocked many viewers.

The 75-year-old star of television shows such as Law & Order (1994 to 2010) and The Newsroom (2012 to 2014), says: "I think people are astonished by this show, frankly. They don't expect such delicate and difficult and hard subjects as late-in-life sexual-orientation changes and divorce and death itself and ageing to be funny at all."

And referring to his role as journalist Jack McCoy on The Newsroom and Sheen's role as the American President on The West Wing (1999 to 2006), he quips: "They were astonished to see Jack McCoy claiming that he was a homosexual and they were astonished to see the President of the United States want to marry him - especially if that involved leaving Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, which was really insane.

"So that's the general reaction that I've gotten - astonishment and delight," he says of Grace And Frankie, which has been picked up for a third season.

All the four main characters experience major developments in their love lives and, for Fonda, this meant getting a chance to act with another friend and veteran actor, 71-year-old Sam Elliot (Tombstone, 1993).

Told that he has spoken publicly of having a crush on her after seeing films such as Klute, the actress says without missing a beat: "Good. He's my love interest in Season 3.

"Well, I'm sorry he didn't say that he had a crush on me from Season 2. Klute? Who wouldn't have had a crush on me back then? I want him to have a crush on me now."

But she reveals that she has had a bit of a crush on Elliot too.

"When I was married to my favourite ex-husband, he came and visited us in Montana and when we took him to the ranch office, every woman in the office was panting."

This revelation, of course, begs another question: Who was her favourite ex-husband?

"Ted Turner," Fonda says, eyes twinkling.

The two actresses are then asked what the secret is to ageing with grace and gusto.

"Health, attitude," Fonda says.

"Denial," says Tomlin.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'There's life after 70'. Print Edition | Subscribe