We love Lily Tomlin. Buddy comedy Grace and Frankie, co-starring Jane Fonda, is a hit on Netflix, and the new Paul Weitz dramedy Grandma is earning Oscar buzz for Tomlin’s portrayal of what the Hollywood Reporter labels an “ill-tempered lesbian.”
That got us thinking about other Lily Tomlin looks, and how in her best work they’re like elaborate masks. Tomlin doesn’t move her face a lot, like a rubbery Lucille Ball, or Tomlin’s Laugh-In co-star Goldie Hawn. All the action is in the eyes and around the mouth and at micro-scale, and it draws you in like a shared confidence. The look gets your attention for another, more intimate performance.
Here are “Ill-Tempered Lesbian” and 12 more fabulous looks by Lily Tomlin. Grandma opens Friday.
1. 70’s Feminist Icon
Laugh-In made Lily Tomlin a star with characters like Ernestine the operator and that baby in the giant chair, but her other role on the variety show, as “herself,” was Feminist Icon: modern, independent, free-thinking and free-loving.
2. The Tasteful Lady
One of Tomlin’s Laugh-In looks. The Tasteful Lady dispensed advice on gracious living in a pillbox hat, here with a swinging and late-career Rita Hayworth.
3. Cheating Housewife
Tomlin blew up with an Oscar nom for Robert Altman’s Nashville in 1976, as a mother of two deaf kids who’s making it with Keith Carradine. This look is perfect for the phone.
4. Track-Suit Nonconformist
In neo-noir The Late Show, Tomlin plays a quirky nonconformist on the fringes of Hollywood who smokes weed and hires Art Carney to find her cat. She’s outspoken: “This car is not only a toilet, but you are the attendant.”
5. Working Girl
Tomlin’s corporate drag for 9 to 5 is one of the iconic examples of the popular 80’s look, see Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver. As well, Violet smokes weeds on her journey.
6. One Woman Show
In 1986, Tomlin debuted on Broadway in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by her now-wife Jane Wagner, and featuring Tomlin in many voices. They all come together in this self-possessed look.
For Robert Altman’s arthouse-Earthquake, Shortcuts, in 1993, Tomlin pulls her hair back for a waitress-life look, and runs over a kid with her car.
8. Pot-Smoking Mom
Tomlin plays Mary Schlichting of the great name, and Ben Stiller’s real mother, in David O. Russell’s Flirting With Disaster. You have a feeling this look may be how she hangs with Jane.
9. Ice Queen
In David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees, Tomlin plays existential detective Vivian with a severe look, or she’s just tired of fighting.
10. Orange Jumpsuit
Tomlin’s contribution to the current women-in-prison look craze comes via Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy as her spiraling mom.
11. 70’s Feminist Icon Today
Looks kill when Tomlin plays an ardent feminist and Tina Fey’s mother, in that order, in Paul Weitz’s Admission.
12. Hippie Art Teacher
Tomlin adds grey and resignation to her look for Odd Couple comedy Grace and Frankie with Jane Fonda. Good with her hands.