This is my first AMA and I'm thrilled. Talking about my latest film Grandma (which releases today on Blu-ray and Digital) and anything else your heart desires.


Ask away!



edit: Well think that’s it for me. I’ve certainly given my all. Haha. So, goodbye! Listen, check into Grandma if you have the inclination, I think you’ll really like it. It seems like it’s a comedy, and yet it’s not – it’s quite serious, and yet it’s got a lot of funny stuff it in. I think it’s got stuff that will appeal to young and old audiences. It comes out on Blu-ray today and you might like it.

Comments: 525 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

Josh_Lymans_backpack524 karma

What does Martin Sheen smell like in real life, and would you categorize it as ‘presidential’?

ImLilyTomlin854 karma

He smells like oak paneling and hunter green billiard’s bed. I would say he definitely smells presidential - old timey presidential. And some cigar ash mixed in.

That’s how I imagine he smells. I have rarely gotten a good smell of him...

pretty-in-pink334 karma

Loved your role in 9 to 5 and in Grace and Frankie

If you were to kill your boss, how would you go about it?

How has your relationship with Jane Fonda changed over the years?

ImLilyTomlin441 karma

It's kind of hard to talk against what your inclinations are and it'd be hard for me to kill someone. I don't even know if I could ever pull it off unless I was in a life-or-death struggle to defend myself. But I think if I had a boss like some of them I've had who are just totally cuckoo, I'd probably just tie them down and make them listen to - I'd photograph a lot of footage on them - and then I would make them just lie there, or sit there, or stand there, and just absorb all that abuse or whatever that inequity, that failure to understand how their minions working under them might feel about certain behavior. I'd just rattle it and rattle it and rattle it, until they either called uncle, or gave up, or did something like run screaming down the street, bindings and all, no matter what. I would hope that somehow they would run into their demise on their own, not at my hand. But, I'm kind of chicken that way.

And Jane Fonda, our relationship, probably we just both have matured and aged into such an extent that we understand what it is to be a pal or a friend, understanding one another and accepting whatever the other person has to say or do, without judgment. It's turned out pretty nice and pretty cool. We maybe are able to bring that to the relationship between Grace and Frankie, I hope so. I think we do.

anotherkeebler170 karma

Ms. Tomlin, I'm so glad you're doing this, because you're one of my comedy heroes. Can you tell me about how you came to be working with Jane Wagner? I'm always amazed when a couple manages to have such a longlasting personal and professional relationship.

ImLilyTomlin319 karma

Well, I first came to work with Jane – I met her in New York. She was a friend of a very close friend of mine and I was totally taken with her as soon as I laid eyes on her. I was on the road – I had stopped off in New York because I was releasing a record album, it was the ‘Modern Scream’ album that Polydoor released.

I wasn’t flying in those days…so many of my friends had died one way or another – from drug overdoses or whatever had happened, so I had sort of stopped flying and I had taken a train to New York on this particular occasion but I had to be back in Chicago by a certain time and I wound up taking the train to Chicago and when I got there, I just felt that I had unfinished business with Jane – so I jumped on a plane and went right back to New York!

I knew Jane was a writer and all my friends that knew her said ‘she’s so fantastic, she’s so brilliant, she’s so beautiful’ – and she was all that, I didn’t know what her projects were like – she had done a thing about a kid in Harlem saving a stray cat and it was written for children’s programming for after-school, but it was so widely received and so celebrated that they played it in primetime, and they played it every year for 25 years after that…at holiday time, at Christmas.

I saw that and was so taken with it and I was working on my Edith Ann character – she had an album due out…and I wanted Jane to write for Edith because she’d written this play about this young boy and it was just so filled with observations and perceptions and everything…and yet it seemed totally natural and true to the characters speaking. So I wrote her and asked her if she’d work on my Edith Ann record and – weeks went by…weeks went by…pretty soon I got a little notebook filled with her scratchings and notations in the margins and it was so much better than anything that I’d had up to that point that I persuaded her to come to California and help me produce the album.

She showed up about two days before we had to go in the studio – and we really shot the album live so we were shooting live, but we went in the studio and produced the album and she was a sound effects freak…she filled the album with sound effects – you have to listen to it with headphones so you can hear all the sounds. I played the lady in the neighborhood that the kid latches on to and you hear both pairs of feet walking, walking, walking all through the neighborhood – it was a work of love and we were just mad for it. That was the first thing we did together and my character just bloomed and blossomed and became so much more than she had been…and I liked it.

