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'Damages': Lily Tomlin on being a lioness

March 1, 2010 |  9:59 am
Lily-tomlin-marilyn-tobin-damages-fx In the last episode of “Damages,” Lily Tomlin’s character definitely stepped up to the role of the lioness protecting her cubs. Louis Tobin may be gone, but he left behind a minefield for her and the family to cross as the season continues.

“The question for Marilyn ultimately will be how far will she be willing to go to protect her family,” says “Damages” executive producer Daniel Zelman. “And in that sense, there are definitely parallels with Patty, because one of the central questions to Patty’s behavior has always been how far will Patty go. Except in Patty’s case, it’s not to protect her family; it’s to win the case.”

In our last press call, Lily Tomlin, formerly a “Damages” super fan, gives us a better understanding of what it’s like to play the lioness, Marilyn Tobin.

Warning: semi-spoilerish

How challenging is it to play a character when you don’t know where her story is ultimately going?
Well, I mean it’s sort of divine for an actor. I think any actor would just be on the show because the writing is so good and the actors are so good, and the show is just fun and exciting. So playing Marilyn on top of it all, the mother and the wife — you’re excited to go to work and do it. Because I'm thinking, how can I do this scene so that it’s ambiguous and interesting enough, and I leave myself open to those sort of developments too.

In the last episode, it was clear Martin Short’s Leonard Winstone character saw Louis Tobin as a father figure. Does he have the same relationship with your character?
Well, I think — I think she’s always been somewhat close to Leonard. It’s more because her husband conducted most of the business that he probably had a more direct kind of paternal-like and semi-paternal-like relationship with Lenny. And, of course, now that Louis is gone, I'm thrust into that a little more. Although Joe has also taken on that role, you know, talking and being more in closer contact with Lenny. I think on one hand, Lenny’s been like family and like a son to her in some ways, and yet maybe as things unravel, I think her relationship evolves parallel to that too. So lots of things go on with this where, you know, there’s a lot of information that each of us has or doesn't have, and whether we fill each other in or not, and so I think that relationship does continue to be fostered between us.

Last episode, your character had a very intriguing meeting with Patty Hewes when Marilyn tried to make a deal at the cemetery. Is there a similarity in their personalities?
The lioness comes out. When that real fierceness comes up to protect her family and her children and her grandchildren, I think she — I think she could start to think very strategically in terms of that. That’s paramount to her. I think there’s a lot to Marilyn that may not meet the eye. Their lives are already in wreckage, and she’s going to do whatever she can to keep them safe. And if that's figuring out what Patty’s all about, you know, it’s like mothers who can lift trucks when their child is pinned under it. Out of nowhere, then their resourcefulness is suddenly keenly developed.

A few of our readers seem annoyed by the time shifts in the series. How do you feel about the flash-forwards?
As a devoted viewer, in spite of the fact that I'm on, you know, I don't look in to view myself so much as I just am still thrilled by the show. And the flash-forwards there would be like seeing flash-forwards in your own life. It’s, oh my God, I can't believe this is going to happen. And how’s this going to come about. As a viewer, I would hate to lose those flash-forwards. I do think it keeps it thrilling. I mean, it’s challenging, and that may be why someone, you know, would use the word "annoying," and maybe they just are challenged at that moment. And by ferreting out all those details and putting it together, I mean that’s why they have groups of people that watch it, you know, as a collective. And then watch it again immediately. And they’re just so wrapped up with those emotions of what might happen and how it’s going to happen. I would hate to lose that myself as a viewer.

How far do you think Marilyn Tobin will go to protect her family?

Tomorrow: Check back here for my thoughts on tonight's episode.

Next week: We’re speaking to Dominic Chianese (formerly of “The Sopranos”), who plays Stuart Zedeck, and the show’s producers. If you have questions, please leave a comment below.

– Jethro Nededog (Follow me on Twitter @TheRealJethro)


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Photo: Lily Tomlin plays the protective lioness, Marilyn Tobin, on “Damages.” Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / FX