When Marta Kauffman, co-creator of “Friends,” learned that Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda (who have been friends since they starred together in the film “9 to 5" in 1980) were looking for a TV project, well, she went to work with Howard J. Morris and created one for them.
In the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie,” the veteran actresses are longtime “frenemies” who become roomies after their husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) disclose their 20-year love affair with each other. Fonda plays Grace, for whom a Type A personality might be too mellow, and Tomlin plays Frankie, an earth mother who’s open to everyone — even the uptight Grace.
FULL COVERAGE: Emmys 2015
Tomlin, 75, also stars in the soon-to-be-released film “Grandma,” about a misanthropic poet whose granddaughter shows up at her door in need. Add to the good reviews she’s been getting for that role the fact that she received an Emmy nomination this summer for her work as Frankie, and a little celebrating would surely be in order. “It’s been a great year for me. That’s all I can say,” Tomlin says. “If one looks at years that way.”
Kauffman has mentioned that the show developed around you and Fonda. How did you help shape it?
We just told her we were very eager to do something about older women and talk about important things; we wanted it to be somewhat meaningful. I hesitate to say “meaningful” and then present our show as an example [laughs]. And, of course, Jane and I adore working together.
You worked with Martin Sheen before, on “West Wing.” Was this a fun reunion?
Yeah, he’s a great guy anyway — he’s fun, very upbeat; he’s always singing some Irish song or something, coming in and giving us his blessings. And, of course, Jane worked with Sam in “Newsroom.” We all have Aaron Sorkin in common.
What parts of you are in Frankie?
I’m pretty much akin to Frankie, but I could be akin to Grace too. I think that’s why I’ve created so many different characters over the years; I empathize with most people, except with really hideous politicians or something.
How is Frankie most different from you?
Well, for one thing, Frankie has a huge head of hair. So she exceeds me in that department. I went for that hairdo immediately and had that wig made, and it just seemed right. Oh, and I love the way Frankie dresses; she has her own look. I’m almost as thin as Jane, and I’m supposed to be eating and all that. One of the first conceits that started was that I eat butter — and bread. When we’re having dinner in that first scene, I say to Grace, “What do you use to sop up the sauce with?” and she says, “I don’t eat sauce.” So I would have liked Frankie to be a bit fleshier, like more of an earth mother, but that couldn’t have been me. The clothes pull that off.
You’ve been working in television since “Laugh-In” in 1970.
It is kind of a fabled history.
So how does it feel to be starring in a series for the first time?
I guess it feels good. I haven’t thought about the fact that Jane and I were the stars of it.
Yes, you are, and that’s a big part of the appeal, seeing you two work together.
I know, it’s all those fond memories of “9 to 5.” I don’t take it for granted. It’s really a lucky thing.
Does this Emmy nomination feel different from your previous ones?
To be perfectly frank, in anticipating the announcements, I didn’t want one of us to get nominated and the other one not. I wanted us to get nominated as a pair. Frankie doesn’t really exist without Grace, and Grace doesn’t really exist without Frankie. But Jane is so gracious and wonderful; she’s the first one to congratulate me and carry on about it. We’re glad that we got nominated, period.