STARTING THE NEW SERIES, “GRACE & FRANKIE,” WITH LILY TOMLIN, MARTIN SHEEN & SAM WATERSTON

I was very excited when Martin Sheen was cast as my husband and Sam Waterston as Lily’s. It feels good to have my pal from “The Newsroom” with us on this new adventure. Most of my Newsroom scenes were with him and I grew to care for him a lot. I’ve never worked with Martin before but we’ve met on several occasions and we share values and concerns…actually, all four of us do. Another thing we all have in common is Aaron Sorkin. Between “West Wing” and “The Newsroom” we’ve all worked for him.

We began shooting “Grace & Frankie” two weeks ago. We begin the 2nd episode next week. I had a brief hard spell the first day, moving away from my Leona Lansing-Newsroom mode and into comedy. Comedy requires different muscles, a subtle shifting of gears, of attitude. It’s harder, in my opinion. This kind of comedy has to be real, the comedy has to come out of reality, out of pain, yet it has to be funny. I was worried about the dosing, frankly, but when I saw the dailies the next day I felt relieved. It WAS funny AND real. Just that bit of reassurance made everything else last week much easier and more fun. In fact, I’m thinking that I’m more relaxed and playful at work than I used to be. Maybe I’m fooling myself. It’s always an up-and-down thing…one day I feel terrifically confident and the next I think they should fire me. I wonder what percentage of actors are like this. Probably most. That’s why acting is good for the heart (fosters empathy) and hard on the nerves (when will they wish they’d never hired me?). But I do feel an important shift toward lightness in some deep part of myself and that’s a pretty terrific thing to feel at my age when traditional thinking says you are what you’ve become and that’s that. I left the acting business when I turned 50 because I was too unhappy and tense to feel capable of acting. How things can change! But, then again, I’ve worked hard for change and it feels good to see it has paid off on so many levels.

One of the great things about being older is the been-there-done-that factor– you may feel scared or insecure but you remember other times when you’ve felt that way and things turned out just fine. You don’t make mountains out of mole hills. Instead it becomes easier to make lemons into lemonade. I’m much more aware of this because I’m working on a series. The day-to-dayness of it, the spread-outness of it makes it easier to notice that the troublesome mind-games one can bring to a task are your own sh– and you can’t blame them on anyone else. Also, because you know you’re in this for a pretty long hall (and, hopefully, a VERY long haul) you tend to breathe deeply and will yourself out of it. Despite the fact that the days are long and the pace is fast, there’s always tomorrow to do things better–differently.

Some actors don’t like to watch dailies (the footage you shot the day before). I, on the contrary, benefit from watching them, and not just the footage that I’m in. I’m one of the producers on this series and I need to see everything. Besides, it helps me calibrate my performance. These days, watching dailies isn’t the social experience it used to be where you’d all get together in a projection room with snacks and wine and watch together. Now, you’re sent a link which you watch on an iPad or computer. It’s more convenient but less fun.

The premise is truly funny and truly painful and when I watched the dailies of the opening scene with the four of us, it was laugh-out-loud hysterical, even unedited. It made me feel so excited about what we’re doing.

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Marta Kaufman is to the left. She and Howard Morris are Executive Co-Producers as well as lead writers on the show. (Marta, BTW, was the creator of “Friends.”)

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Me & Lily visiting the under-construction sets at Paramount Studios before filming began.

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My BFF, Paula Weinstein is also one of the executive producers (she also produced “Monster-in-Law” and oversaw the filming of “9to5” in the early 80s) and Tate Taylor who directed “The Help” and the new hit “Get On Up!” (loved it!!!!) is directing the first and last episodes. Tate’s a southerner from Mississippi and an angel to work with… collaborative, full of ideas and fun.

