If you have any fear of aging, just take a moment to marvel in Lily Tomlin and your worries will melt away. The 75-year-old’s career is soaring with Grace and Frankie, a new series now streaming on Netflix, co-starring Jane Fonda. The critical buzz is also growing about her role in Grandma, an indie film about a feisty, pot-smoking, no-nonsense senior, opening later this summer. In person, Tomlin -- best known for her iconic roles in films like Nashville and 9 to 5, and for lending her voice to the beloved '90s children show The Magic School Bus -- is energetic, gorgeous, and almost always laughing.
InStyle spoke with the actress and comedian at the Tribeca Film Festival recently about her thoughts on aging, women’s rights, and what’s in her DVR queue.
Your character in Grandma acts much younger than her age. What’s your own philosophy on aging?
Statistics say to you that you’re way closer to the end of your life [when you are older] than you are to the beginning, and you should just blow it off. I still go out on the road because I want women to see how physical I am and how much I can do on the stage.
Well, something is working, because you look amazing. Any tips on staying youthful?
You gotta wear sunscreen. Don’t neglect your upper body; you’ve got to build your upper body strength and keep your arms in good shape. If you just want to be physically youthful, you gotta work on your balance. And don’t start too late. But you can always catch up a little bit.
The film Grandma is about a woman fighting for her granddaughter’s rights. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes, I do. I came up in the second wave of the feminist movement and I’ve always been a committed feminist. In the old days, we used to say, “This is about moving the whole species forward, not just half of it.” We truly believe that. The more egalitarian the culture is, the better it is for everyone, for everybody involved. The younger generation really has the opportunity to expand beyond anything we’ve even conceived of. They’re open to it and they’re really ready to be accepting of the world. I was watching Girls the other night and I like that they’re so physical and carrying on and crazy. And yet, they’re serious and they’re trying to have careers. They’re a little more open.
It’s great to hear you love Girls. What else do you watch on TV?
There’s so much stuff on television that’s outrageously good and has a good point of view. I wept the other day watching The Comeback. Lisa Kudrow is so special. There’s so many dramas that I love: House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Empire. I’ve got to, like, retire just so I can download everything and watch everything that’s ever been made. I’ll never catch up!
And now your own must-watch series is streaming on Netflix, Gracie & Frankie. It’s about two older women who find out that their husbands are in love with each other. What attracted you to the character of Frankie?
Her ability to accept, forgive, and move on.
Frankie has a very unique, boho style. How does it differ from your own?
She hasn’t cut her hair in years, and doesn’t color it. She’s an artist, so she dresses eccentrically, won’t wear high heels. Fashion-wise, she marches to beat of her own drum. And her own drum is major.
Can you tell us about a scene that made you laugh the most while filming it?
This was near the last episode: Jane [Fonda, as Grace] was nervous about breaking up with the man she was dating. She'd turn to go find him, but then turn around quickly, saying, "I can't do it." We'd be almost nose-to-nose and I would say, "Do you want me to blow some of my courage into your mouth?" That would set us off. The line was so outrageous we would just crack up. It took a lot of takes to get it done. And it was about two in the morning, and we were the only ones laughing.
—Additional reporting by Cristina Gibson