By: Chris Azzopardi / photos by Melissa Moseley/Netflix
Lily Tomlin’s watching Jane Fonda weep. As the showbiz icon releases a steady stream of waterworks, she’s “wiping tears away,” Tomlin notes. Fonda pauses slightly to collect herself before answering.
The question? Why gay men have forever revered older women even when the rest of the world—and Hollywood—have not. “I find the question so moving that it makes me cry,” says Fonda.
It’s one revelatory moment among many during this candid conversation with the 77- year-old actress and Tomlin, 75, who appear together in the new Netflix original series Grace and Frankie. The beloved pair play two golden girls forced to start anew after their husbands drop a big truth bomb: They’re in love with each other.
This isn’t the actresses’ first time working together, of course. In 1980, Tomlin and
Fonda memorably joined forces with Dolly Parton to put misogynistic men in their place in Nine to Five. Decades later, the film is a feminist-celebrated comedy classic. Will Dolly make a cameo on Grace and Frankie? During our freewheeling interview, the two longtime friends talked about the possibility of a Nine to Five reunion on their new series, but they revealed plenty more, too. Fonda opened up about her own experiences dating high-profile gay men, one of whom proposed to her. Tomlin recalled the time she lashed out at Chita Rivera.
But first, the crying.

You’ve both addressed aging in Hollywood, and this show deals a lot with aging as well. Historically, gay men—we love our “Golden Girls,” we already love Grace and Frankie, we love our Chers and Bette Midlers. Why do you think, despite Hollywood’s reputation for ageism, there has always been a place for older women in the gay community?
Lily: I may be terribly wrong and cutting my tongue out for this: It’s like, well, we’re women of a certain age, and maybe we’re considered more audacious.
Jane: I find the question so moving that it makes me cry. I had never thought of it before, and it makes me so moved. I think Lily put her finger on it just now. Older women tend to be more audacious; they’re bigger and bolder and, God knows, gay men love big and bold, right?
Does it go any deeper than that, do you think?
Lily: It’s like [drag performer] Lypsinka. I knew he was from Mississippi. He’s like a little kitten in a way; his hair is so soft and pale red, and he’s got a big, high, very white-skinned forehead. When I first saw Lypsinka, I could just see this little boy— 4 or 5 years old in Mississippi— growing up around all these Southern women. My family’s Southern too. I just saw him seeing through them and into their hearts. He saw the women being oppressed and being pigeonholed and how they act kind of audaciously just to free themselves. I just could see that little boy, and he satirized
women’s behavior so brilliantly—all the stuff, the travails they have—and I just wept when I saw him because he was so brilliant. I think there are hinges between those two things.
Jane: (wiping tears from her eyes) How she said that—that he sees through them into their hearts. And also, the notion of surviving.
Lily: And him making up this incredible creature who’s just so much fun to watch and yet it’s painful. I could feel his little boy pain all through those years.
You both have had a profound influence on the LGBT and ally movements. Can you share a moment in your lives as LGBT activists and trailblazers that stand out as particularly memorable to you?
Jane: Campaigning with Harvey Milk in the Castro District in San Francisco for Prop 6. He was the most joyous. He was like Allen Ginsberg. He was always smiling and laughing. He was beloved and he was funny, the most lovable person. I was so happy when I was with him. And it was just so much fun going into those gay bars with him—oh my God!...

>> Read more in our current issue...

    _JULY 15 issue  

When I was young, I was the female that gay guys wanted to try to become heterosexual with. A very famous actor who’s gay—and I will not name names— asked me to marry him. I was very flattered, but I said, “Why?” This was 1964...
And I lived for two years with a guy who was
trying to become heterosexual...

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