Tina Fey: The EW interview
As the sly, anarchic '30 Rock' heads into its final season, we talk to its multihypenated, multitalented creator and star about everything from mom jeans to 'Bossypants' and beyond
“I would like to state for the record that I beat Jon Hamm at Words With Friends yesterday,” Tina Fey announces proudly. It’s just one more stellar accomplishment in Fey’s 15-year winning streak, which began behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live and has extended to film, publishing, uncanny political impressions, and now, apparently, smartphone games. During a break from shooting the seventh and final season of her NBC comedy 30 Rock (premiering Oct. 4 at 8 p.m.), Fey, 42, sat with EW to reflect on all of the above.
Tell me a little bit about the episode you’re shooting today.
We’re shooting a scene right now from episode 3 that I wrote. I discover that Tracy Jordan has tweeted, ”I agree @the RealStephenHawking. Women are just not funny — never have been, never will be. #plotpoint.” I’m determined to not engage him on this topic, but then he comes to me wanting me to book a funny monkey on the show that he saw on YouTube. And I say, ”This is an outrage — you don’t think women are funny. Why do you think monkeys are funny?” We get in a fight, and I get to this point where, against my better instincts, I decide that I’m going to prove to him that women are funny by me and Jenna reviving our greatest sketch from our two-woman show from the ’90s.
The ”women aren’t funny” debate is one you’ve been dragged into many times.
It’s one that now I feel free to opt out of because it’s just so boring. The fact that it’s still even talked about is just so, so boring and dumb — but ripe for just the kind of incredible, topical humor that we do only seven to eight months after the story breaks.
Obviously you’re not just the star of 30 Rock, you’re the boss — what’s the main challenge you’re facing today?
Today things are going smoothly. The biggest challenge was that I misread my own call time — I was a half hour late, which has not happened in seven years. Tomorrow will be a very challenging day because we are shooting with the monkey in question.
I saw the two pages of monkey rules that were distributed to the cast and crew.
I have not looked at that. I should look at that.
It basically says, Don’t make eye contact with the monkey or touch it.
I wouldn’t do that anyway. It’s the same rider that J. Lo. has. [Pause] Don’t get me in a fight with J. Lo., Kristen! She’s nice!
We’ll talk more about 30 Rock later, but first let’s travel back in time. In 1997, when you were writing and performing at Chicago’s Second City, you submitted some sketches to be considered for a writing job at SNL. Do you remember what they were?
I worked really, really hard on them and my friend Ali Farahnakian mentored me — he would help me go over my bits. I sent my precious package in, which I now realize was terrible…. There was some kind of Bill Clinton sketch — I can’t remember the premise. There was something to do with a legal trial about pudding. There may have been a Martha Stewart thing. I think there was a sketch about a very snooty rich couple who were meeting with an adoption agent to say that what they really wanted was a dog, but the wife was allergic to dogs, so could they just adopt a child and raise it as a dog? They were making the argument ”Honestly, a dog of ours will have a much better life than this child would have.”
Once you started as a writer at SNL in 1997, you began producing some sketches you were proud of, including a 1998 gem called ”Old French Whore!” a.k.a. ”the game show that lets old French whores team up with high school honor students to win fabulous prizes.” I could honestly talk to you for three hours about this sketch.
”Old French Whore!” was written vindictively. We had a pitch meeting with [that week’s host] Garth Brooks — a lot of times at those Monday pitch meetings at SNL, you don’t really have an idea yet and you’re kind of faking it. I think I pitched some half-baked fake idea of him being a singing cowboy. He said, ”You know, I don’t really want to play a cowboy. I want to do other stuff.” So I was like, ”Okay, this guy wants to do other stuff? All right. What’s the most opposite thing we could make him do?” To his credit, he did it, and he did a really good job. After that, it became part of my routine — I would try to think of the most opposite thing you could do with any host. I think I only got one other sketch out of that process, which was another really weird sketch. It was Alec Baldwin playing a little girl in the hospital. He was a little girl in the hospital who had a disease that made her look the way Alec looks. Molly Shannon was a hospital clown going around to entertain [the kids] — she was attracted to him, and she was fighting her instincts because she knew intellectually that this was a female child, but she looked so handsome and hairy-chested. And it aired.
Some of the other sketches you’ve noted as your favorites include ”Fun Friends Club,” with Rachel Dratch as a girl on a Barney-type show who developed breasts over the hiatus, and the Vagina Monologues parody, ”Talkin’ ‘Bout ‘Ginas.” Then there’s my favorite, ”Mom Jeans.”
