Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie and your recent movie Book Club both portray older female sexuality, which has traditionally been treated either as a joke or ignored in film and TV. Why do you think the subject is being mined for story now?
FONDA [Our] culture doesn’t like people with wrinkles to be talking about sex. And kids don’t like to think about their parents doing it, either. But the fastest-growing demographic in the world is older women, and a lot of them are doing it very pleasurably. I wrote a book about it and I gave it to the writers. When I was in my 40s, I said before I die I want to be part of giving a cultural face to older women, and I can’t tell you how much feedback Lily [Tomlin] and I get from older women who say it’s given them hope — and not-so-old women who say, “I now see another way forward.” I mean, I wouldn’t have been talking about vaginal dryness in Barbarella. (Laughter.)
(On playing Grace Hanson) It took me a long time to figure out [my relationship to this character]. I had a nervous breakdown during the first season and I discovered it’s because the very first episode our husbands tell us that they are going to leave us after 40 years and marry each other and that triggered abandonment … oh, this is not a good thing to talk about (chokes up a bit). It was a big trigger, and I didn’t realize that a character in a comedy could actually trigger something very profound. And so, I love her, and I learned to invite her into the room. After the first season, I couldn’t have written a backstory for her; and then I wrote 30 pages without ever stopping. But I don’t really want to have to be anything like her. We have too much in common as it is.