EXCLUSIVE: One of the hottest acquisition titles at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival which starts in earnest tonight happens to star a couple of certifiable show business legends, both now in their 80’s, both working all the time – much of it together lately – and both proving age is just a number.
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin wrapped their Netflix comedy series Grace And Frankie after seven seasons, longest ever for any series in the streamer’s history, and within a week were back before the cameras shooting the indie film appropriately titled Moving On since this pair do just that, even in an industry that doesn’t exactly celebrate seniors as a rule. They are working all the time it seems.
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I should note I did this zoom interview last week, right before Fonda would announce via her Instagram that she has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and is undergoing a six month program of Chemotherapy. She noted that fortunately it was caught and treatable, and patients in her situation have an 80% survival rate. That said, she looked and sounded absolutely great, full of the enthusiasm and vital energy she has always had. It doesn’t seem to have slowed her down.
The interview was set up because Fonda won’t be able to attend the September 13th premiere of the film at TIFF , but Tomlin and director/writer Paul Weitz will be there. This is the second collaboration for the latter pair after first doing 2015’s Grandma, the much acclaimed road trip comedy in which Tomlin’s character accompanies her granddaughter on a mission to obtain an abortion ( I suggested that with the Supreme Court knocking out Roe v Wade NOW would be a great time to re-release Grandma and Tomlin agreed). I asked how this project came together and Tomlin said she simply asked him if he might write a script that she and Jane could do together.
“Anyway, I called him and sure enough three months later he sent me a draft. He said ‘I’ve got an idea’ and he told us the idea and it was about like maybe Jane killed somebody or something. So, I said ‘well, okay, good. Sounds interesting’”, Tomlin laughed.
Indeed that is the premise. Fonda’s Claire and Tomlin’s Evie were in college together some 50 years earlier with another woman, Claire’s good friend and roommate who has now passed away. They meet up again at her funeral, but Fonda’s character has also come with a mission of revenge against her former roommate’s husband, a real creep played by Malcolm McDowell , in order to kill him for the sexual trauma he caused her during a drunken evening Claire could never bring herself to tell her friend. It has haunted her ever since, but now that she is dead, enlists Tomlin’s character to help her pull it off.
Fonda feels it is urgent to deal with issues like this, even in comedy.”It is important (to have it in there showing) how sexual trauma lasts a lifetime. I think that’s an important thing. 46 years later she is still prepared to kill this guy.”
Although it is serious stuff, much of the film is played as comedy, albeit often a dark one, but it provides two juicy roles for the stars, and even a reignited romance for Claire decades after she broke it off with a former boyfriend played by none other than Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree who Fonda said she greatly enjoyed working with. So what excited Fonda about playing the role?
“I spent a lot of time with Lily both in LA and in Sundance when Grandma came out, and I loved Grandma. I loved the sensibility of Grandma and I love Paul’s work. By the way, his mother is Susan Kohner who went to elementary school with me,” she said of the actress who was Oscar nominated for 1959’s classic, Imitation Of Life. “Anyway, it was the idea of working with Paul and working with Lily in a part that was so totally different. I love the fact that there’s not a whiff of Grace and Frankie in here. I think we really succeeded in that. You know, it’s the kind of part people haven’t seen me in for a while, so I was so happy about it.”
Fonda is very happy about the result. “it’s a really good movie and it’s relatively short (85 minutes), and it goes by fast, and it’s got a lot of unexpected things that keep people hooked in I think,” she said and of course it also has Tomlin, so Fonda explained why they have such great chemistry after 40 years when they first worked together in 1980’s 9 To 5.
“Well, I’m a kind of a stable, easy going kind of mediocre talented person, and so, it’s very easy for me to accommodate a fucking-out-of-her-mind, one-of-a- kind cosmic genius. She’s really difficult. She’s temperamental. She’s hard to get along with. So, I’m just a perfect partner for her because I’m so easy going,” she laughed to which Tomlin slyly replied that she could have done Fonda’s role in Book Club. Fonda then suggested that she even could have done her role in Grace And Frankie, that they could have switched parts.
“Let’s do it all over again,” Tomlin suggested.
That begged the obvious question, is it really a total wrap for the show or might there be a Grace And Frankie movie someday, a reunion?
“I don’t know but you’re right, it is sad. I’ve just come back from two and a half months in Italy and so many people came up to me expressing sadness that it’s over. It is sad and who knows what Netflix is going to do about a movie with Grace and Frankie,” Fonda said.
The reason she was actually in Italy this summer was to shoot the sequel to the aforementioned 2018 Book Club which was a big hit, bringing out the often ignored older audiences in the pre-pandemic days. She is predicting this followup reuniting her with the cast of Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen will be just as big.
On top of that, and Moving On, there is another movie in the can 80 For Brady which also features Fonda and Tomlin, this time with Sally Field and Rita Moreno as a group of rabid older female fans of Tom Brady who go on the road to meet him.
“Well, you know, both Book Club 2 and 80 For Brady were made by Endeavor Content who are really making a very intentional effort to do stories about older women,” said Fonda, “That’s smart because as Lily says, it’s a big demographic…Older women are the fastest growing demographic in the world.”
Okay, so what about another sequel to 9 To 5? It has been rumored for years, but nothing has come to fruition. However the documentary tied to the film, Still Working 9 To 5 that premiered at SXSW this year opens in a limited theatrical run next week, and both Fonda and Tomlin participated. But could there be another film? Fonda says it is tough.
“A sequel? We haven’t been able to get a script. One of the reasons besides it was so funny and entertaining, the first one dealt with what was real in the workplace of that time. So, to work, a sequel would have to be real to today’s workplace, which is very, very, very different and we haven’t been able to find a writer who can get that,” she said.
Lily actually reveals in that docu that she tried to quit the film and had real second doubts about doing it. “ It’s true. I could only do 9 To 5 because I convinced myself that we were office workers that were hired to do this industrial film about office workers. That’s the only reason I could do it,” Tomlin confirms.
Fonda says she is used to it from her co-star. “It’s always like that with her. Fortunately, when you’ve done a seven year stint with her plus three feature films, you understand that, okay, that’s how she deals. That’s her process. She did the same thing with Moving On. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do this. I think I can’t do this’.”
Fortunately for us Lily Tomlin winds up “doing” it every time, and knocking it out of the park, as does Jane Fonda.
United Talent Agency is handling international sales for Moving On which has its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13.
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