“Grace and Frankie” isn’t only about women. It isn’t only about the elderly, either. But the Netflix comedy is taking its representative role for both groups very seriously, including when it comes to how the show is made.
Speaking at the ATX TV Festival Sunday morning, co-creator Marta Kauffman, executive producer Robbie Rowe Tollin, editor Sarah Lucky, producer Hannah K.S. Canter, casting director Tracy Lillenfield, and stars June Diane Raphael and Brooklyn Decker discussed how the series is walking the walk when it comes to offering opportunities to women, the elderly, and elderly women.
“We’ve cast a lot of people older than Grace and Frankie, significantly older,” said Lillenfield, who was called up from the audience and (kindly) forced onto the panel by Kauffman. “These are people that don’t often get a chance to audition — let alone get a job — and they have stories to tell.”
Said Canter: “We had to put in a stair chair [in our office] so elderly people could come read for us.” At this, the crowd groaned, but Asher pushed back: “No, no! It’s good!”
Kauffman said they hired a 70-year-old assistant director who was getting overworked because of the show’s busy schedule.
“We decided there was no way that we could move forward with this man [without helping],” Kauffman said. “So we worked it out where someone could step in and he could take breaks.”
Still, Kauffman was reluctant to say she’d hire any women or minorities simply for that reason: “I don’t know if I would hire someone with no experience just because she was a woman or a person of color, but if she kicked ass, then hell yeah.”
Lucky, who’s moved up the ranks in the editing room from season to season, made sure the audience knew how much she appreciated her producers.
“They gave me my first opportunity as an editor,” Lucky said. “I worked hard and proved it to them. They really are the women to work for because not all women are as supportive and loving. [Kauffman and Tollin] do empower everybody.”
Kauffman later said how it was important to the producers that there’s diverse representation among directors.
“We try to meet new directors every year,” she said. “We try to increase our stable.”
“If our director isn’t a woman, they need to love women,” Canter said. “We don’t hire anyone at any level of the production unless they love women.”
From a content perspective, Kauffman noted how she felt storylines about vibrators, lubricant, sex, and aging were important not just to the show, but to viewers at home.
“Women appreciate the honesty of it because they never hear the truth,” she said. “No one told me when you get to a certain age, you start losing pubic hair. People need to know.”
For years, Kauffman said she heard that there was no TV audience for shows about older women, and she’s sick of it.
“I’m calling bullshit,” Kauffman said. “People will watch. […] I think for too long we’ve dismissed women of a certain age. […] This was an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we’re alive.’ And it was an opportunity to talk about vibrators.”
As for what’s coming in Season 4: Kauffman was asked what it was like to reunite with “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow — “It was like coming home” — and what viewers should know about what’s coming next.
“This next chapter is really about, for the women, coming to terms with age,” Kauffman said. “[It’s about] coming to terms with how old they are, where there bodies are at this point, where their minds are at this point, and what that means.”
The ATX TV Festival runs June 8 – 11 in Austin, Texas. IndieWire will be on the ground throughout, so check back for more coverage.