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Meet Hollywood’s Latest Fangirls

Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Rita Moreno dish about their new Super Bowl comedy — and the joys of having and being fans

spinner image from left to right lily tomlin jane fonda sally field and rita moreno photographed by a a r p january twenty twenty three
(Clockwise from left) Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field
Hussein Katz

Together they could fill a hall of fame with their statuettes. Lily Tomlin, 83, has Tonys, Emmys, a Grammy, and last year pressed her hands and Converse sneakers into wet cement to commemorate her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The accolades for Jane Fonda, 85, require a separate Wikipedia page to catalog them all. At 76, Sally Field has three Emmys, a pair of Golden Globes and two Oscars. And then there’s Rita Moreno, who at 91 is one of only 17 performers in history to have received an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, the showbiz grand slam known as an EGOT.

Between them, they are credited with more than 100 movie roles, accounting for over $6.5 billion at the global box office, and literally hundreds of TV episodes, Broadway shows and hit records. You might think that these legends are so self-satisfied with their accomplishments, so taken with their own stupendous success, that the concept of what some might call fangirling — being an over-the-top fan to someone else — simply wouldn’t apply.

Think again.

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Take the case of Tom Brady, 45, the seven-time Super Bowl champion and football’s most illustrious “unretiree,” who returned to the NFL this season just six weeks after officially calling it quits last February.

“Oh, he’s remarkable in his work, just remarkable,” Moreno says.

“He’s at the top of his game and the best in his field, and beyond that, he’s gorgeous, kind and sweet,” says Fonda.

“Your jaw drops at the skill level,” Field says.

“He’s like a great big, beautiful, perfect 20-year-old that you’d want to be your son,” gushes Tomlin.

spinner image lily tomlin plays lou with producer tom brady in eighty for brady from paramount pictures
Lily Tomlin plays Tom Brady fan Lou in their new film.
Paramount Pictures

Fandom clearly has no expiration date, at least as it pertains to the holder of nearly every major NFL quarterback record and the guy making this group of venerable actors sound like starstruck teenagers. (“I mean, he came around to our trailers with jerseys for each of us and said such nice things,” Fonda says.) The women — along with the object of their adulation — appear on-screen for the first time together this month in the sports comedy 80 for Brady. It’s a heartwarming, cheer-from-your-seats romp about four lifelong friends and die-hard New England Patriots football fans who embark on a raucous late-in-life road trip to watch Brady play in the 2017 Super Bowl. The movie is inspired by a true story about a group of gung ho Brady-loving grandmas (the real ones never got to the game), but it’s mostly a fun-loving meditation on goofy sports traditions, bonds built around tailgates, and the agelessness of passion.

For the high-profile Hollywood friends who made 80 for Brady, the project was a chance to reflect not just on what it means to be a fan and what their legions of fans mean to them, but also on the decades these performers have spent respecting and rooting for one another. And how could they not? Since her early roles in Singin’ in the Rain, The King and I and West Side Story, Moreno has brought exuberance to the screen like no one else. Fonda’s appearances in films from Barefoot in the Park and Barbarella to Coming Home and The China Syndrome helped her become a leading actress of her generation. Tomlin broke through on television, with comedy on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, playing characters like the telephone operator Ernestine and childlike Edith Ann in an oversize rocking chair. Long before she and Fonda costarred in the recent TV hit Grace and Frankie, they made 9 to 5 together, and in January released another big-screen comedy, Moving On. Field is credited with some of the greatest of all boomer hits: GidgetThe Flying NunSmokey and the Bandit, Norma RaeMrs. DoubtfireForrest Gump — and that’s just the 20th century. “I guess you can say we’ve done OK for ourselves,” deadpans Moreno.

Sitting down for a revealing (and frequently hilarious) conversation with AARP, the four actors opened up about their famous friendships, the hero encounters that have intimidated even them and why being a fan never gets old.

spinner image from left to right rita moreno jane fonda lily tomlin and sally field in eighty for brady
(Left to right) Moreno, Fonda, Tomlin and Field in "80 for Brady."
Paramount Pictures

So, for starters, are you sports fans?

Lily Tomlin: We are now! [Laughs.]

Rita Moreno: Are you kidding? I’m a Golden State Warriors fan down to my bones. I’ve been to games, but usually I’ll just holler and scream at the screen at home. It’s true physical genius doing what those basketball players can accomplish. And I’m a nut for football too, especially quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Jimmy Garoppolo from the San Francisco 49ers is also cute as hell. Beautiful eyes.

Jane Fonda: I’ve been a baseball gal forever, partly because my husbands got me into it. Ted Turner owned the Atlanta Braves, and we went to many games. And Tom Hayden played first base with a local Los Angeles hardball team called the Hollywood All-Stars.

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Sally Field: I’m a longtime sports fan, and I think the world underestimates the huge audience that older women represent. I feel almost sentimental and teary-eyed about it. Football was always in my life because my boys — who are now very much men — always loved football, so I watched it with them. And now that we have a football team again in Los Angeles with the Rams, I’m back to being a big fan. But it’s not just football for me. What pro basketball did during the pandemic by going into a bubble so they could play, and how baseball continued and gave fans that outlet — I mean, it saved me. I feel so grateful to them for that.

