A few weeks ago I went to see Tina Fey’s latest movie “Admission” (Focus Features, March 22) on the same night that I watched the last episode of her seven-year NBC sitcom “30 Rock.” Fey is a fascinating example of a pioneering woman who has become hugely successful while playing inside the box of what men can handle without being threatened.
Think about “30 Rock”‘s Liz Lemon–she’s schlumpy but capable of being glamorous, she’s running a TV show not unlike Saturday Night Live, bossing various men around, yet she can’t seem to nurture any serious relationships as she caters to the whims and needs of the one constant man in her life, her scummy but lovable powerbroker network boss, Alec Baldwin. Brilliant.
In real life, Fey has used her skills as a writer to artfully move from breakout Saturday Night Live star castmember–when she lost 30 pounds after appearing as an extra, Lorne Michaels put her in front of the cameras and made her head writer–to producer-writer-actress who pens bestsellers (“Bossypants”), makes a point of downplaying her chops while she still wins Emmy, Golden Globe, Writers and and Screen Actors Guild awards, and builds her movie cred as a screenwriter (“Mean Girls”) and box office leading lady (“Date Night” and “Baby Mama”). She’s also raising two young kids on the upper west side of Manhattan with her composer husband.
With “30 Rock” over, I talked to Fey on the phone about where she goes from here. The truth about “About a Boy” director Paul Weitz’s “Admission” is that it’s a ‘tweener–one of those amiably soft middle-of-the-road low-budget romantic comedies that’s not edgy and smart enough for the indie crowd, but might play to older Fey fans. She plays a mousy married but married-to-her-work Princeton admissions officer who runs across a guy she knew in high school (Paul Rudd) on her annual recruitment trip. It made me wish that she had written it, not Karen Croner adapting Jean Janff Korelitz’s 2009 novel.
While Fey says she’s not interested in hosting the Oscars, I will lay odds that next year’s producers will ask her to do so and that she will say yes. Here’s hoping.
Anne Thompson: You and Amy Poehler rocked your hosting gig at The Golden Globes. Will you do it again, and what did you think of Seth MacFarlane’s performance at the Oscars?
Tina Fey: Yah, we had fun, it’s a very different, more relaxed room. The Globes will not come back, I don’t know. The Oscars is the hardest job there is, it’s a tough room. Seth did great! Everyone’s nervous and as the night goes on, more people in the room have lost. You have to play to the world and the room. It’s especially tough for a woman, the amount time trying on dresses…
AT: How did you cram in the hosting gig with the end of ’30 Rock’?
TF: We finished shooting ’30 Rock’ right before Christmas, then came back to do the Globes right after Christmas, when you go home and eat crackers and cookies. The Globes were so much sooner in January than Amy and I wanted to believe. We worked for couple of days on that, it’s a much smaller gig than the Oscars, you don’t have to pre-tape anything, you don’t have to make anything. We came back to NY, the day we went out to LA the Friday before the Globes, we shot the final ’30 Rock’ shot with Conan O’Brien, finished the Globes in LA, and then post-production finishing the finale, right before it aired.
AT: How did that feel, saying good-bye to your show?
TF: It was sad, it was very sweet. The fact that we knew that the end was coming gave us a nice amount of time to say goodbye to each other and the characters. We had a lot of nice dinners and parties. I was shooting something else at the old studio the other day; it was a crazy thing to go back and see that it was all gone. After seven years, they took it down in a day.
AT: Why do this movie?
TF: This was a movie that Paul Weitz was talking about for a couple of years. I liked the story at the center of the movie about college admissions. It’s a funny area that I hadn’t seen stuff about. Sometimes you look at stuff: ‘is it plausible for me to play?’ Yes, I could be a college admissions person, sure. It had a good human story at middle of it.
AT: Did you get involved in the writing of it?
TF: No writing. It was written by Karen Croner, she worked with Paul Weitz. Paul Rudd and I rehearsed. Because I’m a writer I am less inclined to try and change things in someone’s script than other actors, I know what a giant pain in butt that can be.
AT: Do you aspire to be a director?
TF: I really
respect people who are born directors who think in pictures. I know at
core I am a writer. The ideal situation is to be a writer- producer and
not have to hassle as a director, not have to play the shots. Paul Weitz
is legitimately well-read and smart enough to be
operating in that world. When you are going to proceed and do a script
that is not yours
it’s a big relief to know that everyone involved is smarter than you.
AT: How was it playing opposite Paul Rudd?
TF: He’s just a delight, I’m comfortable with him.
AT: Whose idea was casting the incomparable Lily Tomlin as your hippie mother?
TF: I may have suggested her, I was thrilled at the idea of it. She’s just great, someone I’ve admired. She was as much of a thrilling scene partner as I thought she would be, a committed, lively team partner. Sometimes when you shoot on film they save all their energy for when the camera is on them. She doesn’t do that.
AT: What are you working on now?
TF: I’m developing a couple of movies and pilots with friends and then hopefully we’ll eventually pitch some TV with NBC again.
AT: Will you write your own screenplays?
TF: I want to. I’d do that again, I’ve only written the one screenplay, it’s very hard, but satisfying. I saw “Mean Girls” on TBS and I thought I should do another one.
AT: And another book?
TF: I put all that I knew in 40 years into 270 pages. I don’t have enough life experience.