How do we introduce an interview with Lily Tomlin? What could we possibly say here that would convey how amazing it was to talk to this legend of the entertainment industry? She is one of the most accomplished and highly respected veterans of the stage and screen and she achieved greatness during a time when it wasn’t easy for women, let alone gay women, to do so in Hollywood. Countless actors and comedians list Tomlin among their influences. Here, on this lesbian media site, many of the performers that we have featured have referenced their admiration for her and what she did to pave the way for them to pursue their dreams. We were honored to speak with Lily Tomlin. We enjoyed learning more about her current work and tour dates, her life with partner Jane Wagner, and her thoughts on being out in her career. She’s an icon, she’s one of the funniest and most talented women alive, and here she became the most significant and memorable interviewee to-date for this nearly 2-year-old website.
Cherry Grrl (CG): Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.
Lily Tomlin (LT): Oh my pleasure. Thank you for the interest.
CG: I know you are really busy these days with your tour dates and filming schedule. How has the current tour been going?
LT: Well it’s not like I do a definite tour, I go on the road continuously as other projects allow. Generally I do somewhere between 30 and 50 dates a year, depending on what else I’m doing.
LT: Oh yes. I’ve known her for years. She is so delightful and so funny and smart. I really love her. We were actually doing a gala for Fenway Health and Susan Love was there so we put together this benefit.
CG: Yes, so this upcoming show benefits breast cancer and women’s health research. Are there any other causes that you are involved with or feel strongly about right now?
LT: Well I do lots of gay events for gay issues and women’s events and issues. I’m also a pretty big animal rights person.
CG: That’s so great. Now, this show is in New York, and I know you started your comedy career in New York. How do you feel about NYC audiences? Are they different from those in other cities?
LT: Well of course I love New York audiences, but they aren’t radically different from any other community. I mean, you are just going to find more of them in New York (laughs). The proportion in the population of a certain kind of very enthusiastic, hip, sharp audience… you probably find more of in a great urban city like New York.
CG: So you have been balancing these tour dates with filming Damages. Have you been living on both coasts, going back and forth?
LT: Well I just finished Damages. I was going back and forth quite a bit but we’re done with Damages now – there are 2 more episodes to air.
CG: That show is so great.
LT: I know; I love it. I’ve been a fan since the first season.
CG: Is that was brought you to the role?
LT: Yes. I was fanatical for the show and a couple of years ago, during the first season, I ran into one of the creators and I told him how much I loved the show. And I don’t know whether that had a factor or not, but they called me this year and gave me this part. It was great.
CG: Clearly you are an icon for women in entertainment, both gay and straight. A lot of the women we feature here on Cherry Grrl list you as an influence. How does that make you feel when you hear up-and-comers talk about being influenced to go into the field because of you and your work?
LT: It makes you feel… good. I feel bolstered by it – the fact that they were taken by me or influenced by me enough to be inspired to pursue the same kind of thing. It’s better than saying they don’t like you (laughs). But no, that’s great… I’m gratified.