As you may know, with Netflix you shoot 13 episodes and they’re all released at the same time. We will finish this season right before Thanksgiving. I don’t know when it will air. It’s a different animal when viewers can binge-watch the entire season over one weekend like I did with “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

Quite apart from the creative aspects of it all, there’s nothing like having a steady job–at least steady for four months which is a lot different than doing a film in 28-30 days and then wondering where your next job will come from. There’s something reassuring, driving onto the Paramount lot every day, learning the names of the crew members and knowing there’ll be time to get to know them.

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I loved being Leona Lansing but being a ‘Recurring Guest Star’ is hard because I’d drop down into the newsroom world every couple of episodes but couldn’t get into a real rhythm or get to know everyone. Now, I can bring my Nespresso coffee pot, my quilt for napping during lunch, my special round neck pillow (so my hair won’t be mushed) and ear plugs into my trailer, cause it’s MY trailer. And on weekends I don’t have to feel guilty for vegging out.

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Debi Karolewski, my assistant, at her “desk” in my trailer.

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I’m not sure yet how much I am allowed to show of what we’re doing in the series, so, for now, I’ll just give you some glimpses of moments over the last 2 weeks.

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Getting fixed up by Michele Tyminski who does my makeup (the redhead) and Joy Zapata who does my hair (the blonde). Tulea is always in my lap during this process. This is a view of the entire hair & makeup trailer. Behind us you see a closed door. That’s where Lily get done. She likes her privacy, that one.

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This is the set –a beach house–where many scenes will take place.

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Left to right: Cleta Ellington, a longtime friend of Tate’s, also from Mississippi); Tate Taylor, our director and Gale Tattersall, our fantastic Director of Photography.

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This is the wall in what is known as the “Writer’s Room” where the team of writers work on their various episodes and come up with ideas. The wall shows the story/character arcs for the entire 13 episodes. Believe it or not, I’ve been too busy to study the wall. There’s barely time to learn lines and watch dailies.

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Hunched over the camera is Chris Murphy (AKA Murph). He was a camera operator on “The Newsroom” as well.

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Above is our set photographer, Melissa Mosley. She also worked on “Newsroom” as well as on “Monster-in-Law.”

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This is my stand-in, Maria, and behind her is Lily’s stand-in. Once rehearsals are over and tape marks have been placed on the floor indicating where the actor will be at various times during the scene, the stand-in replaces the actor while the Director of Photography sets the lighting and the actor gets made up and coifed.

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This chair featuring Ryan Gossling’s face on the seat, figures amusingly in the first episode. Some paparazzi watching the shooting from a cliff across the street posted this photo and the chair sold out over night. Go Ryan!

At the end of the first week Lily and I shot a long scene at the beach. Here we are being gotten ready.

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Tulea’s very fond of sand.

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Us walking away in the end of the scene.

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I’ll try to blog more often but can’t promise. There’s so little time. I wish I could also blog about what’s been happening in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s utterly mind-blowing what happened because citizens stood up to protest the murder of Michael Brown and President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and many elected officials from both sides of the isle spoke out against the militarization of the police response so that the next evening there was freedom, harmony (more like jubilation!) and hope that, for once, justice might be done in the wake of a yet another killing of a black teenager. It felt like the 21st Century version of the ’60s –more responsive leaders and truly articulate African American locals that shone last night on MSNBC.

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35 Comments
  1. I am beyond excited about this. The pictures make me so happy, you and Lily are so great together. Cannot wait to see it, I’ll be the show’s number one fan for sure. xx

  2. Jane, it is good to see you having fun with Lily Tomlin since 9 to 5! Will you have Dolly Parton on the show? I would, love to work on your show as an Extra! Your Loving fan and friend, Robert

  3. I missed my calling. I could’ve been a stand-in! Looks like fun. I love how you’ve re-created yourself after all these years away. Smart woman. Keep it up sister!!!

