The pair first met backstage at Tomlin's one-woman comedy show "Appearing Nitely," which she was performing in Los Angeles, and they instantly connected. Fonda had been already working on the idea for "9 to 5," but it was a much darker movie before she met Tomlin. "I fell in love," Fonda told CBS News in 2022 about watching Tomlin perform. "I mean, I was blown away. And when I left the theater that night I said to myself, 'I'm not making a movie about secretaries unless Lily Tomlin is in it.'"
Tomlin almost quit the movie, however. She told CBS News in the same interview, "I said, 'You have to let me out of the movie, you don't have to pay me anything.' I thought I was just awful. I said, 'I'm just gonna ruin the movie.' And then I saw the dailies from the second day — 'cause he couldn't draw up the papers quickly enough — and so I thought, 'Well, I'm pretty good, it's okay now. I think I'll just keep this part!'"