Los Angeles Times: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin of ‘Grace & Frankie’ on aging without fear and the power of women’s voices united

Lily Tomlin, left, and Jane Fonda keep bringing the laughs with the season 4 return of their Netflix comedy, "Grace & Frankie," which premieres Friday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Lily Tomlin, left, and Jane Fonda keep bringing the laughs with the season 4 return of their Netflix comedy, “Grace & Frankie,” which premieres Friday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

By: Yvonne Villarreal Contact Reporter

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are the kind of ladies who lunch while talking frankly about bionic body parts and joint diseases. At least that’s the case today.

“I have a fake hip, a fake knee,” Fonda says. “I’ve got so much metal in my back. I have a fake thumb. I have osteoarthritis.”

“I have osteoarthritis and these joints poke out,” Tomlin adds, flexing her hands to demonstrate. “My hands are just ruined. I used to have lovely, graceful hands and now they’re kind of like a kielbasa.”

“They work, though,” Fonda reminds her.

“They work — exactly, exactly,” Tomlin nods in agreement.

Sitting side-by-side at a Hollywood hotel restaurant before the recent holidays, the longtime friends — all too familiar with how pervasive ageism is in the entertainment industry, particularly for women — are deep in conversation about the privilege of not having to slow down. Fonda, at 80, and Tomlin, at 78, are multiple seasons into their Netflix buddy comedy, “Grace & Frankie,” on which they star and executive produce. The pair are both nominees at this weekend’s Screen Actors Guild Awards

“Listen, to be 80 years old and on a steady job — that’s something,” Fonda says.

“And we love it,” Tomlin says.

“I don’t care how early in the morning I have to be there,” Fonda adds. “I love going into the studio and going to my trailer and working.”

In “Grace & Frankie,” created by Marta Kauffman (“Friends”) and Howard J. Morris (“According to Jim”), Fonda and Tomlin play two seventy-something sort-of friends who become roommates and eventual besties after their husbands, Robert and Sol (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, respectively), reveal they are gay and leave the women to marry each other.

If “Golden Girls” broke new ground in the mid-80s/early-90s for its portrayal of senior women as complex — and sexual — beings, then “Grace & Frankie” is doing its part to help ensure nuanced depictions of older women carry over to the Netflix generation.

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda as best friends "Grace and Frankie."

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda as best friends “Grace and Frankie.”

Beyond the laughs and quirky shenanigans of the odd couple friends and their families, the comedy bakes in issues that affect people late-in-life, such as assisted suicide, dementia or the reality that funerals are now a more frequent part of one’s calendar. And it has kept the light shining on older women as sexual beings. The third season saw the friends launch a business selling wrist-friendly vibrators for the elderly.

With its fourth season, now available to stream, “Grace & Frankie” further delves into the psychological effects of aging and explores the disheartening realization there may come a day when the pair might need assistance for themselves. Of course, there’s laughter along the way, as the pair continue to expand their vibrator business and deal with new relationships and grandchildren.

“It really has to do with what happens when your age becomes a betrayal,” Kauffman said. “The big thing is really coming to terms with ‘What does it mean to be this age? What am I still capable of doing? What do I want for myself at this age?’”

This full-grown form of coming of age, the transition from being an adult to a senior, and the mental and physical quandaries it presents are something Fonda and Tomlin acknowledge they have long contemplated, and have come to peace with, on their own. Death included.

“I know the worst is yet to come, in terms of deterioration,” Tomlin says. “I’ve come to accept that … I’ve been conscious of that for my whole life in a way.”

“I’m a believer in intentional living,” adds Fonda, a recent honoree at the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards which recognizes individuals who’ve made significant contributions to the industry. “This is the last stage of my life, and I don’t want to get to the end with a lot of regrets. There’s always some regrets, but I believe in envisioning dying. We never know how we’re going to die, but I imagine I’m in bed and I’m surrounded by loved ones. And I have to earn that. I have to make sure that I mend the wounds, that there’s healing that goes on.”

“Oh, now she’s made me nervous,” Tomlin says, half-jokingly and half-introspectively.

Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in a scene from the 1980 movie "Nine To Five."

Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in a scene from the 1980 movie “Nine To Five.”

Dressed much in the way their respective characters might be — Fonda more streamlined, Tomlin more bohemian — the two arrived to the restaurant separately, embracing each other with loving “I’ve missed youuuu!” greetings. The pair, who met more than 30 years ago after Tomlin’s one-woman show, “Appearing Nitely,” and later joined forces in the ‘80s hit “9 to 5,” carry on like this is a catch-up session. The conversation shifts from the personal — Fonda mentions she stayed up until midnight wrapping Christmas gifts and Tomlin reveals she can’t make Fonda’s birthday gathering because she’ll be performing in Tacoma, Wash. — to the cultural, weighing in on the hard-to-ignore reckoning in Hollywood.

“It’s pretty dynamic what is happening,” Tomlin says.

“I think it’s a turning point,” Fonda says. “I don’t think this is going to go away. I think women are really ‘woke’…First of all, that the women are being believed is the most important.”

“I do think the reason that it became so big so suddenly is because the women were white and famous,” Fonda continues. “African American women have been speaking out about sexual harassment and violence in the workplace way longer than we have, way even before Anita Hill.”

