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Lily Tomlin Interview: Into the Spider-Verse

Lily Tomlin is a legendary actress, comedian, writer, and singer.  Her first big role was on the variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in 1969.  Tomlin has gone on to receive numerous awards for both her comedic and dramatic roles.  Younger fans might know her best as the voice of Miss Frizzle on PBS’s The Magic School Bus. Tomlin’s newest role is voicing May Parker, Spider-Man’s aunt, in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Screen Rant: This movie blew me away. I mean, I've been watching films and talking to actors for a while. But I don't think there's been a movie where I just had my mouth open like a 10-year-old kid throughout the whole time.

Lily Tomlin: Oh, so great.

Screen Rant: Amazing. So you pretty much have done it all in Hollywood. What got you on board for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse?

Lily Tomlin: I just got a call one day.  And I said, “Well, do you know why they want me for Aunt May?” And I went to see them.  And they said they just watched me giving a speech or something. And they thought I would be Aunt May. And I thought, “Oh, okay.” And they showed me the animation. A little bit of it. And I thought it was just beautiful and fantastic.  And the family was cell animation and that really humanized it against all this superhero stuff. And it was just, it was great.

Screen Rant: Yeah. It makes you feel like you're living in the comic book.  It's incredible. Now, there's been other people that have played Aunt May in the past. Marisa Tomei and Sally Field. How has your Aunt May different?

Lily Tomlin: Well, I guess, she's kind of tough. She's got a good heart, but she's tough. She doesn't suffer any nonsense or excuses. And she just can handle business. She's streetwise, a little streetwise, and she's going to handle Miles with that. Give him the courage to become Spider-Man and go on. And her nephew was Peter Parker, and he's gone a little bit over the hill, he’s got a little bit of a stomach and he hasn't been exercising as much as he should.

Screen Rant: That was like, I honestly felt myself in Peter Parker. I'm not going to lie. Just a little bit for that version of Peter Parker. But talk to me about Aunt May's relationship with Miles specifically.

Lily Tomlin: Well, I think it was like a mentorship. She doesn't get too sentimental about it or anything. She's just there for him, to support him, boost him along, introduce him to all these other superheroes, and helping him kind of navigate the whole scene. And show him that it's going to take a certain intuition and courage and stick-to-it-ness and he can be Spider-Man. And in a way she's like the conveyor of, “Anyone can wear the mask.”

Screen Rant: And that's a great message. Because it really gives you that, “Anybody can be Spider-Man.” Speaking of that, I heard that Shameik [Moore] was recording his lines all the way up until last week. Nobody, none of you guys, at least the directors told me, none of you guys actually got the full script. So, when you were recording pieces of your scenes, did you actually know what you were doing at all?

Lily Tomlin: You know, as best you can know. You don’t-- You might ask a question or have something, but you don't really know what questions to ask. Other than like, “Now, this is at the bottom of a shed? This huge high-tech installation.” And, so there are a lot of surprises. And then when you see the movie it's like, “Wow. Okay, this is great.”

Screen Rant: Sure. Now as an actress, how freeing is it for you to be in a booth doing a movie? Because this is a special movie. It's groundbreaking in a lot of ways. But how freeing is it for you to be in a sound booth and just doing these lines? And how much of a you was in this Aunt May?

Lily Tomlin: Well, I think a lot of me. Because it's naturalistic. And that part of me that's a kind of casual and doesn't take anything too anxiously. So, that part of me was there. But in terms of language, it was 99 percent the writers. Just a little fooling around. I just might try another word or something. Or say to the director, “You know, what about blah, blah, blah.” Just for a second, just to make something.  Whatever came to mind that seemed like it was more appropriate.

More: Phil Lord & Chris Miller Interview for Into the Spider-Verse

Key Release Dates
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) release date: Dec 14, 2018
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