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NUNN ON ONE Lily Tomlin: On performing and Meryl Streep
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2012-02-22

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For decades Lily Tomlin has kept audiences rolling in the aisles. From Laugh-in on television to movies with Meryl Streep such as a Prairie Home Companion, this multi-talented performer always brings her characters to life.

Her roles on such shows as Damages and NCIS have continued to entertain a whole new generation of TV watchers.

Tomlin packs up her characters and heads to Skokie for two shows and we caught up to her to see what's spinning in her universe.

Windy City Times: Hi, Lily. So how are you?

Lily Tomlin: Good, good.

WCT: I'm excited to see you back in town.

Lily Tomlin: The last time I was there was for the benefit for Center on Halsted. Is Skokie that close to Chicago?

WCT: Not too far, just north of the city. I thought I would bring you some Garrett's popcorn, something very Chicago.

Lily Tomlin: [ Laughs ] That's a good idea. But what if it spills in your lap during the show?

WCT: If I jump up from excitement then it definitely would.

Lily Tomlin: You might leap out of your seat and it would spill out. I would have fun with that from the stage with popcorn flying through the air! No, just bring yourself.

WCT: You have two shows and run around a lot onstage. I don't know how you do it.

Lily Tomlin: I usually do a few dates and try to concentrate them. I will go out, do a few dates in one place, then come home. I didn't go out any of December, half of January, any of summer. I fit it around other stuff. I like to do certain pockets of it. It keeps my hand in. I love to work on the stage most of all.

WCT: I have seen you in action a few times!

Lily Tomlin: [ Laughs ] I like the immediacy of it. My partner Jane always says, "You probably like to perform because it is the only part of the day that you are in the present."

WCT: I was wondering how she handles you always having to leave town.

Lily Tomlin: She has nothing to handle, really. She just says, "Goodbye, I will see you soon!"

WCT: Will you be performing some of your characters for us?

Lily Tomlin: Oh yeah, sure. I always do 10 or 12 characters. Then I will talk about Skokie and spaceship Earth.

WCT: Are there any politics this time?

Lily Tomlin: I always do socially topical stuff. Unless I change something, Ernestine will still be working at the Healthcare Insurance Corp denying health care. That is still timely. Something has got to change so humans don't have to worry about getting sick.

WCT: Very true. I went to Canada recently and it is a different story there. So, how do you feel about Meryl winning this Oscar?

Lily Tomlin: I imagine she will, although people have started taking her for granted, she is so out of sight. She ought to win. She has had [ 17 ] nominations with only two wins. One of those was for supporting actress on an early film, Kramer vs. Kramer. [ Editor's note: The other Oscar was for Best Actress for Sophie's Choice. ] She is Miss Divine. Bette has to move over so she can take it. The Divine Miss S!

WCT: I love it.

Lily Tomlin: I read her notices and critics are having a hard time finding a word to describe her. In [ The Devil Wears ] Prada, they couldn't come up with enough superlatives for her. I can't even think of a word. Any work you say sounds like a cliché. She's phenomenal, astounding, and dazzling. Also, Roy, her makeup artist, who has been with her for years did the makeup in Iron Lady and I think it is profound. It was impeccable. Have you seen any aging makeup that good?

WCT: It has gotten better over the years, in general.

Lily Tomlin: When you go to a Writers Guild screening here in Hollywood where people are aging everybody starts hooting and laughing. It is so hard on film to do good aging. Her makeup was incredible in her last stage. Meryl is unbelievable.

WCT: Joan Rivers wanted me to give you her best.

Lily Tomlin: Aw, did she? Joanie and I really go way back, even to the mid-to-late '60s.

WCT: She said even before you were both famous.

Lily Tomlin: Yes, she got famous way earlier than I did. She was such a sensation on Carson and everything. I was in a review where I played upstairs and she would perform downstairs, this is in New York, I would stand in the stairwell and just listen to her. She was just audacious, outrageous and misbehaves.

WCT: She does! [ Laughs ]

Lily Tomlin: Jerry, when I am lucky enough to get a little riff going with her, she has me laughing. She tickles me. I know her heart and we had a lot of time together in our past. She touches me always.

WCT: You get a shout-out in her reality show.

Lily Tomlin: I just heard about that and I wrote her after. Melissa said, "Oh, is she back?" [ Both laugh. ]

WCT: Would you ever want to do a reality show?

Lily Tomlin: I will tell you about 15 years ago for CBS I developed a show that was basically a reality show. I was going to build the set like my house. Everyone was going to wear a spy camera in the show except me, including the animals and everything. Anything that got shot at home could cut into the show. If a critic insulted me, then I called the critic and confronted them. I never could get it done. I think it would have been terrific with all of my characters appearing in mirrors behind me. Ernestine was always berating me and telling me what was wrong with me.

WCT: Sounds funny. What are you working on for the rest of this year?

Lily Tomlin: We are still going around with Web Therapy. Do you ever watch that?

WCT: I have.

Lily Tomlin: Showtime picked it up last year and did 10 episodes. They filmed some extra footage after that deal to fill out the story. They shot with me, and Victor Garber, who is really off the wall. We have begun the second season. It has to go to the web first then Showtime because of the guilds and Internet. They sometimes don't know what to do with these different venues. I don't when they will ever figure it out. I have had great fun doing that show.

WCT: I like the humor in it.

Lily Tomlin: Also, we have developed some Edith Ann games that will be coming out soon. They are for children but grownups will like them too because they are skill tested. I love it because I adore Edith.

WCT: How do you like for people to keep up with you?

Lily Tomlin: I have had my website for about 15 years at www.lilytomlin.com . It is real kitschy and weird. I made it for hardcore fans. I have a new website coming out and the old one will just be an icon on it.

If you love Lily, run to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, on Saturday, Feb. 25, with performances at 5 and 8 p.m. Visit www.northshorecenter.org for tickets and details.


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