They both say they’ve experienced inappropriate or questionable remarks in their storied careers but not behavior that would rise to the level of recent accusations leveled against Harvey Weinstein.

“There’s a lot that’s going to be happening. And I think that it will speak to the root cause of all this, with systemic change,” says Fonda.

It gets the pair talking about the power of women banding together, referencing the Women’s March of 2017, which came a day after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president and served as an act of resistance to the current administration. But resistance isn’t enough, they say.

“We have to be doing more than resist,” Fonda says. “We have to be creating the kind of future that we want.”

“We have to diverge the river,” Tomlin says before adding: “But on a pure level, to see women coming together and having each other’s backs … it’s just amazing.”

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  1. Osteoarthritis-Check!
    Gnarled fingers, swollen joints-Check!
    Two replaced knees-Check!
    One low back injury with osteo-stiffness. Dr. won’t operate. “Too old”-Check!
    73 yrs old, new wrinkles everyday-Check!
    Sagging everywhere-Check!
    Damm hair thinning out-Check.
    The shoe will drop someday but for now;
    Bladder still works, stride shortened, but still upright. Life is good enough, no monumental complaints.-Spirit still willing and bright-Check!
    Bonus gift; some of my favorite people are still on the planet doing what they can to make life better for others-Check! (and they make me smile) Dona XXX

  2. Great article! So…I told myself that I would not binge watch the entire 4th season of G&F in one sitting (as had been my practice with the previous 3 seasons). I wanted to make it last. Savor the episodes…you know. So it wouldn’t be over to quickly. Well, what do they say about best laid plans??? Although…it wasn’t one sitting. I have to give myself that. It was two. Separated only by two loads of laundry and house cleaning yesterday. It was great! Strong work on everyone’s part. Thanks again!
    Love & light,

  3. Ms Fonda,
    I have grown up with you and will always admire your strength, beauty and force.
    Your gentle fan
    M Chandler

  4. I loved the 4 season, you are amazing, every day I love more to Grace and to you of course.

  5. Such a wonderful blog-post/conversation between friends on such a serious topic. I will turn 50 next year (how time flies!) and you’ve confirmed that there is much, much more beautiful life to live…well, the two of you and my 91 and 97-old-grandmothers that are still moving around as if they were in their 60’s! Their social life puts mine to shame! lol The 91-year-old Lady loves to frequent the mall and/or movies with her daughter, and the 97-year-old Lady talks to her friends on the phone daily! Also, for both, dressing in style remains a top priority. Hope that inspires you too! Thank you for sharing.
    Jane, I worked with you many years ago and would love to share something with you if you are ever in the Atlanta area.
    ~ Sonja Green A.

  6. Jane, my husband is the kind of man who would never see Grace and Frankie, his best friend recommended the serie, he knows that I love it and decided to start watching he is fascinated and in love with you and I amazed

    • Wow! Why would he not want to see the show and what does he love about it?

  7. Thanks for everything, Jane Fonda!
    I grew up with your movies.

  8. Hi Jane! When are you coming to visit us in Portugal again? That delicious sea bass is waiting for you! 🙂
    Much love xxx Isabel

    • Ahh, Isabel, how I wish I could come back. Too busy filming and then doing all I can in the next 6 months to win back the House of Reps for Democrats in Nov. xxx

      • Well, never too late, i will be expecting your visit, but to Porto this time, my lovely hometown up north 🙂
        Much Love. Keep the fight!


  9. Hi Jane. Grace & Frankie is brilliant, and you (as well as the entire cast) shine brightly. The 4th season was a little depressing, but I am eager to see the girls reclaim their independence as well as their beach house in Season 5!

  10. Hello Jane,
    I just found Frankie and Gracie at the suggestion of my boss and children. It is more than brilliant and I am in the process of watching each episode. Sometimes I sit there and scream with joy. Thank you and the entire cast for bringing us this marvelous show and please continue until we all meet on the other side. Bravo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  11. Ms. Fonda,

    I have admired and respected you throughout the years. Your sincerity is gigantic, and your voice is so reassuring!

    Thank you.

    Regina Donohue

  12. Jane,
    I just spent a little time re-reading old comments and came across your comment on a coming documentary dealing on Vietnam coming in Sept on HBO. I missed that comment before, but I don’t want to miss the documentary. Please remind us in Sept when and where so I don’t miss it.
    I mis-spoke on one of my comments. You didn’t make a mistake and blame the soldiers. I’m sorry that I said that. You didn’t blame the soldiers. It isn’t what I was trying to say. I have a problem with the whole dilemma of asking men as soldiers to give up their conscious choices to become an effective fighting force vs always remaining a person who accepts responsibility for their actions and keeps their humane values. I can’t remember how to spell Mi Ly but you know what I mean. We ask so much, and blame too much. So this is MY problem, not yours.I’m sorry. I’m glad you have done the doc. I really want to see it. Dona

  13. Thank you both, and everyone behind “Grace and Frankie,” for creating, contributing, entertaining, evolving and making a difference on the planet.
    Love and Laughter Never Ends…
    Love from us in Texas.

  14. STELLOramma


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