PASADENA, Calif. - Earlier this year, sitting before TV critics in Pasadena, Calif., the two stars of "Grace and Frankie" were asked what the secret was to aging with grace and gusto.
Jane Fonda paused to think. "Health and attitude," she said.
"Denial," said Lily Tomlin.
The second season of "Grace and Frankie" premiered Friday on Netflix. Fonda, 78, and Tomlin, 76, play two San Diego women whose lives are turned upside down when their husbands (Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen) leave them — not for other women, but for each other.
For Fonda, a two-time Oscar winner who made her screen debut in 1960, being binge-able is a whole new media experience.
A day after the series premiered last year, Fonda was already getting called and emails from friends who'd seen the entire season.
"I mean, to have what to me was like a revolutionary experience like that when you're my age," she says, "that's pretty great."
The two actresses have been friends since they teamed up with Dolly Parton in the 1980 film "9 to 5."
"She has a funny bone," says Fonda of Tomlin. "I come from a long line of depressed people."
As far as Tomlin is concerned, there's only one real star on the show.
"Jane skinny dipped with Greta Garbo when she was 16," says Tomlin. "Whenever anybody starts talking to her about writing an autobiography, I always tell them to hang it up right now. Nobody's had the life that she's had."
True, but Tomlin's life would also be a page-turner. The Detroit-native burst onto the comedy scene with memorable characters and catchphrases on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" (1968-73). Films ("Nashville" and, last year, "Grandma") and steady TV work ("The West Wing," "Damages") followed. A generation of children grew up with her voice as Ms. Frizzle on the animated PBS series "The Magic School Bus."
On "Grace and Frankie," Fonda and Tomlin present an unblinking look at aging, dealing with issues such as joint pain, blind dates and night blindness.
Then there's senior sex. Sam Elliott recurs this season as Phil, a love interest for Fonda's Grace.
"It gets really sexy and then it gets really sad and complicated, but it's also very funny. The sex was good, though," says Fonda, who claims she's "always" had a crush on the actor.
That includes back when she was married to "her favourite ex-husband," Ted Turner. (Earlier, Fonda was married to French filmmaker Roger Vadim and anti-war activist Tom Hayden.)
Fonda says Elliott called on the couple once at Turner's Montana ranch. "Every woman in the office, I mean, they were panting," says Fonda.
Seems Elliott has had a crush on Fonda dating back to her first Oscar-winning role, "Klute" (1971). Cracked Fonda, "Who wouldn't have had a crush on me back then?"
Fonda took a 15-year break from her career during her marriage to Turner but she's as busy as she wants to be these days. Her previous series was Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama "The Newsroom."
She admits to having more than a little work done. The former fitness guru cops to having a fake hip, knee and thumb and having, as she told the Guardian, "more metal in me than a bionic woman."
She figures the nips and tucks have extended her career 10 years.
Tomlin's defence against aging has required less surgery. "I don't go in the sun," she says.
She's also dialed back on things like one-woman shows, although she and her wife and writing partner Jane Wagner have talked about doing one more.
"We're both of an age where we think, 'Do we want to spend these next five years working on that one project?'"
In the meantime, both Fonda and Tomlin are happy to play women their age on TV.
"We've kind of earned it," says Tomlin. "We're so excited to have the opportunity to do a show about older women and to do a show that's entertaining and fun — but play it fairly real."
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.