SAG Life honoree Lily Tomlin: ‘I have had a good ride’
Lily Tomlin will be acting for the actors Sunday, as she receives Life Achievement honors at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
“I feel like I’m a kid going to some grownups’ event,” she said in an interview. “I feel like I’m playing along with it.”
Tomlin has been letting the kid flag fly most of her career. In fact, just before the interview, she read a children’s book on camera for Storyline Online, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s children’s literacy website, where big-name actors read on video that is later embellished with flashy illustrations. Tomlin tackled author Amanda Knoll’s popular sequel “Hey, That’s My Monster!” — a particularly challenging assignment, given Tomlin had little time to prepare to provide voices for the book’s many characters.
The actress has always made such child’s play look easy. Just go back to “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and her opinionated 5-year-old kid in an oversized rocking chair, Edith Ann — one of the characters that made Tomlin a household name.
Tomlin was born in Detroit and, after college, began work as a stand-up comic, eventually becoming a star, thanks to “Laugh-In.”
And while acting was critical to all those “Laugh-In” sketches, Tomlin said she didn’t really consider herself an actor until she appeared in the 1975 country-music satire “Nashville,” which marked her film debut. The motion-picture Academy agreed: The performance earned Tomlin her one and only Oscar nomination.
“It was director Bob Altman (“M*A*S*H”), so that was quite a pedigree,” Tomlin said. “And I was known for these broad, comedic characters, and people were just sort of dazzled.”
By the time “Nashville” was released, Tomlin was 35, just years away from what Hollywood had long considered an actress’s sell-by date: 40.
But Tomlin’s heyday was yet to come. Ironically, she was 40 when Fox released the workplace comedy “9 to 5” with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. The film became her biggest movie moneymaker to date (over $100 million gross, in 1980s dollars).
“It just imprinted itself on a broad, broad ranged audience, from children to my uncle Wallace,” who was in his late 90s, Tomlin said. “He was a pig farmer. He lived way out in the country. And my late Odie Mae, his older sister, said, ‘Wallace put on a suit and tie and drove all the way to Paducah (Kentucky) to see ‘9 to 5.’ He hadn’t seen a movie in 30 years. He said he laughed so hard he’s going back next Saturday.’”
Tomlin hasn’t left the spotlight since. She’s had Tony-winning success on Broadway (“The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”) and won six Emmy awards to date. She’s been nominated 23 times, including the past two years for her performances in the Netflix sitcom “Grace and Frankie,” which co-stars Fonda, her BFF from “9 to 5.” (Both Fonda and Parton are set to present Tomlin with her award at Sunday’s ceremony.)
A dramedy about ex-wives who move in together after their respective husbands fall in love, “Grace and Frankie” has been renewed by Netflix for a third season.
And so much for a sell-by date: Stars Tomlin and Fonda are, respectively, ages 77 and 79.
Still, Tomlin was a bit taken aback when asked if she had a sense of “life achievement.”
“I never think in those terms,” she said. “And it was very moving that I should be able to look back and think that ‘I have had a good ride.’ But I’m not ready to get off yet.”
‘23rd Annual Screen Actors Awards’
8 p.m. Sunday
TNT and TBS