Actress Lily Tomlin’s incredible amount of stage, television and film roles are as eclectic as her latest creation, a sassy senior citizen in the new film, Grandma. She is shocked most of all to be called grandma in the movie but according to her it comes with the territory.
Grandma reunites Tomlin with director Paul Weitz, best known for co-directing About A Boy and the American Pie franchise. The duo met on his last film Admission and to hear him tell it, there was something so magical about Lily that he had to work with her again. The resulting film won Tomlin accolades at this year’s Sundance film festival and she couldn’t be happier.
The film takes place over the course of a single day and finds the titular grandma in the middle of a family crisis, namely where to find enough money to help her granddaughter abort an unwanted baby. The resulting drama involves family skeletons, politics and of course, sex. Tomlin and director Weitz recently visited San Francisco to discuss their film with us. This is a transcription of that conversation.
Q: You must be exhausted after a long day of interviews.
Lily Tomlin: I’ve had my moments but I’m OK.
Q: How do you keep things fresh after a long day of interviews?
Tomlin: By being authentic. We just talk out of the moment. (laughs)
Paul Weitz: For me, it’s not that I get tired of doing interviews but I’m just worried after a while I’m not going to make any sense. (laughs)
Q: Did you edit the film in any way since its premiere at Sundance?
Weitz: Luckily my audience for this film was Lily Tomlin. She knew more about this character than I did so I always wanted to stay true to her. Sony Pictures Classics saw and bought this movie at Sundance and this is the movie they wanted to release.
Tomlin: I didn’t see it as my voice but I liked the script immensely.
Q: Did it feel weird for you to be playing an unconventional version of a grandma. Your character smokes, has tattoos and leads a very active sex life.
Tomlin: And a very good sex life. (laughs) No, I thought it was a good point of irony being called grandma in this film.
Q: I really like Sam Elliott in this movie. How easy or difficult was it to find someone to go toe-to-toe with Lily?
Tomlin: Sam’s so great in the movie. And Paul’s casting sense is so great where he can get these people to show up with a phone call.
Weitz: Sam’s a really great actor in the sense that he’s very comfortable supporting strong female performances.
Q: The family dynamic between you, Julia Garner and Marcia Gay Harden is very genuine in the film. Did you rehearse at all before shooting?
Tomlin: No, we didn’t practice anything. It was just magical.
Weitz: For me, I always like to get to a point where I prep the film enough and cast it well enough so that the actors can just take over. I might give them a thought here and there or a nudge but in reality they own it.
Q: Paul, do you and your brother Chris show each other your films for constructive criticism?
Weitz: Yeah, not on the script level but once we have a cut of our films we do. He’s very helpful in terms of modulating things and rejecting my baser instincts in terms of humor.
Q: Well, you’ve both worked with vampires…
Weitz: Yeah, he more successfully than I (Chris Weitz on Twilight: New Moon and Paul on Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant).
Q: The Cirque Du Freak shoot was definitely an interesting one. What was that working experience like for you?
Weitz: Well, it was lengthy, I’m not sure how interesting it was for Universal since I lost a lot of their money but I also made them a lot of money with the American Pie franchise (laughs). With Cirque I was intending on making a visual representation of German expressionist filmmaking. Not shockingly, it was not the Twilight of its day. Universal saw my cut and were really nice to me because they could’ve sent assassins to my house for all the bad reviews and lost money.
Q: Did they save the assassins for Little Fockers?
Weitz: Yes! (laughs)
Grandma is now playing in limited release.