  4. I’m really looking forward to this series. It’s too bad we don’t have a release date yet.

    I envy you for being able to watch dailies. 🙂 I cannot watch myself, I’d just look for the mistakes on things that I cannot change anymore and I would just get frustrated, besides I love being there in the moment and be spontaneous (even if that often means horrible). I like watching other people’s scenes, it’s great to feel the whole tone of the thing. But for myself… I love to be stimulated by my own nervousness and insecurities. 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Ms Jane. I hope this will show up on regular tv instead of HBO or one of those channels (I don’t subscribe). I love what you stand for, and that you are a Christian. I also love Lily Tomlin. I am SO looking forward to this new show (I think, lol).
    Keep up you blogs whenever you can. I have been a fan of yours for many years. ♡♡

    • Jane’s news series will not air on a regular television network or on any premium cable network such as HBO or Showtime. As she indicated in her blog, it is a series that will be airing on Netflix which is a provider that offers on-demand Internet streaming media with a monthly subscription plan. Currently in the U.S. subscription plans start at $7.99 per month. You can watch instantly from any Internet-connected device that offers a Netflix application, such as gaming consoles, DVD and Blu-ray Players, HDTVs, smart TVs. streaming players, home theater systems, phones and tablets.
      This link may be helpful to you: https://help.netflix.com/en/node/412

      • wow, thanks, Keith. You are in the know!!!

        • Wow, didn’t expect a response from you, but just wanted clarify to the previous poster the format your new series would air from ! So looking forward to seeing you and Lilly in “Grace and Frankie”. I have no doubt it will be a big hit!

  6. I am really looking forward to this show! What a great cast! I never binge-watched a show until I started watching “Orange is the New Black”. I have a feeling your show will be my next binge-watching.
    I am flying into LA Friday and am considering taking a tour of Paramount Studios. What great history of film making there! How many movies did you film there before this? Do you get excited driving into the studio or is it just a common going-into-work feel for you?
    Oh, and I just love that Tulea is at the studio with you! Well, have fun with the show!

  7. Just curious, what does a regular Sunday look like for you?

    • Patsy, hmmmm….maybe I’ll blog about that next. Thanks

  8. Jane- I am so inspired by your writing. It’s always thought provoking and never preachy- thanks for showing me that it’s still okay to have fears in middle age- and that learning and trying new things is an asset for continued strength and emotional well being. I have admired you since I was little- and I think lately- I admire you more. Thank you for your activism, talent, and insight. You have indeed made the world a better place. Can’t wait to see you and Lily in the series. Much good luck and happiness to you.

  9. I love and admire people in their convictions, I really do. I was almost surprised when I read that you are Christian; “almost”, very loosely almost. I love what you stand for, too. You appear to be a very spiritual person; that’s what I love about you. I am not a television sort of person; I look forward to not watching you and Lilly; not that I ever won’t, but I probably won’t.
    I think you are amazing.. I really hope the Christianity police don’t think less of you that you are part of a make believe place where gayness is an issue.

  10. As ever, your behind the scenes blogs give us a real feel for what it’s like to be in places most of us never will be. Also, cannot wait to see the show, it’s high time we get to see more of you on a regular basis.

  11. Hi Jane,
    I am so happy to see these photos and am really looking forward to seeing this series. I have mentioned before in another comment somewhere how much I absolutely love “9 to 5” and am excited to see you and Lily together again! I saw her last year when she came through Louisville with her one woman show and she was brilliant. And, I must admit, that when I first heard about this series my first question was “What about Dolly???” Of course, she’s off touring the world with her new album and I’m sure she’s cheering you both on from afar.
    As far as acting insecurities that you talk about at the beginning of this blog, I think to some extent we all have times like that. I have been an actor for 30 years (I worked professionally for a little while but now I do mostly local theatre here in central KY) and I have had plenty of insecure moments. I think it just comes with the territory not only of being an actor, but also of just being human. Although, I did work on one major motion picture. Years ago…in Florida. It was a Burt Reynolds movie (my husband, Jim, and I attended his theatre school in Jupiter many moons ago) and Jim and I worked on the set after our graduation. I was the directors personal assistant and also did some extra work and Jim was Burt’s stand in. The movie was called “The Maddening” and it was directed by Danny Huston and co-starred Angie Dickenson, Mia Sara, and Josh Mostell. It was…well…not a good movie…it went straight to video. But I went to all the dailies (which were fun to attend with everyone in Burt’s screening room at his ranch…kind of like how you describe it above) and I learned a ton about film acting. I also learned that, no matter what level we work at…from movie stars to community theatre performers…we all go through the same stuff. It was a very fun and eye-opening experience. Pretty cool!
    Rock on!
    Melissa