Oh, I saw ”Mom Jeans” recently; I passed it on VH1. The padding that I wore in ”Mom Jeans” has now come to life.
The common thread for all of these is that they showcased SNL‘s female players.
I used to love to write with Dratch especially, because we had known each other a long time. But yeah, I always took it to be part of my job and why I was there — to write for the women and to help them get on.
When you moved in front of the camera to host ”Weekend Update” in 2000, people pinpointed you as a sort of feminist icon. Time magazine said you used sexism the way Eddie Murphy used racism.
I did? Where are all my red leather suits?
At the same time that you were being lauded for your feminist wit, everyone was talking about how hot you were.
I think you should look back. There are some hair and some teeth problems.
Between 2001 and 2004, people used the following terms to describe you: ”four-eyed sex symbol,” ”reluctant sex symbol,” ”the laughing man’s sex symbol”…
…”the thinking man’s sex symbol,” and ”specs symbol.” Which would you say is the most accurate?
None of the above. I remember at the time having a sigh of relief, just that the opposite didn’t happen — that it wasn’t ”How dare she be on TV! Get her off of there!”
Do you still have the much-fetishized ”Update” glasses?
I do have them at home somewhere, I think. I was going through a drawer and I found my original pale blue tank top that used to go under my ”Update” jacket — I don’t know why I have it at home. I held it up, and it just seemed very tiny. It looks like baby clothes!
The legend that built up around you at that time was a sort of Cinderella story: Nerdy, plump comedy writer loses 30 pounds, puts on some sexy glasses, and becomes a TV star! Have you ever thought about how you’re going to talk to your daughters about that very reductive version of your rise to fame?
I haven’t, but I feel like I can defend it. The reality is, [SNL creator] Lorne Michaels had already established a tradition of looking around the office and putting people on the air. It started with Conan. And I had moved to New York from the Midwest and I had lived one or two of what we thought at the time were stressful years — now it seems like nothing — working as a writer and being increasingly sedentary. I had money in my pocket in New York for the first time and I thought, ”I want to look a little bit like some of these other women in New York.” So I sort of took it upon myself to lose weight. If I had not lost weight, I don’t know if [my] path would have been the same. But nobody ever told me to. I wanted to buy clothes. I bought so many clothes at French Connection when I lost weight! Club Monaco!
Mean Girls, which you wrote, came out in 2004. It’s hard to remember a time when that term wasn’t in the lexicon. How did the title come about?
It was a working title for a long time. The book that the movie was sort of based on was called Queen Bees & Wannabes. Mean Girls was just the working title, and how Lorne and I would refer to it when we would talk about it in the office at SNL, like, ”Have you done the draft of Mean Girls? You gotta turn it in in a month,” and it sort of stuck. He and I both like very simple titles.
Mark Waters, who directed the movie, said in an interview that there was originally a scene in the script where Regina’s little sister is seen giving a lap dance to a teddy bear, but that he just couldn’t pull the trigger on it, so it was changed to her dancing provocatively to Kelis’ ”Milkshake.”
He was like, ”I can’t walk into the room and make this child do this.” If we were doing it now, I would have been like, ”Okay, I’ll make her do it.” [Laughs]… We had a lot of trouble with the MPAA with that movie. We had to make a lot of edits. They wanted to give it an R. Some of the things that were in the Burn Book…like, ”So-and-so masturbated with a hot dog” — we had to change it to ”made out with a hot dog,” which doesn’t even make sense. There was a line, ”Is your cherry popped?” which we had to [rerecord] as ”Is your muffin buttered?” which also doesn’t make sense… I really do think it was because it was girls. If it was about a boys’ school, and there was one reference talking about another guy, off camera having once masturbated, I don’t think that would have been an R rating.
Lindsay Lohan’s character, Cady, turns into a Plastic like Regina when she gets very popular very fast and starts to love it. You also had popularity thrust upon you very spectacularly, when you started at ”Weekend Update” — what was the closest you ever came to becoming a Plastic?
The first thing that’s coming to mind is I did a photo shoot one time with Mark Seliger, who was perfectly nice. And all of a sudden I was in, like, garters, and I was thinking, ”Why am I…? How was I so easily…?” I wonder if, had I had the body to be in my underwear, if I would have ended up in the standard FHM cover [pose] — would I have had the internal moral compass to not do that?