Lily Tomlin: I used to like to go to the Dodgers games but only because I knew the organist, who used to double for a character I did who played the organ.

The women you play in this comedy are devoted Tom Brady fans. At this stage in your long careers, what responsibility do you feel to your fans?

Tomlin: I think if you’re a good person, you just can’t help honoring that connection. I’ve got fans of 40, 50 years who write me or call me and they’re like extended family. One in particular, Niles, reminds me that we met 47 years ago at the Sun Theatre in San Francisco and still remembers lines from my old monologues. At this point, he’s not like a fan. He’s sort of like a brother. I’m wondering when he’ll try to get me to buy him a house.

Fonda: I grew up with a father [actor Henry Fonda] who, if someone started approaching him to ask for an autograph, would literally run away. He couldn’t stand being reminded of his fame. But you know who taught me about the importance of fans? Dolly Parton. When we did 9 to 5, I watched how she interacted, how she listened, how she truly cared and how grateful she was, and I thought, Oh, my gosh, Dolly’s right. Our careers depend on our fans! That changed me forever.

Moreno: I’m so thankful to fans, and I love seeing someone’s eyes gleaming because they recognize me. Listen, recently I was on a bus in New York City and two young men said, “Hey, you look like Rita Moreno.” I said, “Yeah, I am.” They said, “Come on! Are you kidding us?” I said, “I am who you say I am.” I swear, they wouldn’t believe me. Get this: I finally had to pull out my driver’s license!

Rita Moreno rides public transportation? You’re an EGOT!

Moreno: Oh, all the time. Taxis are expensive!

spinner image from left to right lily tomlin jane fonda sally field and rita moreno photographed by a a r p january twenty twenty three
Hussein Katz

Ha! Another big theme of this movie is the timelessness of friendships. What do your friendships with one another mean to you?

Field: Most of us have known each other for so long, and admire each other so greatly, we sometimes would forget we were making a movie. Just to get us to listen, to be quiet and get the scene done was a challenge. But that part was really fun too.

Fonda: Lily and I go back, wow, almost 50 years. I remember seeing her for the first time when she did a one-woman show in the ’70s called Appearing Nitely. I was blown away by her then, and I still am.

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Tomlin: And I already idolized Jane. After seeing her performance in Klute, I ran out and got a Klute hairdo.

Moreno: I like to say, with old friends, it’s like picking up where you left off with an old song.

Do you notice any differences in how younger and older fans respond to you?

Fonda: I appreciate it, certainly, when a fan knows those early films. More often than not, if I’m walking down the street, I’ll see these young girls recognize me, and I know what they’re going to say: “I loved you in Monster-in-Law!” [The 2005 comedy costarring Jennifer Lopez.] It’s like, forget Julia and Klute! With older fans it’s, “I loved you in Coming Home,” or they’ll say, “My favorite movie was Cat Ballou,” or Barefoot in the Park. That makes me happy.

Tomlin: I don’t have a lot of 15- and 20-year-old fans. But there’s nothing like people who have been through 40 or 50 years with you and know all the permutations of your characters. They want to know what Mrs. Beasley is doing now or what Trudy the street person is doing. It’s a bond that we can discuss and reach each other through.

OK, so you’ve all been famous for a long time. But did you ever get nervous yourselves around another celebrity? And ever ask for an autograph?

Fonda: I was intimidated by Katharine Hepburn, that’s for sure. My God. When we made On Golden Pond, she made sure that she was always top dog and that I knew it. I think my costars will tell you that I really try to do the opposite and make people feel comfortable. Autographs? The one time I asked for one was when I ran into Muhammad Ali in the airport. My knees almost gave way in front of him, I was so excited. And I’d already won two Academy Awards!

Tomlin: I’ve always been completely mad for Lucille Ball. In my 30s, I saw an article where she reviewed newer comics. When she got to Lily Tomlin, she wrote, “I just don’t get her.” I could have wept. Some years later, a friend arranged a dinner with Lucy. I was terrified, but it turned out OK. Lucy told this wild story about developing a bad toothache the morning she had to fly to New York. She didn’t want to take meds for pain, so the dentist told her to take a swig of brandy, swish and spit it out. But there was no place to spit it out on the plane, so Lucy swallowed the cognac, and of course by the time she got to New York, she was blotto. Now, imagine sitting at dinner with Lucille Ball acting out a story like that. She looked exactly like Lucy! We never met again, but I will treasure that memory forever.

Moreno: Last week Billie Jean King came over to my table and said, “You’re my hero,” and I just stared at her. I said, “Aren’t you Billie Jean King? You’re the amazing one.”

spinner image billy porter and rita moreno playing poker in the background jane fonda and lily tomlin in eighty for brady
(Clockwise from left) Billy Porter in a scene with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Rita Moreno in "80 for Brady."
Paramount Pictures

One more takeaway from the film is how enthusiastic people can be into their 70s and beyond. Does that apply to you?

Field: You’re never too old for the next chapter.

Fonda: I think as you get older, you get better at almost everything. I love my work more than ever, and it feels more balanced now. I take things in stride more than I once did. Things are a little simpler.

Moreno: I will confess that I wake up smiling. Yes, sometimes I sit in front of the mirror and go, “Yikes, who’s that old lady?” But then I’ll put on some makeup and I’m absolutely amazing.

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