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Thanks for sitting down with me. How’s it going?
JANE FONDA: Today, you mean? Or in life? Today, it’s good!
SAM WATERSTON: Yeah! Yeah. We were all going, “It’s gonna be serious and sober,” but it’s turning out to be quite a lot of fun.
I mean, in general, this feels like a show that’s actually really fun to do.
FONDA: It is.
WATERSTON: It is. And that’s not always… It doesn’t always mean it’s gonna be fun to watch, but in this case, I think it is.
FONDA: Yeah. Most people seem to tell us it’s fun to watch.
So, what I found really striking about this show when I first watched it, was that it had a rhythm unlike anything I’d never seen before.
FONDA: Describe that.
Just, it had the joke patter, but it felt very grounded and real. For you guys, first sinking into it, did the show make complete sense to you when you first read it?
FONDA: No. And not at the end of the first season, either. And it’s why it was so interesting to me, when I heard people saying what you’re saying. And I heard it from the day after it launched. People said, “I was so surprised!” And I said, “Why?” And they said, “Well, when we heard the plotline, we thought, for example, the relationship between the two men was all going to be slightly trivialized and everything. And that things went deeper.” And I didn’t realize that they’d gone deeper. [To Waterston] Did you?
WATERSTON: Speaking of it in terms of tone and voice, I didn’t know it had a voice. I don’t think we knew it had a voice, but it did.
FONDA: Yeah. Well said.
WATERSTON: And my experience was, “This is funny, and that’s not! And this is, and that’s not!” and “How can this go with that?” And I think their assertion and their confidence was, “Yes, they go together, they go together in life, do they not? So here it is.”
FONDA: And I think it’s even more true in Season 2.
WATERSTON: Yeah, in Season 2.
I’m really excited for Season 2 because I had this expectation that Season 1 would end with Sol and Robert’s wedding. And that wasn’t the case at all. What were you guys expecting when you were in production?
FONDA: Yeah, I thought it was gonna end with the wedding too. In fact, they were talking about ending it with the wedding. [laughs] Right?
WATERSTON: I never ask ahead because it could change and you don’t wanna get attached to some plotline that you think is gonna happen. And also, it’s one of the great advantages of doing a series is that like life, you don’t know what the future holds, so you have to wait to find out like everybody else. I like it better that way.
In your experience, do you prefer knowing what’s going to come next?
FONDA: Yes! [laughs]
WATERSTON: Well, you have to, in a way, because you’re a producer.
FONDA: I do, I do. I like knowing. I mean, I wish we could have the entire arc. I think that would be truer in the third season.
FONDA: Because, see, I had never done episodic television before. So even though I’m called a producer, I couldn’t be an actor-producer because it was all too new to me. And it’s a hugely different animal than anything else. Isn’t it? I mean, it really is. Like, one thing I learned is never work with anybody on episodic television that hasn’t done it before.
WATERSTON: [laughs] So we’re all terribly wrong to work with you. I don’t think that’s…
FONDA: When it comes to writers, directors.
WATERSTON: Oh, I see. Yes, yes, yes. They will need to know the ropes.
FONDA: More than the actors. We just are puppets, so it doesn’t really matter. But I like what Sam said. You know, not knowing the end, that’s like sinking into the mystery. I should… I’m gonna adopt his attitude.
You’re just not gonna read the scripts before you have to?
FONDA: [laughs] Well, we don’t get the scripts…
WATERSTON: The other side of it is, though, I thought we had somebody defending us.
FONDA: No, I do defend, but it’s not like, way in advance. We’re gonna be more assertive this time.
[laughs] I’m wondering, how long have you guys known each other? Was this the first time you’d worked together?
Of course “The Newsroom,” yes! But how long have you guys known each other?
WATERSTON: I feel like I’ve known you for 30, 40…
FONDA: A long time. But we had not really met, had we? Before “The Newsroom?”
WATERSTON: Well, I met you, but you probably didn’t know that you met me.
FONDA: At Yale, or something?
WATERSTON: I met you at the University of Michigan, when you came and spoke there once.
WATERSTON: And you behaved as if you knew me then, which might mean simply you’d seen a movie that I was in or something.
FONDA: I see.
WATERSTON: And then your father was really nice to me a couple of times.
