Amy Poehler: My crazy characters
The ''SNL'' star talks about her tacky ''Baby Mama'' surrogate, the lisping cutie at the center of her new Nickelodeon cartoon, and the inspiration for ''Bronx Beat''
As if her weekends weren’t busy enough, SNL star Amy Poehler pops up in two new projects this Friday and Saturday. Baby Mama, in which she plays the tacky, crass surrogate who carries Tina Fey’s child, opens on April 25; the following day, The Mighty B, an animated series she co-created about a hyper girl who’s obsessed with collecting merit badges in her Brownies-like troop, debuts at 10:30 a.m. on Nickelodeon. We caught up with Poehler to talk about the keys to playing little overachievers, making a farfetched impersonation work, and peeing in a sink. (Ew.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Bessie, the character you voice on The Mighty B, has shades of Caitlin, your ”Rick! Rick! Rick!” character on SNL. Was that intentional?
AMY POEHLER: I’ve been doing that kind of kid character for a long time. I did that character at Upright Citizens Brigade before I came to SNL, the Brownie kid named Cassie McMadison. [Bessie] was an amalgamation of a lot of different voices and things that I had done. I really liked the idea of playing that kind of optimistic, super-intense, go-get-’em spirit combined with being a little bit of an outsider. I am really drawn to girls of that age in general, who believe they can be a waitress, scientist, actress, a dentist, a zookeeper…and who really aren’t boy-crazy.
As Bessie, you do a very impressive lisp. How do you manage it?
Maybe I have a little motormouth in me that kicks in. For the past year and a half I’ve gone in and taped stuff every Monday [for The Mighty B]. On Mondays I’m always like, ”Oh, I’m exhausted,” and I realized it’s because you have to stand up and jump around — it’s really not the kind of character you can phone in… I’m proud to say [my voice has] never had to be sped up. I think I’ve had a couple post-party mornings that I maybe had to get pitched down a little bit — Mama’s voice was a little too wizened. They’re like, ”That’s great, Amy, but now bring it down a little bit. She sounds like she’s been at a jazz club all night.”
Moving on to Baby Mama, director Michael McCullers says at first you and Tina Fey really wanted to make a Cagney & Lacey movie. Explain.
Well, first of all, it’s a good show. Second of all, Harvey is one of the best characters — Harvey, Lacey’s husband, he was like an evolved man. But I think both [Fey and I] are now getting to the point where we could probably pull it off. [Cagney and Lacey] both had dark undersides. And we’re certainly too old now to play Laverne and Shirley, that’s for sure.
NEXT PAGE: Sink-peeing in Baby Mama, which SNL impressions work, and the inspiration behind ”Bronx Beat”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you like about your character, the wild and semi-trashy surrogate Angie?
AMY POEHLER: She does some really bad things in the movie — she lies. Michael and I talked about how she betrays Kate, Tina’s character, for a little bit of the movie, and you have to understand why she does it. I liked her a lot, and I always had to be on my toes in many ways with everybody to make sure she didn’t become kind of a caricature. I could relate to this blue-collar spunkiness that can get people out of tough situations, where you kind of make quick decisions without thinking them through. She just doesn’t think things through, and has to pay consequences for that. And also this idea of being a delayed adolescent — how do you decide when it’s time to become an adult and grow up while maintaining the part of you that likes to remain a kid? It was important for us to keep it grounded while still trying to keep the funny stuff, so it didn’t feel like a sketch movie.
The funniest sight gag of the movie involves you peeing in a bathroom sink — was that tough to film?
We took a while that day trying to figure out how to sell that shot. I was up there for a while, I remember. It was some heavy quad work that day. It’s just so difficult being an actor — you have to squat on a sink; it’s humiliating. [Laughs] I remember just sitting there [on the sink] and everyone was on the other side [of the set] and it was really quiet and I was just sitting there waiting [for the scene to begin], thinking, ”Here I am, world.”
On Saturday Night Live you do so many impressions — have you tried any that haven’t worked?
Oh my God, so many times. Usually a writer will ask you if you can try it before they cast you in it. Sometimes you’ll get to the table and someone will have cast you as, like, Ellen DeGeneres, and I’m like, Uh-oh — I don’t think I have one… [Impersonating] men can be easier in a weird way, because the makeup makes you look so weird. They’ll be like, ”You can do the guy from Six Flags.” I’m like, ”F— yeah.” Sometimes with men you get a wider berth because people are like, Oh, that’s hilarious that she’s even trying to play Dennis Kucinich. The less you look like them the better off you are… Usually it dies a slow death at the table if it’s not been properly cast.
Fans will have to mourn the loss of your genius sketch ”Bronx Beat,” now that Maya Rudolph has left the show.
I talk to Maya a lot, and I love her and miss her a lot. Emily Spivey and I write that together with Maya. There’s a woman in the hair department named Jodi who sounds exactly like the girls from ”Bronx Beat,” and we always used to talk like her, and laugh with her, so we created these characters… Maya’s character is Jodi, and my character is Betty — she’s the other lady in the hair department. We were talking recently and I was like, [Slipping into her ”Bronx Beat” accent], ”You know what happened to Jodi? She died. She tried to clean out her own guttahs, she climbed up on a laddah, and she slipped and she died. She’s so stupid — I tell her a million times, don’t clean your own guttahs.” We were laughing so hard. I thought, God, it would be so funny to do a skit where I come back and she’s just dead. That doesn’t happen a lot on the show, where characters are like, ”She’s dead. Dead in the ground.”