Mean Girls surprised box office soothsayers by opening at No. 1 with $24.4 million. You were at SNL when you got the news.
It was one of the most exciting and fun weekends of my life. I think their expectation for it going into the weekend was 12 [million], which would have been completely respectable for what that movie was and what it cost.
How did you celebrate?
I mean, I stayed at work. But I was really happy! [Laughs]
Two years later you left SNL to do a sitcom based loosely on your time there. Even though I cover television for a living, I completely forgot that when 30 Rock debuted, it was viewed as the scrappy little underdog against NBC’s surefire hit Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. At the time, what did you think 30 Rock‘s chances were for survival?
I remember [then-NBC Entertainment president] Kevin Reilly calling me up as a courtesy. I had written the pilot a year before and then I got pregnant, so we put the shooting of the pilot on hold for about a year. Right before they were about to buy Studio 60, Kevin Reilly called me and Lorne and said, ”I just want you to know from me before you hear it elsewhere that we are buying this other show because we can’t not, it’s going to be such a big hit, and it’s Aaron Sorkin, and we had to fight for it in a bidding war.” We were sort of like, ”Okay.” What are you going to do? It was kind of thrilling to be the underdog and to have this imaginary nemesis — although those actors, the few that I’ve met since then, are so nice, and Aaron Sorkin came and did a cameo on our show [later]. Maybe it is the one thread of Mean Girls that holds in me still — I do operate well with at least an imaginary nemesis.
How did you find out that Studio 60 had been canceled?
I don’t remember how I found out, but I remember that Aaron Sorkin had sent us champagne when we premiered, and I had kept it in the office. Once again, our rivalry was always kidding on the square, and it was 99.9 percent a bit. His card said something like ”I look forward to seeing your show,” and I was like, ”I know he’s seen it already! I’m sure he’s got a DVD of it!” I remember saying, ”We’re going to keep that champagne, and we’re going to drink it the day that Studio 60 is canceled!” We looked for it to drink it the day it had been canceled, and it had been stolen. [Laughs]
30 Rock began evolving pretty quickly after it debuted — the Liz-Jack relationship went from adversarial in the pilot to odd-couple friendship by episode 6. How has your relationship with Alec off camera evolved? You knew him before 30 Rock through all of his hosting gigs on SNL.
I mean, I knew him only in the way that a terrified, extremely awkward writer knows a really good host, which is not at all. I would have maybe gone up to him once or twice and muttered before a table read, [timid whisper] ”Oh, on page 6, um, there’s a French word, just so you know…” I feel like my comfort level just being in a room with him has grown over the years. When a person is a big movie star, after you know them for a couple of years, you’re finally able to put aside the fact that you’re in a room with a big handsome movie star.
Years ago, when someone asked you about his infamous voicemail to his daughter, you said you never really talked to him about things outside of work. Is that still the case?
No, we have a little bit more of a personal relationship. When you work this long, this many hours with someone, you see them more hours than you see your own family. People will say, ”Do you guys hang out? Do you go to dinner?” Not really, because we’ve already seen each other for, like, 11 hours. I realize I see Amy Poehler the most when we’re working together on something. It will be interesting to see [what happens] when we’re all unemployed.
From the beginning there was a question of how long Alec would stay with the show, and over the years he hinted more than once that he might leave. Was that something that you worried about?
I always had a very Zen thing about it — he’s going to do it or not, and if he doesn’t do it, we won’t continue…. You can’t control things by being nervous about it. There definitely were times where I expressed to him how I would very much like him to do it and how important it was to me — and if he thought we were going to continue without him, we would not. But I think by season 3 [we knew he was staying]. I had a dinner with him when I was very pregnant with my second child to say, ”Let’s do season 7, come on. Let’s do it!” And he said okay. I think I had the baby the next day. And now not a day goes by that he doesn’t go around to the crew and agitate for a season 8: ”You’ve gotta change your minds!” It’s like, ”It’s not really up to me — and also, no.”
You’ve said before that you were trying to make a hit show with 30 Rock but ”failed,” to use your term. At what point did you guys stop trying to make a mass-appeal show?
Well, we always did jokes that we were excited that we could do. We certainly never felt we were dumbing anything down, but I always use that episode 11 as the one where we were like, ”Well, goodbye, America.”
As in the episode where Paul Reubens plays an inbred Austrian prince.
