It was more than 40 years ago that Lily Tomlin came to fame as a cast member of TV’s Laugh-In where the world was introduced to such characters as condescending telephone operator Ernestine and a precocious five-and-a-half year old named Edith Ann.
In the new ABC sitcom Malibu Country, the legendary performer unveils a new character to audiences: an outspoken Southern woman named Lillie Mae whose daughter is played by Reba McEntire.
‘I’ve played everybody’s mother: Tina Fey and Reba and Lisa Kudrow,’ Tomlin tells Gay Star News. ‘I don’t mind. Reba is just adorable. She is what you see.’
Tomlin, who has been with partner Jane Wagner since 1971, says she would never allow Lillie Mae to be an anti-gay bigot.
‘I think she would have to be more of a voice of reason and more of a voice of embracing and inclusion,’ she says. ‘She wouldn’t be a fearful voice. I think she’d be glorious in that respect.’
But would Lillie Mae eat at Chick-fil-A?
‘I think she’s had enough of that,’ Tomlin says after letting out a big laugh.
Tomlin, 72, has remained one of the hardest working women in showbiz for so many years because she is a versatile talent who is in demand in movies (Nashville, All of Me, Nine to Five, A Prairie Home Companion) and on television (Damages, The West Wing, Murphy Brown, Desperate Housewives).
She has also teamed with Wagner, an acclaimed writer, for the Tony Award winning Broadway show The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe and won Emmys for her various comedy television specials.
‘I do other stuff too like concerts all the time,’ she tells GSN.
During last month’s TV Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Tomlin joked to reporters that Malibu Country would ‘probably will be my last project before I go to the motion picture home.’
On the show, McEntire plays a woman who put her singing career on hold as her husband became a country music legend. When he’s involved in a cheating scandal, she packs up their two kids and her mother Lillie Mae and they start over in Malibu.
She was able to name her character, Lillie Mae, after her own mother and already feels a natural affinity for the part which she describes as an ‘audacious, outrageous older woman who just had a lot of spirit.’
‘Reba’s character is still kind of shut down and traditional and conservative and Lillie Mae is going to be anything but that,’ says Tomlin. ‘I’m even hoping she’ll be a bad influence on the kids.’
She’s happy to be working with McEntire who previously starred in the sitcom, Reba, for five years.
‘I was very taken with Reba anyway for a long time,’ says Tomlin. ‘My brother lives in Nashville, so I’d run into Reba. In the old days I’d run into her every now and then, and she was always so upbeat and expansive. And then I saw her do Annie in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway, and that was just a mind-blower because she was, like, beyond brilliant. And I went backstage and slobbered all over her and everything.’