FORGET sweet old ladies, big screen comedy Grandma is as cutting as they come.

Keeley Bolger catches up with star and acclaimed comedian Lily Tomlin, to talk awards hype, Hollywood sexism and why she had to "beg" Jane Fonda for a second chance

It's a good thing Lily Tomlin follows her partner Jane Wagner's advice.

Back in the Eighties, the established American comedian was offered, and promptly rejected, a part in landmark comedy 9 To 5, a role which not only increased her international appeal, but also led to a fruitful personal and professional friendship with co-star Jane Fonda.

"I turned 9 To 5 down originally" she says.

"I was shooting The Incredible Shrinking Woman and I was so overworked.

"I'd worked for seven months on that movie, so I was ready to just shut my eyes to anything else."

But when she went home, "my partner Jane said to me, 'This is the biggest mistake of your life'," explains the 76-year-old, who married Wagner in 2014 after 41 years together.

"She said, 'You've got to get on the phone and tell Jane Fonda [who'd reportedly developed the idea with Tomlin and Dolly Parton in mind] you want to take back the resignation'.

With her tail between her legs, Tomlin "sort of begged" her way back into the 1980 classic, which follows three women who seek revenge on their sexist boss.

"And I am grateful that I did it. They became two of my good friends, you know."

While Tomlin, Parton and Fonda took their male boss to task 30 years ago in the film, nowadays, the actress admits there's still a fight to ensure women in Hollywood are given equal footing to men.

Helping to bridge this somewhat, is her acclaimed Netflix comedy Grace And Frankie with Fonda, but also her new film Grandma, a salty female-lead comedy, which offers an alternative take on abortion and womanhood.

In it, Tomlin plays lesbian poet Elle who goes on a nostalgic road trip with her pregnant, teenage granddaughter Sage, in order to scrape together the money to pay for Sage's abortion.

How rare is it to be offered a role in a female ensemble?

"Oh you don't, it's very unusual," she says.

"It [Grandma] was like a gift from Paul [Weitz, director]. On the last day of shooting, as I was walking down the road in the dark after the cab leaves me there [in the final scene], I knew he [Paul] was the only one listening on headphones and I said, 'Thank you Paul, this has been a divine gift from you'."

Grandma represents a growing breed of mainstream films offering a different - and dare it be said, more realistic - view on womanhood, a stark and welcome contrast to the two-dimensional characters Hollywood has long served up.

But Tomlin has always led the way with turning screen stereotypes on their head. Growing up in a working-class household in Detroit, Michigan, she switched from studying medicine to theatre studies, eventually leaving college to focus on her performing career.

Inspired by Lucille Ball, Bea Lillie, Imogene Coca, and Jean Carroll, Tomlin was one of the first female stand-ups on The Ed Sullivan Show

After moving to New York in the mid-Sixties, she started performing frequently at clubs, with her regular spot at popular US show Laugh-In, in 1969, leading to her lifelong professional and personal collaboration with writer, director and producer Wagner.

Safe to say then that 50-plus years in showbiz has given her a good perspective on change in the industry.

"Do I think things are changing for women? Somewhat. Jane Fonda and I have certainly both worked that in for a long time," says the comedian, whose deep blue and lime scarf offsets her bright eyes.

"Grace And Frankie that we did with Netflix is about two older women that have the rug pulled out from under them and they have to restore themselves.

"And then it's about hope. It shows that you can go on and you can change your life and you can adjust. Just because one door shuts, you can open another one, and from a woman of that age - we're both in our mid-late 70s - that's a lot to impart to other women."

And if there is a common thread running through Tomlin - and indeed her Grandma character Elle's - approach, it's the ability to say 'screw you' when people ask her to do things she doesn't want to.

"I have had that in my life," she says with a smile.

"Not on a daily basis, but you have to sort of let things bounce away. I wouldn't make myself do something I don't want to do."

Determined to do things her way from the off, Tomlin has always stood her ground in the face of opposition.

"You know, when you first come into the business, you don't know anybody, so you can throw a script away [if] it's so horrendous to you and your sensibility," explains the actress.

"And then when you've been in the business a long time, you get to know more and more people, and people start sending you stuff because they want you to do it and they think they're friendly enough, but you have to say, 'No'.

"You just have to. I mean if it rubs you the wrong way, you can't do it."

Clearly Grandma, which was written specifically with Tomlin in mind, needed no 'nos'. So good is Tomlin's performance that already insiders are speculating that she'll be up for an Academy Award nomination.

But with two Tony awards, a prestigious Kennedy Center Honor for performing arts, an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role in 1975 comedy drama Nashville and six Emmy wins to her name, there will presumably have to be some reshuffling of her mantelpiece if the speculation comes good.

"It feels great to have people say that, but there are a lot of good performances and you try not to lean on that too much," says Tomlin.

"I'm glad there is that kind of reaction to the movie. It's a good thing."

:: Grandma is released in cinemas on Friday, December 11