lily tomlin interview

Dr. Phillips Center Presents “An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin”

One Night Only: Saturday, February 4

Hotspots Central Exclusive Interview by Mike Halterman

Noted actress, comedienne, singer and producer Lily Tomlin has been a part of American popular culture for nearly fifty years. She first rose to fame as a regular participant in the NBC comedic variety series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. From there she continued on to critically-acclaimed movie roles in films such as Nashville, The Late Show, 9 to 5, and many more, which earned her multiple nominations, including nominations for a BAFTA Award and an Academy Award. She won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a play for her one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Now, Tomlin stars alongside Jane Fonda in the Netflix original comedy series Grace & Frankie, which netted her two Emmy Award nominations in a row. This month she will receive the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement.

Central Florida audiences will have the chance to see Lily Tomlin in person as she performs a new one-woman show, “An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin”, at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando on Saturday, February 4. Showtime is at 8 p.m. and tickets start at $35. To buy your ticket, visit drphillipscenter.org or call (844) 513-2014.

It was a tremendous honor to speak with Lily Tomlin about her show and about her storied career in an exclusive interview for Hotspots Central.

Welcome back to Florida! What are some of the things you like most about the Sunshine State?

I like the weather, unless it’s really oppressive, so I’ve picked a good time to come down. I’m from California so I feel like there is a similarity between there and Florida. Is it bad that I don’t remember where I go? My friends take me out when I’m here and the thing that I do remember is that I have a good time, so I really do love that I associate Florida with friends and fun.

You will be arriving in Orlando for the first time since the Pulse shooting. How did you feel when you first heard about what had happened, and how do you feel now?

Jane [Wagner] and I were terribly shocked, and doubly so when we realized it was an attack against gay people. It was just horrific. But then we move forward and accept that these things are possible now, and it’s a sad realization.

But I was so proud that everyone came together and helped each other, no questions asked. It reinforced unity in our LGBT community. It reminded me of the 1980s in New York City, when AIDS was a big terror, and the women stood up and helped the sick men. Events like these just prove our strength and that we won’t be vanquished by anybody.

This month you will be receiving the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. How does it feel to receive such an honor?

I’ve been getting more than one “lifetime achievement” at this stage in my life. The honor is pre-eminent in the industry, for sure, but receiving “lifetime achievement” awards…feels creaky and it makes me a bit cranky. [laughs] It’s great to be acknowledged, of course. SAG has produced a lot of great press for me as a result of the award, and I’m grateful for the honor.

Please tell us about your February 4 show at the Dr. Phillips Center. What should Florida audiences expect?

The bulk of the show will be built on characters I’ve made up, or characters that people relate with me. Different character types, different culture types, I run the gamut. I use a fair bit of video in my show, but all in character: perhaps the video will showcase something a “character” I’m playing did, and now the character has to discuss that moment! But it’s very much a show that’s driven by character comedy.

I asked readers to tell me which roles they’ve loved you in the most, and I’ve noticed that regardless of the generation, many responses circled back to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Are you surprised at the show’s enduring popularity?

I am surprised, but also not. The show really permeated the culture at the time, and many of the people who watched were kids. They were imprinted by the show and its humor, and then it took them a little while to grow up and pass the memories down to their children.

Recently I was on Jimmy Corden’s show and I promoted the release of all five seasons of Laugh-In on DVD. I am so thankful to the show for the opportunities it gave me, and to George Schlatter for thinking to cast me. It was the perfect show for me, and I didn’t know when I first got into it, but it ended up being such a great fit. Every Monday when the show aired, all of a sudden the U.S. became a small town. Everyone watched and everyone had something to say when they saw me. You just can’t forget great times like that.

I’ve asked other comedians and actors this question and they have not agreed on the answer. Do you feel there are any topics or jokes that should be “off-limits” in comedy?

No, I don’t think so. I think it depends on the hand that is on the humor. Also, what’s the ultimate value of the commentary? If it’s just to shock or tittilate, then that can still work, as long as there’s a valuable message to be gleaned from the humor. It’s all in the presentation. Any good comic’s gotta know what they’re doing.

A lot of our readers really like your show Grace & Frankie. What’s the one thing you like about being reunited with Jane Fonda?

It was meant to be. It was so easy and lucky, and we get along so well and we have so much fun. I love Jane, she is an exceptional person and she has been a great friend to me all these years.

We didn’t even know this was coming. My agent called me and said, “Are you and Jane Fonda looking to do something together?” I could tell something was cooking. I answered, “We are now!” It felt so right for us, and everything fell right into place.

What are some of the things you like most about the series that set it apart from other productions you’ve worked on?

I like that it’s a hit, and I like that it discusses issues that are pertinent to women of our age. We have sexual drives still, we’re not all dowdy…it’s important to just dispel those notions right away, and I’m glad that the show gives a voice to women of a certain age who are still out there living life. I know I’m not going anywhere anytime soon!

Dolly Parton recently performed in Florida. I had the chance to interview her and I asked her about the possibility of a 9 to 5 reunion on Grace & Frankie. Is that something you want to see happen, and what is the likelihood that it might happen in a future season?

We’re all pushing for it! We want it so much. Obviously I can’t promise it, the writers are off creating the arc for the next season, but I know all three of us want it to happen. Jane and I are so hopeful.

What is your one wish for America in the new year?

I wish we could get rid of all the division, hate and negativity that one [specific] group has for another. Negating other people to push a belief system is so insane to me. Why can’t we come together to solve problems? Republicans obstructed Obama for eight damn long years. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, I can only hope with each day that there will be less animosity, because I know I’m willing to stand up and fight for our people.

For more information on Lily Tomlin, visit lilytomlin.com. Follow her on Twitter @LilyTomlin.

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Mike Halterman
Mike Halterman has been the editor of Hotspots Central since its launch in July 2016. He joined the Hotspots Media Group family as editor of Hotspots' South Florida magazine in June 2013. A former "40 Under 40" honoree in The Advocate magazine, Mike lives in the Tampa Bay area.