THE GIRLS ARE BACK IN TOWN! With combined ages of 335, who better to head up a big-screen comedy about late-life female camaraderie than Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Rita Moreno?
- Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Lily Tomlin and Rita Moreno have known each other for many decades and are coming together in a new film
- READ MORE: 80 For Brady first official trailer
Midway through an animated and wide-ranging chat with Jane Fonda (85), Lily Tomlin (83), Sally Field (76) and Rita Moreno (a vibrant 91) about their old girls’ buddy-movie 80 for Brady, Fonda offers YOU readers a relationship tip.
‘For anyone who is going through a painful breakup, let me give you a piece of advice my therapist gave me when I was with Ted Turner, who I adored but who I broke up with.’ Fonda, a two-time Oscar winner, says of the media mogul who was her third husband, from 1991 to 2001: ‘Put a rubber band around your wrist, and every time you feel like sticking a knife into the f***er, snap it hard. It snaps you out of it ‒ it works.’
‘Oh, I love that,’ says Puerto Rico-born Moreno, the performer who starred in West Side Story – both the original film and the remake, 60 years apart. She holds the coveted EGOT quartet of awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) and lost her husband of 45 years, Leonard Gordon, in 2010.
‘But then you get a lot of welts over your wrist, and they get infected, and you lose a hand…’ interjects Field, herself a winner of two Oscars and countless other accolades.
Silver sirens (from left): Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Rita Moreno. The group of friends speak to YOU magazine about the important of female friendship and their lives together
‘…and then you die,’ intones Tomlin, the much-garlanded comedian of the group, who cut her teeth on TV in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and began appearing off-Broadway in the 60s.
They all crack up. The exchange is testament not only to the long bonds of friendship that exist between the four stars, but also to their determination to confront old age with a defiant grin and a ferocious work ethic. Which brings us to 80 for Brady, in which four elderly women who have variously suffered bereavement, illness and disappointment decide to consummate their obsession with American footballer Tom Brady by attending the 2017 Super Bowl to see him play. Thankfully, the sport is pretty much incidental to the portrait of vibrant late-life female friendship. Kyle Marvin’s film also busts a few age-related taboos.
There’s an incident involving cannabisinfused gummy sweets, and the women perform a soft-shoe dance routine to access the stadium VIP area (pretending to be the backing troupe for the singer Gugu, played by Billy Porter). ‘I’m 91 but my knees are 100: they don’t want to dance any more,’ gripes Moreno. Tomlin’s character, Lou, beats a bunch of jocks in a football-throwing competition, and Moreno’s Maura fleeces some card sharps.
Rita Moreno plays Maura, Jane Fonda plays Trish, Lily Tomlin plays Lou and Sally Field plays Betty in “80 For Brady” (2023)
Her character, and Fonda’s – glamorous fan-fiction novelist Trish – begin new romances. Field’s Betty, an academic far smarter than her husband, causes hilarity by repeatedly referring to her bumbag as a ‘strap-on’. ‘Mentioning the word was all I got to do but that was enough,’ she says. During the publicity campaign for the US release, Moreno told chat-show host Jimmy Kimmel she got ‘turned on’ in a locker-room scene involving several half-naked young athletes.
‘It’s important to cover the full spectrum of living activities,’ says Tomlin. ‘It shows a different side of older women,’ adds Field. ‘These characters aren’t taking care of their kids or cooking the dinner or looking for a new husband. It’s about older women and friendship.’
Female friendships, Fonda is adamant, differ from those between men. ‘Men tend to look out at things, like cars and sports,’ she says. ‘Women when they are together look straight into each other’s eyes. We’re not afraid to ask each other for help. I think that’s why women live longer than men. Sometimes years will go by when I don’t see Sally – but when we do have dinner, we drill right down to a soul level, really intense right away.’
‘I usually cry immediately,’ says Field.
‘We also get drunk,’ says Fonda.
The four have known each other for many decades and joke that they were rivals before they were friends. ‘I wanted to do Sybil,’ says Tomlin of Field’s 1976 TV movie about a young woman with multiple personality disorder, which liberated Field from light-entertainment roles in Gidget and The Flying Nun. Field in turn ripostes that Tomlin almost bagged the role of the space sex siren in Barbarella, the film that Fonda made in 1968 with her first husband, director Roger Vadim. ‘I was this close to marrying Vadim, too,’ quips Tomlin. She has been in a relationship with writer Jane Wagner since 1971; they married in 2013. ‘But please call her my partner rather than my wife,’ she says. ‘That’s what I told [Barack] Obama.’
As part of a Hollywood dynasty, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Fonda is the ringleader of this vintage girl gang and was instrumental in them coalescing in the first place. As co-star of the 1980 workplace comedy 9 to 5 she ‘pursued Lily and also Dolly [Parton, who had not acted before] for about a year’ to be her co-stars: she also talked Tomlin out of quitting when she suffered a confidence crisis in the first week. From 2015 to 2020, Tomlin and Fonda starred in the Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie as two women whose husbands turn out to be gay lovers in late life.
Nine to Five (1980) starring Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead, Dolly Parton as Doralee Rhodes and Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly
The two of them met Moreno when she took over Tomlin’s role in the TV series of 9 to 5. Moreno made her first major screen appearance in Singin’ in the Rain in 1952, and became the first Hispanic actress to win an Oscar in 1962, for West Side Story, but then spent years battling for decent parts in the Wasp (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant)- dominated entertainment industry.
There are lots of odd synchronicities and intersections in their professional lives. Field was named as this year’s recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, which Moreno and Tomlin previously won. Moreno and Field have each played the part of matriarch Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie on stage. Tomlin and Moreno both did voiceovers for kids’ cartoon The Magic School Bus in the 90s. Field and Fonda studied separately with the great teacher of method acting Lee Strasberg in New York at the start of their careers.
