Lily Tomlin, at 70, shows no signs of slowing down. In the 40 years since she became a household name on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Tomlin has appeared in rite-of-passage films such as Nine to Five and Big Business, won a Tony Award for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (written by longtime partner Jane Wagner), and returned to television as a regular on Murphy Brown, The West Wing, and Desperate Housewives, and early next year on Damages. Now Tomlin and Wagner are plotting to conquer Las Vegas (her show Not Playing With a Full Deck has a limited engagement November 10-18 at the MGM Grand), which, for edge-straddlers like these two, may be the final frontier.
Advocate.com: Why Vegas? Why now?
Lily Tomlin: Why not? Actually, it’s a fair question. I did make relentless fun of it years ago on a TV special (Lily: Sold Out, in which she satirically transformed herself into a version of Ann-Margret to make Vegas audiences accept her). I’d like to say I came to my senses at last, but in fact I started working with George Carlin’s manager, Jerry Hamza, and he convinced me. You know, George played there for years. And they only made him change hotels twice. [Laughs]
Will this be an all-new Vegas experience for the audience?
Somewhat new. We’re calling the show Not Playing With a Full Deck. And there are some new video elements in it and some new material altogether, actually, which I am begging Jane to write. It’s at the point now where begging is the only way. But there will be a lot of the classic stuff people love.
It will be strange seeing your name on that marquee.
I know, but everyone goes now. Back when I did the TV show, only a certain kind of performer worked in Las Vegas, and that was the joke, I was not that kind of performer. Now everybody shows up. You couldn’t do that joke anymore.
Will there be French-Canadian circus people?
Not yet. But never say never. I was toying with having Tommy Velour (her macho pig lounge singer alter ego) open for me, but there wasn’t time to get it together.
I didn’t notice fireworks on your 70th.
It rained. It happened very quietly. I’ve been celebrating with naps. There’s been a lot of travel lately. I’ve been back and forth to New York shooting the new season of Damages. I have been mad for that show since it went on.
Are you good or bad?
That’s what I love about the show. Who can tell? I mean, the entire show is a gray area. Everybody is capable of everything.
So age isn’t something you dwell on?
It’s something my trainer dwells on. I try to keep myself in shape, and I schedule these hours, but I can get through about half an hour now and then I throw my arms up, which is not part of the training. And the trainer, well, you know how they are. They shame you.
And you keep working.
Interesting things keep coming along. And I have this storehouse of characters I can always bring out. Every day now is a negotiation with Jane to get her to write me another Broadway show. Once you’ve done one of those things it’s difficult to do a play where you’re just one character. And I love getting up onstage.
Read our full interview with Tomlin in our December/January issue.