  12. Thank you for sharing this chapter in your journey. Your come-take-a-look-with-me generosity touches me — deeply — here. I really appreciate your illustrating this with photos, too. I’m definitely an audio-visual learner, so photos help enormously.

  13. Looks like a new hit! Seriously! I also love House of Cards and recently I’ve been getting into Orange Is The New Black (what a great idea for a tv series that is! I just wonder why it hasn’t been done before!). Wish you all the best and again it’s a pleasure reading your blog! Btw. Thanks to you I’ve been really getting into working out, eating more healty food and a different lifestyle! Without you I would have never started. You’re such an exemplary person!

  14. If Tulea ever needs a stand-in, our coton Bisbee is nearly her twin – LOL!
    This is going to be a hit and further validates the television shift – Netflix just got a new subscriber today from this post!

  15. I also binged-watched HOC and Orange is the New Black. I love Netflix because it is so affordable. I will binge on Grace & Frankie. 2015! I did read one sentence online about the premise: two rivals deal with their husbands wanting to be together. Love it already and putting in two of my favorite female human beings/actors in there… Lily and Jane. Thanks for sharing all the photos. I love the pic where the two of you are walking off on the beach.. and you under your quilt… I love real. The Writer’s Room wall was interesting to me as well…how things are done… all that work and imagination posted. As for the world… humans can do better. Take care, Jane.

  16. Jane Fonda I send you ♡ love .. I grew up loving you I movies .. but when I saw your last interview with Oprah .. you changed my life … your grace and intelligence .. your beauty and authentic self touched my life deeply .. ill be 60 in Sept and you woke me up so I could enjoy what may turn out to be the best of life yet.. Thank you .. God Bless you !! Im thrilled your in a new sitcom and with Lily !!
    I wish you all… the best

    Carol ♡

  17. Re-read…. That comment of “…I think.” There could be a million different reasons that was said. I feel like jerk now. :/ Sorry.

  18. Loved this blog Jane, thanks so much for sharing pictures with us! I’m sure it’s really exciting filming your own TV show. 🙂 Hope everything’s going smoothly (and yes, please keep up the blogs whenever you can – I forget to comment but I always read and enjoy them, I promise!)

  19. Hi Jane. I have a two night stopover in L.A. as from tomorrow. Is this a show with an audience i.e. can one get tickets to see it? That would really make my stopover. BTW I was just in a run of God of Carnage (my hobby is acting) and I really know about the shifting gears from drama to Comedy. As ‘Michael’ you go from nice to funny to really mean all in one play. Terryifing to do, but it’s exhilirating using all those muscles. I love going from Mr Nice Guy to then saying lines where you know the audience will cringe with the heads in their hands. It’s a gift that we get to do these things.
    Take care
    Jason

    • No audience, Jason. It is Netflix–the kind you can binge watch when it comes out. Don’t know when that will be. xx

  20. Just stop by to say hello, and that I will subscribe to netfix, so I can wach this new Comedy of yours..Love Lily Tomlin…long time no see her in any movies here in Brazil..Still love her in “Tea with Mussolini”. I can see they cut your hair a little…hope you will let it grow again. Best regards from your n. 1 fan in Brazil….

  21. Beautiful blog Mama! Beautiful writing! xolu

  22. I can’t wait to watch this! ….I LOVE all the cast members, and knowing that Marta Kaufman is one of the writers, I know it’s going to be HILARIOUS! …..Not to mention that Jane, Lily, Martin, and Sam are in it!!!! …..So excited for you Jane! <3 ya!