FONDA: Well, my dad and you, there’s so much about the two of you that… Because he’s an intellectual, basically. [Waterston] reads a lot. My dad was that way, too. Not as smart as you, but he read like you do. You would’ve liked each other a whole lot. Do you fly fish?
WATERSTON: Yeah, but not often enough.
FONDA: Yeah, you would have gotten along real well. But I didn’t really know him until we started working together and I became his boss in “The Newsroom.”
So, this is a slight shift, then?
It’s interesting that they had you guys paired together for today. Does that reflect anything that’s coming in Season 2?
FONDA: Well, Lily’s his wife — his ex-wife. And, you know, one of her issues is to get over him. Because unlike my marriage to Martin Sheen, they were really friends. There was real stuff there, and she has to get over that. I don’t have those issues with Martin. I just have to learn to express my anger to him. But, I mean, I really only had one scene with [Waterston] in Season 1.
WATERSTON: But in Season 2…
FONDA: We’ve had a couple, maybe. A few.
WATERSTON: Which I remember as being called on my bullshit.
FONDA: That’s right, that’s right. That’s right.
Are those fun scenes to play?
FONDA: Oh, totally!
WATERSTON: Oh, my god. I mean, we just… The scenes in the show are fun to play because there’s nobody that’s not fun to play with.
FONDA: The last scene that we shot in the last episode of Season 2…
WATERSTON: Well, you two were out of control! You and Lily were absolutely–
FONDA: I mean, that could have been on Broadway. It was such a wonderful scene. All of the characters are all on stage. And we all are good. It’s really fun.
You had some really great guest stars in Season 1, too. [Ms. Fonda], were you expecting to have multiple love interests in the first season?
FONDA: Did I have multiple love interests? Oh! The convict!
FONDA: Oh, how could I forget. I get more comments on my blog: “Can the convict come back?” I’ve put out some ideas to Marta [Kauffman]. But yeah, I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a good love interest in the second season. It’s Sam Elliott.
WATERSTON: A lot of great guest stars, too.
FONDA: Oh, yeah. Swoosie Kurtz, Marsha Mason, Estelle Parsons…
How did these roles differ from roles that you’ve been playing in, like, say, in the last couple years?
WATERSTON: Oh, very different. For me.
FONDA: Me too.
WATERSTON: Very different.
In terms of what exactly?
WATERSTON: Well, in terms of the fact that it’s a comedy. That this is a character that I haven’t played. I haven’t played a gay person in a long, long, long, LONG time. Although, when my first son was born, I did play a gay guy who got pregnant and had a baby. But that’s almost… that’s 45, 50 years ago, so.
FONDA: And in those days they could do that?
WATERSTON: It was a fantasy! [Editor’s note: Waterston was referring to the 1969 play “Spitting Image.” Kudos to Frederick S. for figuring it out.] Yeah, so no. This is completely different. And I would say mostly in the tone and voice of the show. More so than the character, even. Just because the funny bone is at the center of the things.
FONDA: And it’s kind of, in the body of an older woman, what I did when I was a much younger actor. I did a lot of light comedies as a younger actor. And there were things about myself then that I didn’t like very much. And my voice was very high, and I had certain mannerisms. And I found those coming back to me when I started doing “Grace and Frankie.” And there’s a lot about her character that’s similar to those kind of girls that I played back then. Wanting to please men, it’s all about what they want. You know, the pleaser kind of a person. And kind of conservative and very straight. Those are the sort of ingenue parts I used to play. So I started to lapse into that and it was hard for me.
How’d you pull out of that?
FONDA: I went and did therapy.
FONDA: And I got an acting coach.
So you’re happy, by the end of the season, with how it came out?
FONDA: Yeah. But it took a lot of work for me.
FONDA: I shouldn’t have said that.
WATERSTON: I don’t know. I think it’s great that you said it. Although, I would just say, I did never see a problem.
I think we’re all more critical of ourselves.
FONDA: But we know when we’re suffering. Everybody else doesn’t know. If you’re old enough and can cover it up.
I think it’s one of the advantages of getting older.
FONDA: [laughs] Yes.
“Grace and Frankie” Season 2 premieres Friday, May 6 on Netflix.