A few months ago, Lily Tomlin passed on what she considered the opportunity of a lifetime. She turned down a role in Robert Altman’s “Pret-a-Porter.” “I could have got all those clothes!” she says excitedly during a visit to New York. “Every designer was going to make me an outfit, because I was going to be a commentator and part of the thing was I was going to wear their outfit when I interviewed them. I told William Morris, ‘See if I can get all the clothes.’ It would have been great, because you know they were going to make me some very extreme outfits,” she says, shaking her head in regret.
“Plus, forget the movie, just going to Paris for two months. Just being with Altman and having people take you around to the restaurants and speak French for you and help you out and make sure everything’s great! I’ll never have another chance like that. But I had to do it.”
Tomlin chose, instead, to stay in L.A. and lobby ABC to turn her animated Edith Ann specials — the second of which airs Friday night — into a weekly show. She still doesn’t know whether she succeeded.
“It depends on what kind of numbers we do on this show,” she explains. “We did very well on the first show and we aired the day after the earthquake.”
The first show introduced the new Edith Ann — the character Tomlin brought to life some 20 years ago on “Laugh-In.” She’s no longer confined to a rocking chair. She’s got a family, a house, a school and a school psychiatrist. The first episode, called “A Few Pieces of the Puzzle,” dealt with forgiveness. This Friday’s episode, called “Homeless Go Home,” deals, of course, with homelessness.
“We wanted to create a show for the family where people can watch about ethical things and psychological things and moral things and philosophical things,” explains Tomlin in her rapid-fire manner of speaking. “We wanted to do it from a psychological, not a didactic or propogandistic point of view — more from the true dilemma of being human. We wanted to create Edith Ann as kind of a thinking person’s inner child so adults can play out these dilemmas too.” Even if Edith Ann doesn’t get a weekly series, Tomlin is confident she’ll have recurring specials. Besides, Tomlin has plenty of other things to do. There’s an Edith Ann book due out this fall and Tomlin is set to film “Getting Away With Murder,” opposite Dan Aykroyd and Jack Lemmon. She’ll also be the voice of Miss Frizzle for the PBS animated series “The Magic Schoolbus.” Based on the children’s book series, it begins airing this fall. But Edith Ann is her main focus.
“It’s a way for me to let this character live,” she says. “I don’t want her to disappear just because I’m getting older and it looks more and more ridiculous for me to be five years old.”