Before there was Amy Schumer, Jenny Slate, or Lena Dunham, there was Lily Tomlin: the original badass comedian on the front line of feminism.
Lily stared alongside Dolly Parton in ‘9 to 5’, in Robert Altman’s ‘Nashville’, with Bette Midler in ‘Big Business’ and in all of my favourite TV shows – from the ‘West Wing’ to ‘Will & Grace’.
In short: she is one of my great on-screen heroes.
This week she returns to the big screen in indie-hit comedy Grandma – a story about, you guessed it, a grandmother who helps her granddaughter find enough money to have an abortion.
‘She’s a badass so the title of the movie being Grandma is meaningful because it’s not what people will expect,’ she tells me about her character Elle (above), when we talk in a suite at The Soho Hotel a few weeks before the film’s release.
The film treats the subjects of gay love, motherhood, and abortion as a matter of course. It doesn’t make them the issue. Making it not only a tender love story, but also a smart take on womanhood. Everyone should see it.
Here we talk about how to have fun, what love actually feels like, and what Lily was doing at midnight last night.
ELLE: If you could describe yourself in a word, which would you choose?
LILY: Probably lucky. I want to qualify that word but I won’t because it’ll take up too many words! Somewhat lucky, or lucky in some ways. Lucky-ish.
ELLE: What was your earliest memory?
LILY: I was very aware of my mother having gone to the hospital to have my brother. I was about three. I had to stay with my aunt and uncle, who I just hated. He was my father’s brother and he was very mean. I stepped into a wastebasket by a desk in their living room one day and I remember he strapped my legs to the razor strap. He was a mean bastard. I remember when I saw my mum when she came from hospital; she seemed so much taller than when she had left. And she’d brought this baby boy that had a head of hair and a tooth. I ran outside and I was so excited to tell people that I had a baby brother.
ELLE: Which book is on your bedside table?
LILY: Gloria Steinem’s book ‘My Life On The Road’. Patti Smith’s ‘M Train’ is also on there.
ELLE: What song puts you in a good mood?
LILY: One of my favourites is [sings] ‘You Try To Make Me Go To Rehab; I Said No, No, No!’
ELLE: Who was the last person you phoned?
LILY: Today that was Jane [Lily’s partner Jane Wagner]. It’s hard to catch her at the right time. She calls me back and it’ll be like 12.30am, but I can’t sleep so it’s okay.
ELLE: What is the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
LILY: Some vintage Mexican jewellery. That was kind of expensive, but it’s not gaudy diamonds or anything like that.
ELLE: What would your last meal?
LILY: Oh god! I wish my mum was here. She could cook it. She was very much a homemaker and she collected recipes. She made a lemon icebox pudding, which was loaded with heavy whipping cream. You couldn’t get the coating out of your system for months.
ELLE: At midnight last night, where were you?
LILY: I got to bed at 11.30pm so by 12am I was asleep, but I woke up at 3am again.
ELLE: Do you use social media?
LILY: A little bit. I’m not a big fan. It uses a lot of energy.
ELLE: Is there a trait in yourself that you’d like to get rid of?
LILY: I have a bad temper. I can be irascible. If I don’t like the way things are going I can blow up a little bit. If someone’s not doing his or her job great, I might get fed up with that.
ELLE: How do you have fun?
LILY: I don’t have fun. No fun. I’d have to quit work to really have fun.
ELLE: What’s the most treasured item you own?
LILY: I don’t think I have any treasured items like that. I might have something from my relationship with Jane. An old button that we had made on the street in New York outside Nathan’s hotdogs that’s about 45 years old.
ELLE: Can you describe how love feels?
LILY: When you’re really in love and you’re expressing it or you have it, it feels terribly thrilling. Like you’re on top of the world.
ELLE: Do you have any hidden talents we don’t know about?
LILY: Oh my goodness! I don’t think they’re hidden. I’ve had to search them out and exploit them.
ELLE: Complete this sentence: I would never…
LILY: The first thing that came to mine is: I would never betray myself. But I don’t know if that’s really true. It seems a bit grandiose.
ELLE: What film could you watch on repeat?
LILY: I could be self-serving here and say Grandma. I think it’s an important movie.