  23. Monday, I’ll be a background extra on this production. Your description of the warm environment among the company makes me very happy. I admire you and Lily and have always enjoyed your work. In the ’70’s I saw her driving, on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills, a restored Dodge, 1955 or ’56, black. I’ve always wondered if it had a special significance to her. She smiled at me. I was driving one of my old cars. I grew up in Detroit as she did.

  24. You and Lily Tomlin? Be still my heart. It’s a dream come true. Already laughing just thinking about it. 😉

  25. Wow. Having lived this in real life, I guess I am not just ready to laugh about it yet. Devastated my children and me. Imploded my family. Dark dark time. Do you find it humorous?

    • KAY, no I don’t. both characters are devastated by what happens. The rug is pulled out from under them and they’re 70 years old!!!It was a challenge playing the reality and also finding some comedy…walking a tightrope

  26. Jane…I stumbled upon your series last night around 10pm and watched the entire season…I’m going back to start over. Here’s the thing…it’s been a LONG while since I have wanted to be a part of a show based on cast and writing…oddly enough I think FRIENDS was the last time I felt this way. If they ever decide to cast a younger man that Frankie and Grace can “fight” over…Maybe Guy could have a long lost, or illegitimate, son! LOL. Thing is…I’d be ECSTATIC (who the hell wouldn’t be) to even be considered for something like that…I mean honestly…seriously incredible actors, gr8 writing and watching you and Lily banter/bicker back and forth so expertly with humor and tenderness…well, it’s exciting to watch and even more exciting? The desire in wanting to be a part of it. Congrats! Oh, I’m Tom Andrew…union actor etc., etc., etc.

  27. This is totally my new favorite show: because the actors are so AMAZING! I love these women and despite only being in my forties, I totally get them. But I’ve been a life long fan of both of these amazing women (and the men) and they make me proud that I have been. All of this said I have only one thing I take exception with: this show may be set in San Diego, but whomever is shooting it and dressing it has obviously NEVER BEEN TO SAN DIEGO! I have lived here for 35 years and that beach in particular is in no part of this town. None of the exteriors or interiors look at all like San Diego. Jane/Lily take a trip down here and I’ll show you what it should look like (and what you are missing). San Diego is like no other part of California (or the globe for that matter). It is America’s finest city and they are butchering it. Beyond that, love the show and can’t believe I have to wait another whole year to see more. BTW, please, please please get Dolly Parton to do a cameo. It will make my life complete!

  28. Hi! I was looking for something NEW and fun and exciting, hopefully comedy or sci fi to watch on Netflix, and my eyes widened when I saw the pairing of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, I wondered if I had died and this was simply wish fulfillment? I was entranced with these episodes and have slowly watched them all… all for the last one.. because I can’t bear for it to be over!!! Oh noooo!! hahaha!!!
    This is such a witty and lovely show!! Truly original, a classic as it unfolds before my eyes.
    The two scenes where you Jane have an anxiety attack in the elevator and also get rolled into the MRI.. was so hilarious I almost lost control of my body functions. I can relate as I had been placed in an MRI TWICE and because of back issues, developed claustrophobia and was afraid of elevators for a while. I used self hypnosis because noone else had the sense to cure me.. so as usual I had to cure myself. I truly laughed loudly and with GREAT GUSTO at these scenes. They looked so authentic!! How lovely to be “Trapped” in an elevator with three of the most dreamy people, aside from yourself Jane!!! HAHAHA!!!

    OH I am really enjoying this show,… thank you so much for agreeing to be part of it!! Yes I cant believe Id have to wait a whole YEAR to watch more of them!!! I also really gained a new appreciation for Lily Tomlin and the other actors.. they are the cutest gay couple Ive ever seen!! lol!!

  29. The show is great, the cast is perfect, and I must admit I have binge watched it a few times. I can hardly wait for the new “season”! I encourage everyone I know to watch it and all of them are HOOKED! Thanks for the entertainment!

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