Despite this and other connections, Field initially rebuffed Fonda’s friendly advances. ‘I started pursuing Sally like crazy in the 70s,’ says Fonda. ‘I wanted to know her better, I identified with her and I wanted to understand all of her.’ Field, who suffers ‘extreme social anxiety’, put Fonda off repeatedly but they both got producing deals at Fox and found themselves in neighbouring offices. ‘Jane literally banged down the door and said, “Time’s up, come on, we’re going for lunch”,’ Field recalls. ‘And she hasn’t let me go since.’
Siren call: Jane Fonda in the 1968 sci-fi romp Barbarella. It was rumoured that Lily Tomlin almost bagged this role
Field says Fonda ‘was the first one to teach me as a female that I could lose weight and stay in shape without dieting’, through her famous 80s exercise videos, and she also relies on Fonda as a political compass. The queenly Moreno is the only one of the four who wasn’t arrested for taking part in the weekly climate change protests Fonda organised in front of Washington’s Capitol building in 2019. ‘There’s still time,’ Fonda quips.
Not that Moreno has anything to prove, politically. She attended ‘Ban the Bomb’ protests in the early 60s and was sitting near Martin Luther King at the culmination of the 1963 March on Washington, when he delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. King had apparently planned to give a different address that day, but Moreno heard his friend, singer Mahalia Jackson, urge him to ‘tell them about the dream’ she’d previously heard him speak of, just as he stepped up to the microphone. ‘I get goosebumps when I think of it,’ Moreno says.
Fonda feels that climate change is the most pressing issue facing the world, and one where there is still a chance to make a difference. ‘If I – a white, famous, privileged woman – have no hope, what does it mean for people in El Salvador or Sri Lanka?’ she asks rhetorically. ‘But hope is a verb, it is something you have to practise. It’s very different to optimism, where you think things are going to work out but you don’t do anything about it. Hope requires action.’
‘That’s why she’s our leader,’ says Field.
All four suffered sexism and/or harassment throughout their careers, and the #MeToo revelations – about Harvey Weinstein and others – suggest things haven’t improved that much for women in Hollywood. ‘I had some bad experiences with the head of a studio who would not leave me alone,’ says Moreno. ‘I was scared to death of him, because I was young and I was helpless and I was terrified that I might succumb. Truly the only thing that gave me the strength – and I am not ashamed to bring it up and nobody should be put off by it – was that I was helped immensely by psychotherapy.’ She also mentions feeling betrayed by many people throughout her career. Field demands to know their names so she can ‘drive a car through their living rooms’.
Sally Field as Sybil, Joanne Woodward as Dr. Cornelia Wilbur starring in Sybil, the 1976 TV psychodrama
A benefit and a drawback of the ages they have all reached (they refer to Field as ‘our baby’) is that a lot of people who harmed or hindered them have died; but so, too, have a lot of their friends. ‘I sometimes think, “What exactly did happen on that occasion back in 1945?” and there’s no one to ask,’ says Fonda. She regrets not being able to run or ski any more; of the four, she’s had the most joints replaced – a hip, a knee and a shoulder – but says that ‘everything else’ about getting older is better: ‘I don’t mind if I’m snatched away.’
‘You can’t leave us,’ protests Tomlin. ‘Sally and I would be like, “What do we do now?”’
‘I’d have nobody to get me out of the house,’ says Field. ‘Rita will have to do it.’
‘Nah, she’s dancing close to the swirling drain too,’ cackles Tomlin.
Moreno Rita West Side Story – 1961. Moreno played the feisty character Anita in the popular musical
‘I think a lot about dying,’ Moreno adds cheerfully, ‘and I have told my daughter and my two grandchildren, “If there is something you need to tell me, this is the time to do it.” I don’t know when I’m gonna go. Could be next year. I’m 91, for Pete’s sake. And I might not die of old age. I could get hit by a bus.’
I ask what each of them is proudest of. Tomlin mentions the one-woman show written by her partner Jane – The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe – which she performed on Broadway in 1985, and which people still talk about. ‘I’m proud that I have improved as a human being,’ says Fonda, ‘and I’m proud to have lasted this long. I never, ever thought I would.’ Field rejects the idea of looking back: ‘To have a long-term career you have to constantly reinvent yourself and challenge yourself to reach the next step, whatever it is.’
Like Moreno, she says she is proudest of her children and grandchildren: she has one son from her first marriage, to Steven Craig and two from her second, to Alan Greisman, both of which ended in divorce. ‘As a single parent almost the entire time, [I’m proud all three boys] are upright and productive, and men that are great fathers. Well, two are: one is wonderfully gay, but maybe someday.’
She has five grandchildren, Fonda three, Moreno two. Tomlin grumbles that she feels left out as she has none. ‘You can have one of mine,’ says Field.
‘I’ll take the eight-year-old,’ Tomlin says.
‘That’s Paul,’ says Field. ‘He and I play games together. But we can share him. Do you like Nintendo?’
‘No, but I can learn,’ says Tomlin. ‘Is it like checkers?’
They descend again into a welter of banter. Field returns to Moreno’s feelings, telling her, ‘We’re gonna dig in on this as soon as this fella leaves,’ hoiking a thumb in my direction. Sensing my time is short, I ask what advice they’d give to young actors starting out.
‘Don’t!’ says Fonda, before advocating the benefits of training and hard work. Moreno cautions against expecting to be a star in order to get ‘sneakers and fast cars’. Tomlin fixes me with a beady eye and says: ‘Save part of your money, even if it’s only a dollar. And wear sunscreen.’ They all crack up again.
- 80 for Brady will be in cinemas from Friday
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