Six of TV's leading ladies — including Rachel Bloom, Allison Janney, Niecy Nash and Lily Tomlin — open up about Hollywood's definition of gender, power and those patronizing little "pats" on the back.
Comedy's funniest ladies at a table, and it's all but inevitable that the hourlong conversation will dissolve into gut-busting laughter. On this Sunday afternoon in early April, recollections of barking at Brooklyn-area catcallers (once a go-to move of Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez, 31), refusing to walk out of auditions without a job secured (that was Getting On's Niecy Nash, 46) and that one time Allison Janney, 56, of Mom, was mistaken for a "prettier Allison Janney" all got the sextet to that place. Less expected, however, was the candor that these women brought to such topics as taking gigs for money (Grace and Frankie's Lily Tomlin, 76), observing one's own confidence plummet (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom, 29) and, Broad City's Ilana Glazer, 29, recounts, being forced to deal with subtle, though nonetheless infuriating, brushes with Hollywood sexism.
What's the most bizarre or unintentionally funny feedback you've read or heard about yourself?
BLOOM It's the type of roles you're auditioning for, and you see the difference between the way female characters and male characters are written. I think it takes a woman to write a woman well, and I know that's a gross generalization.
GLAZER Because Abbi [Jacobson] and I are women and we're young, there's some subtle sexism. Especially [from] crew guys. Recently, this guy was calling us "ladybugs" and "love bugs." We're like, "We have a show — you are helping run the promo for the show that we created!"
TOMLIN I was a big hit on Laugh-In. Everywhere you go, people are putting napkins on their heads and blowing raspberries. So naturally, my next step was to get TV specials. My first special got a huge rating, but the network didn't like the show. They just thought I was oddball. And I said, "Well, I'll do another show, but I don't want a partner." They said, "Well, you've got to have somebody who we can talk to." That's how bad it was. I talked with every top producer in the variety business, from Norman Lear to Grant Tinker, and I finally decided Grant Tinker would be the most open. And I was going along, doing the show and preparing sketches, and I was going to sit and watch something I wasn't in and comment on it and Grant said to me, bless his heart (patting the THR moderator's hand), "You go on home, we'll take care of things."
GLAZER The pat! So bad.
BLOOM It's like when someone gives you pity eyes. Just that air of, "Oh honey, you're so cute." Ahh.
What's the worst professional advice you've received?
RODRIGUEZ I turned down a project because morally I couldn't do it; I couldn't live my life doing something that I wasn't going to be proud of. And I was told, "Don't be a sacrificial lamb. You don't have to save the Latino community."
BLOOM Here's the thing, it seems like being female, women creating their things, having your own voice, diversity — that's becoming very trendy and in vogue. So I think that I've had way more positive experiences than negative ones, especially recently. It's very cool now. (Laughs.)
GLAZER Because old white guys want to be cool, so they're like (flashes a thumbs-up), "Girl power." (Laughter.)
How about the best?
BLOOM I got the best advice from Ilana. We lived together in Brooklyn, and when you live in Brooklyn, there's a lot of catcalling. Her advice for it was to go, "Suck my dick!" Because here's what it does: The guy is having a mental image of you, like, naked, and then when you go, "Suck my dick" or "Lick my balls," it throws them for a loop. They're like, "Wait, she has balls? What am I picturing now?" (Laughs.)
RODRIGUEZ After NYU, I lived deep, deep in Brooklyn, and you'd get the catcalling, and I'd just turn and bark. (Makes barking noises.) And they were like, "This bitch is crazy." And I'd be like, "Yeah, g'bye." (Laughs.)
JANNEY The only piece of advice that I remember, and it was fun, was from [famed acting coach] Sanford Meisner, who was talking out of his voice box then, whispering to me, "Don't let anyone tell you you're too tall to act."
NASH As actresses, we're often asked to take pictures. I remember getting ready to take one with the lovely Maya Angelou, and she couldn't stand, so I leaned down into the picture. She turned her head to me and said: "Straighten your back. You bow to no one. They'll get you." I've never to this day bent down to take a picture.
Any advice you recall, Lily?
TOMLIN I've looked back on my life, and I don't remember a lot of it. (Laughter.) But I rarely took advice anyway. I was always a little on the arrogant side. Not arrogant, I was …
TOMLIN I don't know what it was. I lived in another world. I am living in a different world right now. Sort of floating above this table.
GLAZER That makes sense to me.
TOMLIN Yeah, looking down on all of you. (Laughter.)
BLOOM How's my cleavage?
More roundtables featuring drama and comedy actors as well as showrunners and reality hosts and producers have been rolling out since mid-May. For more, tune in to new episodes of Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter starting June 26 on SundanceTV. And look for clips at THR.com/roundtables, with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.
This story first appeared in the June 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.