Eoiny131 karma

Did you and David O. Russell really make up with after his meltdown on the set of I (Heart) Huckabees or was that a pretense you had to keep up for the sake of the movie?

ImLilyTomlin296 karma

No no no, I saw David last night at the movie awards, Movies for Grownups where he won Best Screenplay and I won Best Actress in a Movie for Grandma, and no we've seen each other many times since then. Plus we finished the movie, for gosh sakes, that takes a lot of friendship and stick-to-it-ive-ness. And David's absolutely one of the great talents that I've ever worked with. All my friends would say, "Well you're not gonna work with him anymore, are you?" And I'd say, "I would in a heartbeat." I mean he's so gifted that you'd want to work with him. So, no we were absolutely friends. Nobody fakes that. I don't think they fake it. Well, if they fake it, they're probably faking everything else, so let it go.

kdk12k2k1297 karma

Hi Lily! My parents and I love you. Thanks for doing this AMA.

My mom would like to ask, when you were filming 9 to 5 did you guys ad-lib at all? Or was most of it scripted? Are there any stories from that film that you’d like to share that you feel you haven’t gotten the chance to?

Edit: P.S. Next time you and Kathy Griffin cold call Jane Fonda, tell her I say hi!

ImLilyTomlin190 karma

Well, on Nine to Five I don’t remember us doing too much ad-libbing. We might, because during parts where we’re doing physical stuff – if I were wheeling a body some place, or maybe in the hospital or something, I might fool around.

We laughed so hard on Nine to Five because when Dolly goes around to the back of the car, opens the trunk, and sees not the boss (we think the boss is in the trunk – Violet thought she had killed the boss with the rat poison), but sees some strange person!

She leans her head over and says, “Violet honey, could you come back here for a minute?”...ha! Every time we wanted to make each other laugh, we’d just go, “Violet honey, you wanna come back here for a minute?”

So that kind of thing is what you do on a movie, you get all affected by a phrase or something and you play it over and over. There was one scene where I’m running out of the hospital with the dead body, Jane says, “Oh my god, there goes Lily. What could be wrong?” and she forgets and calls Violet, “Lily”, so we’d do that all the time to one another. We were just crazy, foolish. Enjoying every minute of it. It was just one of those movies that you have a good time making. Colin, the writer and director, he just knew what he wanted and he would get it.

courtiebabe42082 karma

What's been your favorite project to work on in your career so far? And what are you looking forward to next - professionally or personally?

ImLilyTomlin217 karma

Hey u/courtiebabe420! Well, my favorite project has been working in the theatre. The favorite show I ever did was The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by my partner Jane Wagner. I used to love it because when I'd come out of the theatre at night, there'd be a little gaggle of people - this was back in '85 - people would be outside, there'd be middle-aged housewives from Omaha, their first trip to New York with pocketbooks hanging from their hand, and their shoes matched... and there'd be a hip kind of yuppie couple just dressed to the teeth and looking dynamite - tall, blonde, brilliant looking. And there'd be some goth kids all punked out in makeup, and they'd all be so influenced and affected by the play, and so validated – each and every one of them in their own way, that they would just be hugging and tearful; just overcome with emotion. And then they would grab me and drag me into the group hug, and I felt so validated by that, those audiences. And so uplifted, and that would be my favorite creative project that I was involved in.

Right now I would hope that we're working on another show, maybe a sequel to The Search, or something like that so that I could go back to the theatre and do that again for many many many many many, many many performances and just totally groove on it.

redisthecoolestcolor72 karma

Thank you so much for being such an inspiration, especially to the LGBTQ community. What was it like performing as an actress before this was acceptable to be open about to the public? Did you have a large separation between work and personal matters? What advice would you offer to an LGBTQ individual entering the acting scene today?

ImLilyTomlin119 karma

Well, I can’t say how wide a space there was between my personal and private life. There wasn’t a big space, in my own terms. In terms of my friends and colleagues, the only thing that I was cautious about was certain parts of the country that were much more limited in their perspective. they were guided by their religion or whatever, and they didn’t have much understanding of people who were different than them.

So I might choose to do a monologue about people who were different, or people who had an inclination for something that was not socially acceptable. One of my earliest, earliest monologues was ‘the Rubber Freak’; a woman who was addicted to eating rubber objects. It was really funny, I can still do that monologue and people will laugh. So it’s a woman baring her soul about being addicted to eating rubber objects – somehow, that softens people or I felt that it did. Metaphorically it had something to say. Many other monologues that I did would be expressive of that kind of sensibility.

