Jane Fonda has taken peyote. The 77-year-old actress, activist and fitness guru isn't being shy about the practical experience she's brought to "Grace and Frankie," the Netflix series she stars in alongside Lily Tomlin. "Among other things," she says matter-of-factly. "It makes me throw up, just like the show says. It's good to mix it with mushrooms."
Doing hallucinogens is one thing, but doing television? That's not something Fonda could've fathomed until a few years ago, when she signed on for Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" on HBO. "When I started in movies in the late '50s, early '60s, you never would do television. People who did television never made movies, and if you possibly could make movies you never would do television," Fonda says. "It wasn't until about seven or eight years ago that I realized I really wanted to do television and I wanted to give a cultural face to an older woman. So when this came along, it was a dream come true."
It was also a chance to work with "Nine to Five" co-star and longtime pal Tomlin again, something that, at least according to Tomlin, has always been a priority. "I'd always tell my agent, or my partner and I might be trying to develop something that has to do with older people," Tomlin says. "When my agent called me and told me, 'Are you really trying to do something with Jane?' I said, 'Yeah, sure. I'd like to.' And then he brought ['Friends' co-creator] Marta [Kauffman] to us and she gave us the notion of her idea, and after that we jumped in with both feet."
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That idea, by the way, is a doozy. Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) are two very different women who've maintained a tenuous friendship because their husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) are law partners. But when the husbands announce that they're both gay and are running off together, Grace and Frankie are left with each other to help pick up the pieces.
So how do two women go decades with the same men no realizing something is amiss? Tomlin explains, "Like I say in that speech on the beach, 'I suspected things, I thought something was up, but …" And then Fonda interrupts her: "When he asked you to use the dildo? It's called denial."
A big selling point for both stars, aside from getting to work together again, was the image the series projects of women of a certain age. "We both get enough scripts to know that when you're an older woman you tend to be the butt of a joke," Fonda says.
Tomlin elaborates: "I always resented that. I didn't like that. If a woman didn't have autonomy, if she was somebody's grandmother and they made her into a doddering little old lady who just put up with stuff and kind of was vague, that just rubs me the wrong way — unless a very artful hand was on that depiction, and then I might have to look at it another way or something. But that usually doesn't happen."
But back to the peyote. Tomlin, for one, wants to assure everyone that while she and Fonda may have personal experience to draw on, they're no Method actresses. "We had to kind of project into that experience," she says of the drugged-out beach scene in the first episode. "No matter how much experience we've had, it's not like we actually are eating peyote at that moment."
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick