Old pals in Hollywood

Jane Fonda (far left) and Lily Tomlin have been friends since the late 1970s and they appeared in 9 To 5 together.
Jane Fonda (left) and Lily Tomlin have been friends since the late 1970s and they appeared in 9 To 5 together.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, stars of Netflix's Grace And Frankie, talk about friendship and ageing

WASHINGTON• Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have had decades to study for their roles as confidantes on Netflix's Grace And Frankie. They have been friends since the late 1970s and they collaborated on 1980's 9 To 5 with Dolly Parton.

As Grace and Frankie, Fonda and Tomlin respectively play women in their 70s whose husbands, Robert and Sol (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston respectively), have left them to marry each other. Grace and Frankie start out as rivals, but eventually become roommates, besties and business partners.

The third season, now streaming, shows them selling vibrators designed for older women.

Fonda and Tomlin spoke about love and friendship, being an ageing woman in Hollywood and what it might take for women's sexuality to be taken as seriously as men's.

Millennials and baby boomers watch Grace And Frankie. Do you have a sense of why the show's appeal might span generations?

Fonda: What you just described - daughters watching with mothers and sons watching with mothers - it apparently is very common. But also apparently on college campuses, it's popular as well. And, of course, older women and men like it. What Lily and I hear often is women saying to us: "It makes us feel less afraid of getting older. It makes us feel hopeful." That makes you feel good.

Tomlin: We never expected it to hit so many chords for so many different people.

The show is about the longevity of female friendships versus the longevity of romance. Jane, you've been married several times. Knowing what you know now, what might you tell your younger self about marriage versus friendship?

Fonda: Well you know, it's different for different people. I was dealt a hand that didn't lead necessarily to successful relationships. My dad was married five times. I guess I just don't know how to do it well. I've been married three times; it will never happen again. But I know what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under you and to feel like your life is over and consider suicide and all that kind of thing.

I also know that, like what happened in the series, you shouldn't give up. For a while, you have to stay close to the wall and be careful who you spend time with and take care of yourself.

You think you're being broken, but actually you're being broken open and life can get way better than you ever expected after the tragedy happens.

Lily, you've been with your partner, writer Jane Wagner, for more than 40 years. What's your secret?

Tomlin: Commitment. Just willingness to go the distance. Caring about somebody, respecting somebody. As of March 31, we have been together 46 years.

Jane, do you have a Frankie in your real life?

Fonda: My other self; I have a Frankie inside me. Well, I have Lily. Off-camera, she's my friend. Catherine Keener (star of movies such as 2005's The 40-Year-Old Virgin) is kind of Frankie-ish. I try to keep funny people around because I come from a long line of depressed people.

Lily, you and Jane go way back.

Tomlin: I've been a fan of hers since before I met her. I had a Klute hairdo when she did Klute. I met her when she came backstage when I was doing Appearing Nitely at the Ahmanson Theatre in LA That was about 1977 or 1978. Next thing I knew, she asked me to be in 9 To 5. We've been friends ever since. We're friends because I just love her. I know Jane has my back whenever she can.

In the third season of Grace And Frankie, your characters have trouble getting a business loan. Most of the banks they speak to assume they won't be around long enough to pay them back. Have you had such moments in Hollywood and how did you respond?

Fonda: I left the business at age 50, and I came back at age 65. It's been an unusual situation to re-create a career at that age. But ageism, unfortunately, is still alive and well.

And one of the things that Lily and I are proud of - and want to continue with - is showing that you may be old, you may be in your third act, but you can still be vital and sexual and funny... that life isn't over.

The discussion of female pleasure on the show is fascinating and different from other things on TV. What is still considered taboo, though, in regard to seeing women as sexual beings on television?

Fonda: More things should be taboo. Everything is much sexier on a big screen and small screen when it's more suggested and hinted at than when it's full-out. I think those movies before the censors took over - when women were strong and sexy, the Barbara Stanwycks, the Norma Shearers, the Bette Davises, Greta Garbo. That was sexier, I think, to not show everything.

Tomlin: Every TV show we've been on (to promote Grace And Frankie), we'd been cautioned not to say "vibrator", to say "sex toy".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Old pals in Hollywood'. Print Edition | Subscribe