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Award winning Tomlin to discuss theatre at SMC

Ashley Charnley | Friday, September 24, 2010

Emmy and Tony award winning actress Lily Tomlin will speak on Saint Mary’s campus Monday in O’Laughlin Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.

“An Evening with Lily Tomlin” will be hosted by the theater department’s Margaret Hill endowed lecture series, which has brought figures such as actress Glenn Close and director Hal Prince to campus in previous years.

As part of Tomlin’s visit, she will teach a class before the lecture on Monday. Students in the theater class, which is closed to the public, will present what they have worked on with Tomlin and she will provide feedback, as well as share her own professional knowledge with them.

“If you had a formula, that would be great, but you don’t exactly,” Tomlin said. “If by being [in the class] and exchanging my own experiences and whatever knowledge I’ve gleaned over all these years and have a real exchange with the students, hopefully I’ll learn something.”

Tomlin was born in Detroit, Mich. She said she started performing on the back porch of her home for her parents.

Tomlin talked about growing up in an apartment that had characters who inspired her to imitate them and put on shows for her families, or anyone who would watch.

“Over time, it’s like you develop a kind of fascination with it — a love and feeling for all these different types of humans,” she said.

Originally, Tomlin attended Wayne State University to study medicine, but was attracted to her elective courses in theater instead because she wanted to express herself.

“I always wanted to express something — and that has to be part of something all actors want to do — it’s expressing something about the human condition or other human beings,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin started her career in coffeehouses and cafes in New York, and since has had countless roles in television, film and stage. Just a few of her projects include “Laugh-In,” “The Lily Tomlin Show” and “Murphy Brown,” on television, onstage she performed in “Appearing Nitely” and “The Search” and was featured in the films “Big Business,” “I Heart Huckabees” and “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Tomlin’s own experiences vary widely, but theater is her favorite medium.

“[Theater is] the thing I like most because I like the immediacy,” she said. “I’m glad I have the chance to do a little bit of anything.”

Tomlin is known for her comedy, but the actress has played dramatic roles as well.

“I didn’t really see an incredible difference between [comedy and drama,]” Tomlin said. “It is all similar things, a continuum. You lean one way or the other. It’s the capacity of every human to be as dramatic or comedic, as sad or as funny at any moment.”

Throughout her career, Tomlin worked with other actors such as Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Glenn Close, Martin Short and several more. She said some of her favorite moments are particular scenes that stand out to her.

One example she gave was a scene in director Robert Altman’s movie “Short Cuts” when the actress playing her daughter hands her a plastic bag with goldfish.

“There is some tiny moment, that maybe it doesn’t even register for the audience. There is just a moment there and it just rings so true for me that I just love it,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin said acting should give people a way to come together.

“I think in some way it just elevates you as a human, and somehow you hope that that familiarity with other people sort of validates all of us,” Tomlin said. “If we all find the same things moving or funny, then there is a huge connection there.”

For acting students, Tomlin said she had “homely advice” that she said may have stemmed from her own upbringing and the generation she grew up in.

“That could be a factor of the time I came up in, if you had any kind of awareness or consciousness, the last thing you wanted to do was do something for money,” Tomlin said. “You wanted to do something for excellence or to make a contribution — to be a real artist.”