Lily Tomlin Never Thought She’d Live to Play a Lesbian on Screen

by Denny Directo and Stacy Lambe 11:50 AM PDT, August 20, 2015
Playing Lily Tomlin Never Thought She’d Live to Play a Lesbian on Screen

At 75 years old, Lily Tomlin is far from slowing down. In fact, she's actually breaking down barriers. 

With her Emmy-nominated performance in Grace and Frankie, the Netflix series about two women who bond after their husbands come out as gay, and her new film, Grandma, the actress is breaking down stereotypes about age and the LGBT community on screen.

In Grandma, a Sundance hit opening in theaters on Friday, Tomlin plays Elle Reid, who has recently lost her partner of 38 years. She is just learning how to fall in love again when her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns to her to get an abortion. Elle is no fixer. But as Tomlin puts it, “it’s just laid on her” and in the course of trying to help her granddaughter shape up, Elle’s forced to deal with her own hang-ups. 

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While the film is far from Grace and Frankie, in which Tomlin plays the wild spirit, Frankie, opposite Jane Fonda, she says both roles are complicated, sexual women. “You want that quality to be present in the culture, for people to acknowledge it,” she tells ETonline.

Grandma is also the first project to see Tomlin play a lesbian on screen since she publicly came out almost fifteen years ago. It’s also the latest film in a string of older LGBT storylines -- from her own Netflix series to Love Is Strange -- to hit the screen in the past five years. 

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While she acknowledges the pride in being able to play gay (“It’s fabulous!”), she admits she didn’t think it would happen. “I never thought that I would live to see it,” Tomlin says.

“I want the movie to be something I'm proud of,” she adds. When it comes to choosing these roles so late in her career, it’s not about legacy. It’s about what she can stand behind. “I want to be pleased with it.”

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