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
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
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
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!...
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