Lily Tomlin Tried to Quit 9 to 5 After the First Week of Filming: 'I Didn't Want to Do a Cheap Comedy'
It's hard to imagine the groundbreaking 1980 comedy 9 to 5 starring anyone besides Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton — but that was almost the case
During a visit to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Monday, Grace and Frankie stars Fonda and Tomlin spilled secrets behind the iconic film — including how Tomlin tried to quit the film after its first week of shooting.
Fonda, who co-produced the film, said she spent a year trying to get Tomlin and Parton to sign-on to the project.
“We started off a very dark comedy,” the 79-year-old actress said. “And then one night I went to see Lily in her one woman show, Appearing Nightly. And what can I say — I was smitten. I said, ‘I don’t want to make a movie about secretaries unless she’s in it.’ ”
“And then on the way home I turned off the radio and Dolly Parton was singing ‘Two Doors Down’ and I thought, ‘Oh my, imagine if Dolly Parton played a secretary!’ I mean, you couldn’t see her hands,” she continued. “And I said, ‘In order to get them, I got to turn it into a real comedy.’ ”
Tomlin, 77, was reluctant though. “I didn’t want to do a cheap comedy,” she said. “I was looking for something more serious. And then I had to persuade her that I wasn’t the right person for her.”
A week after shooting, Tomlin wanted out. “She asked my producing partner to let her go and she’d give the week’s money back,” Fonda revealed.
Apparently, watching the unedited footage shot during the day (known as “dailies”) had Tomlin second-guessing herself — especially scenes in which she was acting with a would-be animated bird.
“I’m not neurotic — I saw myself on screen in the dailies and I was talking to the birds that weren’t there and I was not doing a good job. And I thought, ‘Oh I’m going to be horrible in this.’ It was only my third movie!”
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So what changed? “I saw the next day’s dailies and I was so good!” Tomlin joked. “I was so glad… so I begged her to let me be in it.”
And 37 years later, the two are still close friends — reuniting on film in their hit Netflix series, Grace and Frankie.
To this day, though, Tomlin avoids the dailies. “I watch all the dailies for Grace and Frankie and then I report to her,” Fonda said.
Grace and Frankie‘s third season is now streaming on Netflix.