The official title was ”Black Tie.” That seemed to be a turning point — when we shot that one we did not have the back nine yet, so it really was like, ”Well, at least we’ll have a tape of this.” But that thread continued that season. Episode 18, ”Fireworks,” has one of my favorite things that we ever got to do — Tracy finds out that he’s a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and he has a stress dream where he’s on Maury confronting his father, Thomas Jefferson. Somewhere between the table read and shooting, Alec said he wanted to [play Jefferson]. Dressing Alec up as Thomas Jefferson in front of the real Maury audience…. That audience, they knew their role — they booed him when he came out, he flipped them off — that was another thing where I thought, ”Okay, we’re doing some stuff that’s never going to be a hit, but we stand by it.”
The show has had its notable art-imitates-life moments, first in season 2 with ”Ludachristmas,” where Tracy Jordan is court-ordered to wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet, just as Tracy Morgan was after a DUI in 2006.
I don’t remember writing the story, but I do remember that we didn’t particularly ask Tracy if he was okay with that. And to his credit, he’s always been okay with it. Even when we came back last season and addressed his conflict that he had with GLAAD. That one he was more nervous about — he wanted to be sure that we weren’t going to get him in trouble again. I said, ”I think we’ll be okay.”
That episode, ”Idiots Are People Two!” took on Morgan’s antigay rant at a stand-up club in the summer of 2011. You became part of the real-life story after you issued a statement condemning his remarks. What made you decide to speak out?
It was causing problems for the show. People were threatening to boycott the show, but my concern was more for these relationships that we all have here as co-workers. I just know that Tracy is not that guy, and I was frustrated with him. Stand-ups should be able to go beyond the pale in their act; the deal they’ve always had is ”I’m gonna try what I want to try, and if the crowd boos me and whips a beer bottle at me, that’s the deal.” I get that. And now the fact that that’s expanded to the entire universe whipping a beer bottle at you, it’s trickier for them. I also had the suspicion that it was not a well-formed joke or observation, that he was just winging it in a way that was causing me a lot of problems. [Laughs]
All great shows eventually get hit with a backlash. With 30 Rock it came in the form of an NPR blog in February that asserted, ”Over the course of six seasons, Jack has been fully transformed into a condescending, all-knowing daddy, and Liz has been fully transformed into a needy little girl who is eternally terrified of displeasing him.” Did you see that essay?
I didn’t see it, but I did get the perception of the backlash that Liz had gotten dumber, and I did come talk to the writers about it. There’s a silly color that they like to play on Liz that I think can be funny sometimes, but that we were going to too much. Because I wasn’t always in the room with them…there were things that I let slide. It’s mostly because the writers know that as an actor I like playing humiliated and goofy, and my favorite things are like the [flashback scene] that you missed this morning where it’s me in a pair of high-waisted jeans with three built-in belts…. We have course-corrected.
We’ll come back to the final season of 30 Rock, but in keeping with the rigidly chronological structure of this interview, let’s move on to your 2008 movie, Baby Mama. It has a fantastic supporting cast, but the best moments are just you and Amy Poehler together. Nothing will top the prenatal-vitamin scene. What are your favorite moments with her?
Her trying to open the toilet, the prenatal-vitamin scene, the Silkwood-shower scene. Greg Kinnear wanted a scene with Amy, so we wrote that scene where they cross paths, and she’s lying to him. I like that joke ”My husband works in the stock market — he goes around the country checking other stock markets.” Amy is fun playing a dummy trying to fake it.
Originally Baby Mama had a different ending.
I had wanted my character to adopt a baby and then find out she was pregnant. It actually ended up being one of the endings in Sex and the City, with Charlotte — once she adopted, and then she had a surprise pregnancy. But the studio took the adoption out, which I still think was a mistake — as proven by the success of the Sex and the City movie. [Laughs]
Baby Mama also opened at No. 1.
It was ”This is a really good opening for two women!” It was a pre-Bridesmaids reality. If that number was [for] any of the male comedy stars, they would have all jumped off a bridge — but for us, we were supposed to be really, really psyched about 16 million.
It made 17.4!
Okay! That’s respectable.
That said, I’m guessing the era of people being surprised — ”Wait a minute, women go to movies?” — isn’t over.
Well, the thing is, they don’t. They get [to the movies], like, once a year. Sex and the City had this built-in, tremendous affection for those characters, and people were so excited about [the movie]. But I think it’s really hard to get women to the movies. I think at that point-of-purchase moment, they go where their boyfriends want to go. Haven’t we all seen so many movies where it was like, ”Ugh, really? All right, I’ll go.” I have so many movies [that] I have the best intentions of getting to see them, and then I don’t. I’m working or I don’t have a babysitter or the times are not good for putting kids to bed first.