Ikimasen70 karma

So with telephone operator no longer being the same kind of in-demand job that it once was, what would Ms. Tomlin be doing for a living today? Do you have customer service experiences that remind you of your comedy?

Did Edith Ann grow up? How did she turn out?

ImLilyTomlin195 karma

Well, Edith Ann did not grow up, she’s still five and a half, maybe six. Maybe six something. But Ernestine’s gone on – after the divestiture Ernestine went on to lots of other jobs because she’s not going to stick around where she has to be nice to people. So lately she’s been working at a big healthcare insurance corp, denying healthcare to everyone. But in the other parts of her time, she had a webcast chat show for a while, during the Bush administration she could talk to anyone...Cheney, Condoleezza Rice; she once even put in a call to Saddam Hussein. She tried to broker peace once, she always played both sides of the street. She’s only looking out for Ernestine. When she had her webcast chat show, it was called Ernestine Calls You On It and You Better Have an Answer – she would give Bush a pep talk every now and then. One of my favorite times was when he was running against Kerry, she said “You don’t have to worry about running against Senator Kerry, he only served in a war, you started one!” So that was the kind of thing she would do. Now she’s been dealing with people who are ill and need medical care. “I guess you think HMO stands for ‘Help Me Out’. Haha.

So, she does all that stuff.

JOplinger53 karma

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

ImLilyTomlin136 karma

Well if it's not a sandwich, what is it? I'm wondering myself! So...either there's been no word invented for it or it is a sandwich. Could I have a vote on that? I think it's a sandwich. I mean, you've got meat, you've got bread, you've got dressing of some sort – you've got sauerkraut or mustard or both, or ketchup or something – so I'd say it's a sandwich. It's not really good for you, but I eat them often enough

spgreenwood50 karma

I read that you were born in Detroit and started your comedy career there! Do you ever go back – and is there still a comedy scene there?

ImLilyTomlin179 karma

God, there probably is. I imagine there is, there always was.

Yes, I came from Detroit. My mother and father were Southern - they were from Kentucky. They had gone to Detroit so my dad could work. I was born there and I lived all my early life there till I was about 20, then I went to New York at some point.

I worked at a coffee house that was there, it was called "The Unstabled" and it was in the downtown area kind of where the university was. I did everything there; I did comedy, I did theatre, I did Beckett's Happy Days many times because it only required one actor. The second actor was sort of a fill-in and I could corral anybody, any male that came into the club I could get to do Willie (I played Winnie). I swept the floor. We had jazz after hours, we had poetry readings, we had folk singing - it was like an old classic coffee house! And then we had kids doing sketches and comedy, and we did that after theatre, and it was just a great scene at that time.

I went to New York from there, and I started doing it seriously. I don't remember, I'd have to go into such detail to remember how to tell you what happened. But yes, and I imagine - I know Detroit has a big artist community now, because artists always flock to cities where they can live inexpensively, and that's the state of affairs with Detroit right now. You can buy a house or get lodging for really very little, and kids throw their money in and they might get a place, or buy a little house, and they get to live in lofts or whatever it is that they can manage, and there's a very vibrant artist scene, I've been told.

I haven't been to Detroit. The last time I went, I went to visit my cousin who lives in Shelby Township, and I would go hang in the downtown area, I'd go to the art museum, because I used to love to go there as a kid, because I loved the mummy room. We'd go and we'd see all the bandages peeping out through their outer shell; it looks like blood is on there and it's very engaging to kids. There's a great painting there, Bruegel's "The Wedding Dance" where the men are wearing codpieces, and it hangs on the wall, the bottom is about eye-height to a 6 or 7 year old, and we thought it was the height of the most tantalizing investigation to go and stare at that painting, and see the men with these codpieces. I used to drag everybody over to see that painting. And when I'd go to the museum, I would in recent years, I would have someone steal a photograph of me in it, which is really bad because you're not supposed to have light on those paintings to that degree, that shocking flashlight flashbulb.

Oh, it was a glorious life to live in Detroit.

Tronaldsdump4pres47 karma

Lady Tomlin, my mom actually showed me your movies when I was a young man as an example of strong female characters in cinema. I look back and agree fondly on those times. Do you feel this something you made a priority to convey in your roles, does it simply reflect your natural strength of character, or is it a combination of both? Thanks!

