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Lily Tomlin's tattoo tells the tale

Lily Tomlin as Susannah in a scene from

Lily Tomlin as Susannah in a scene from the comedy/drama film, "Admission," directed by Paul Weitz. Photo Credit: AP

Shortly before Lily Tomlin arrived on set to play an aging feminist in "Admission," she had a flash of inspiration. What if she had a breastplate made to cover her upper torso, tattooed it and then appeared in the film shirtless while chopping wood? The act would perfectly symbolize '60s radical feminism.

"It seemed like a fun idea, but it was a little more than anyone could handle," Tomlin said in an interview, offering a laugh. "So I had an arm tattoo of Bella made instead."

That tattoo is a clever aside in the film, which opens Friday and in which Tomlin evokes her own feminist past to play the mother of the 40-ish Portia, a romantically challenged Princeton admissions officer played by Tina Fey. From the moment the former "Laugh-In" personality appears on-screen -- wielding a shotgun to scare off her daughter's potential suitor -- Tomlin seems to be both playing off and subverting the stereotype of the erstwhile campus ideologue.

"As a feminist from that era, I really plugged into the role," said Tomlin, 73. "I had so many friends who were notable at the time, and then the times changed. I had an inkling of what it meant to follow a doctrine to the letter and then have it bite you on the other end."

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