Tina Fey spent nine years as head writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live, winning an Emmy and two Writers Guild Awards in the process. She then went on to create the sit-com 30 Rock, for which she has won five Emmys (plus three awards each from WGA, PGA and SAG) as a writer, producer and actress. Then last year, she received a seventh Emmy for her portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. Frankly, how does her mantelpiece cope with the weight?
For the big screen, she wrote and costarred in the enduring hit Mean Girls, which launched Lindsay Lohan's career, and also appeared with her SNL pal Amy Poehler in Baby Mama and Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying. Teaming up with Steve Carell in Date Night, the biggest surprise is that they haven't worked together before.
Did you know that you'd have such strong chemistry with Steve Carell?
Well, I do think that Steve and I look very plausible together as a married couple. We just look like people you would see at the mall. So you can pay 10 bucks to see people you could already see at the mall! It's been very easy working together actually because we have the same kind of training and background, coming from Second City in Chicago, so we speak the same language. It was very pleasant and easy from the beginning.
How did you develop your characters?
It would be like two chefs working together who had studied at the same school. You run your kitchen in the same way. Another example would perhaps be jazz musicians who play the same kind of music. Hopefully Steve would agree. We knew how to work with each other, but not get in each other's way from the get go.
There was clearly a lot of improvisation.
If the writing is good, you dont need to change anything
Comedy-wise we both like to improvise, but if the writing is good neither of us needs to change anything just for the sake of changing it. We did a lot of overlapping dialogue and he was very supportive, very generous and a great person to improvise with. The training we both have emphasises the importance of taking care of your partner and making the other person look good; that is drilled into you. And I certainly hope he did that, because I was probably not very good.
Which scene did you enjoy most?
One of my favorite moments in the movie is when we are unexpectedly propositioned by a beautiful woman who wants us to have some sort of three-way encounter with her. And rather than using the line that was scripted for him, Steve just chose to start laughing uncontrollably and giggling nervously at the woman. It is a really funny moment in the movie. His laughter is much funnier than any scripted line could be in that moment.
Did you find it hard to keep a straight face?
Yes! We had to do some sexy dancing, and there is a stripper pole involved. Steve made the interesting choice that his character - in an attempt to be sexy - would lick the pole, and then he immediately gets freaked out and nauseous and regrets it. That really made me laugh. Then at one point we have a nice romantic kiss and we thought, "Oh wouldn't it be funny if this kiss lasted for four and half minutes?" So we actually attempted to shoot a continuous four and a half minute kiss. And that seemed funny at the time.
How was working with Mark Wahlberg?
He's great. I felt sorry for him because his character wears no shirt for the whole movie. Of course he looked amazing; he obviously completely carried that off. But because Mark himself has a fair number of tattoos, he had to cover them with body makeup, so he could never wear a shirt - not even when we were on our lunch break or between set ups. My daughter was visiting one day and said, "Why does that guy never wear a shirt?" Mark said, "I want to wear a shirt, believe me." Mark was great and very natural. When some actors have to play intimidating characters you see them working at it, but Mark was very relaxed and very quiet and it comes across as incredibly intimidating. He improvised some really funny stuff as a result of listening and reacting to what Steve was doing.
Was there anything difficult about making this film?
I do know the feeling that you are actually envious of the babysitter
It is hard when you are shooting scenes out of order and a lot of crazy things are happening within the story. You are trying to monitor the anxiety or panic level of the characters. It is a movie that takes place almost entirely over one night, so you have to keep track of where you are within that single night. Another challenge is shooting at night in New York City. Now I used to work on Saturday Night Live and I would stay up all night long and used to brag about how I could do that easily. But since I had a kid, I have turned into one of those wimps from The Apprentice who stays up for just one night and starts crying and quits the show. On this film I had to shoot three weeks through the night, 5pm to 5am, wearing a corset and heels while Steve was comfortable in a tracksuit. It was a challenge.
Do you go on date nights with your husband?
We do try, yes. But it is hard especially if you are a working parent, because you want to be at home to put your kid to bed at night. By the time our daughter is ready and off to sleep, it is 10 o'clock at night and all you are thinking about is "She is going to wake up so early. I don't want to be hung-over when that kid wakes up!" I do know the feeling that you get when you are going out for a date night but you are just so tired that you are actually envious of the babysitter who is settling in to watch television and order food, and you are thinking, "Why can't I stay in with the babysitter?"
Has comedy always been natural to you?
I was sort of sarcastic as a child but I was never really that funny. I was a very shy child. I was always muttering in the back of the class but not really a class clown.
What makes you laugh?
My favorite funny films are Election and Annie Hall, as well as many old movies such as My Favorite Wife and the Marx Brothers films. I love Cary Grant. I grew up on Caddyshack and Stripes. I enjoy that laid-back kind of comedy where the characters themselves are being funny, it's not just that they are in funny situations. I like that Bill Murray/Chevy Chase vibe. I am a big Woody Allen fan. I am a big fan of Steve's too; I thought The 40 Year Old Virgin was a really great movie.
Your last 18 months has been a bit hectic - this film, 30 Rock, Sarah Palin on SNL.
It has been a crazy, crazy year or so and a very exciting time. Every time I thought it could not get crazier, it got even crazier. But hopefully at this point my family and I are settling into a more normal routine. Steve and I were just talking about this. Coming into it all a little bit older is really a blessing because it makes you realize that what really matters is your home life. What matters is that you do the kind of work that you want to do: you don't need to take the kind of work that anyone asks you to do. So I feel very lucky to have some perspective on it all. I also feel very aware that it will not be this way forever.
THANKS TO ELAINE LIPWORTH/FOX • APR.10
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