ImLilyTomlin64 karma

Well since you gave me that out, I'd say it's probably a combination of both. Although I'm not sure what "both" was...but yes I think I always respected the characters so much, no matter what their call in life was, or what they had to do or say or think or feel. I wanted to honor that no matter what it was. I think that creates a strong character... and then people are going to identify those characters with you and they'll imbue you with those qualities. I was always pretty picky about what I chose to do and if I chose it, I thought I could make it work. I didn't always succeed, but I thought I was going to and that's probably the most important thing. That I thought I was going to.

fredbnh42 karma

I recently saw a great photo of you and Tom Waits and it looked authentic and just downright fun. Any background you care to share about it?

ImLilyTomlin113 karma

Is it the Mary Ellen photo, where he's laughing and squeezing me?

I had a copy of that photograph. I think the photographer gave me a copy, or maybe I paid for a copy... I'm not sure, because I loved him so much and doing Shortcuts with him for Altman and I was just over the moon to be with him. We did lots of stuff in that movie. We had half a heart tattooed over our thumb, and when I was in the diner and he'd be there trying to get food, or whatever or get a little free coffee, we'd rub our thumbs together and he'd say "Till the wheels come off." When we first started shooting, Doreen and Earl Piggot (which was the name of our couple) – I go home at night after the first night of shooting and the phone rings and it's Tom and he's pretending he's Earl driving around in the limo. He's just wonderful, totally a poet, saying the most engaging, thrilling kinds of things to Doreen about their life and all this stuff that was going on for them. And when we hung up, I thought, "Oh if I'd only been able to record that!"

We didn't have so much stuff, how many years ago was Shortcuts...maybe 15? I don't know for sure, I've forgotten. But we were supposed to live in a trailer park, and there was a trailer park in Santa Monica where we shot some of our scenes. So he calls me the next night, and same thing. And I'm saying, "Well dammit, I still didn't get that recorded." And then the third night, he never called me after that. But those three nights, I'd give anything if I'd recorded them! But I didn't. We loved ourselves in the movie so much, we wanted Earl and Doreen to have their own show. We told Altman, "We think Doreen and Earl should have their own show dammit!" Didn't happen.

MarcusHalberstram8831 karma

I lovedddd Grandma.

How would you react in real life if a little girl anti-abortion protester clocked you in the face?

ImLilyTomlin86 karma

Haha! Well I'd move faster than Grandma did. She was too trusting of that little girl who knocked her for a loop in the parking lot. I wouldn't squat down that close to that little girl.

It's like being with a dog - you never know when a dog is gonna chew your face off. So you don't' stick your face right up into their muzzle. But I would do the same thing, I would challenge the little girl on the ethics of her behavior.

fkingroovn30 karma

Hey Ms. Tomlin! You've been making me laugh for ages!! I would love to ask, what are your thoughts on SNL these days and women in comedy? Thanks!

ImLilyTomlin90 karma

Well, I like that so many young women are in comedy now. When I started out there were just a handful of women doing comedy, and very few doing standup. But now so many young women do standup and they have a point of view, and they have political expression of their own values and attitudes. I like a lot of stuff on Saturday Night Live. I like Kate McKinnon, I've seen her do great stuff.

I don't care what anybody talks about as long as it's informed with perceptions and feelings and observations... and something revelatory. It could be anything at all.

MILeft30 karma

What is the best part of being a woman "of a certain age"?

ImLilyTomlin80 karma

The best part of being a woman of a certain age is that at a certain point, and in many many just don't give a damn. You just throw caution to the wind and you just are yourself anyway.

So you don't even know if you've hit that nirvana of being yourself and being totally cool with it. I don't think you know if you're being audacious, or if you're showing out or you're rubbing someone the wrong way. I think you have enough sense to know not to get it. Not to get it...that's a phrase that gets muffled doesn't it. You know enough to know, enough to know, you don't get it. Haha – kinda like now!

That's why I liked so much playing the Grandma part, in the film Grandma, because she's of an age where she's been through hell and back and whatever else she's had to do with herself...and she just doesn't care anymore. She's gonna be herself, she's gonna demonstrate herself, she's gonna express herself, and that's that. And if you don't listen to her or you don't get her, I don't think that bothers her either. In fact, if you haven't seen Grandma – now I'm pitching for my movie – you might enjoy it.

athermalwill15 karma

Did you feel like you were breaking new ground on Laugh In? And a follow up...Rowan, or Martin?

ImLilyTomlin38 karma

I personally didn't, I've told this to Georgia the producer; I probably thought I was breaking new ground, I didn't necessarily think that Laugh In was.

Rowan or can't split the pair up. They're intertwined; they're made for each other. One exists because of the other