Once Baby Mama came out and did solid business, was there any talk of you and Amy doing another movie together right away?
No, it didn’t make enough money. I would like to do something that’s a little more at our personal taste. I feel like that movie is a pre-Bridesmaids-era movie where there was just a little bit of a vibe of Everybody be niiice! Don’t have too many jokes! Wear a skirt! It’s just a little bit soft for my taste.
Well, you did get in a joke about putting olive oil on Amy’s ”taint.”
Yes! But on a [comedy] continuum, that’s somewhere in the middle.
2008 was a notable year in the Fey continuum for another reason: Sarah Palin. Of the many things that were said about your Sarah Palin impression, perhaps the most ludicrous was this: ”Fey is well on her way to ruining Sarah Palin’s political career.” As you wrote in Bossypants, nobody said Chevy Chase was ”too mean” when he portrayed Gerald Ford as a klutz — but to be fair, when he did his impression there were three TV channels, and your Palin impression went worldwide on the Internet within hours.
And it’s filling that 24-hour news cycle, which is usually filled with anything except information, anything that’s not too challenging. So that SNL stuff would definitely go right into that cycle and then a series of ”experts” — also known as people who own neckties — would be called in to say what they thought about it.
But you do think that because you were a woman impersonating another woman, it was subject to an added layer of scrutiny?
There was a different perception about it, yeah, the idea that it was mean-spirited. Sometimes you see it lumped together [with] Katie Couric. I’m even more baffled by the Katie Couric part of it, because she asked her really basic questions. It didn’t really seem like a trick.
”What newspapers do you read?” is pretty straightforward.
It’s pretty straightforward. It seems a little patronizing, but if you just answer it, it’s not so bad. It’s not like making up the name of a fake president and saying, ”What do you think of President Savitzaba and his Gleep-Glorp policy?” That would be tricky.
Speaking of politics, you told me before we sat down that Paul Ryan plays a part in this season of 30 Rock.
Yes. In episode 2, Jack — being very active in the Republican Party — is Skyping with Rafalca, Ann Romney’s horse. They’re talking about the fact that in our universe, Paul Ryan has had to drop out of the race because it was found out he was born in Kenya. It turns out that Romney’s running mate is a guy named Governor Bob Dunston of South Carolina, who happens to look exactly like Tracy Jordan. Tracy’s actually been very, very funny — this is his Emmy episode for sure. He plays Tracy Jordan, and he plays the real Governor Bob Dunston, and he plays Tracy playing the sketch version of Governor Bob Dunston, which he’s delineated nicely.
You mentioned that Palin helped you get your next movie, 2010’s Date Night. How so?
I think it made me more famous. [Laughs] Date Night is the only movie I’d ever done an international junket for, and those people had heard of me only because of Sarah Palin.
What was it about Date Night that appealed to you?
One, it was just the opportunity to work with Steve Carell, who I think is so funny, and also so pleasant. You get to a certain age where you’re like, ”Who will be pleasant to see at six in the morning?” I liked the opportunity to play a person who was married as opposed to an increasingly aging single gal about town, a rapidly decaying woman going on dates.
There are a lot of car chases and general mayhem in the movie — did you get any cool injuries while shooting?
I got a jaw injury from the little girl jumping on me in bed [in the opening scene], bless her heart. That was a child-related injury.
Did they have to stop production?
No, in the moment I was just like, ”OW!” and then later on I realized, ”Oh, I can’t eat a hard-boiled egg.”
You were in that dress for something like 57 days straight. Was it comfortable?
There were, I think, three of them in different stages of distress. At some point I stopped wearing the corset that was underneath it. I definitely was aware of the difference in male and female wardrobes. I’m in heels and Spanx and a corset, and a mic pack in the Spanx, and a push-up bra, and I’m cold and I’m short of breath — and Steve is in a suit. And then he goes into a tracksuit, and I go into a stupid Old West outfit. I used to call it my Exit to Eden outfit, since it was like, ”What do we put the lady in when we can’t really take her clothes off, since she doesn’t have the goods? I know, how about an old-timey corset!”… Mostly I just had to stop thinking about the fact that my feet hurt and I was cold.
I noticed on set today that you change into slippers whenever you’re not shooting.
Yeah. The only thing [on Date Night] where I thought, ”Oh, right — I’m not a producer here. Nobody’s going to listen to me,” was when I said to Marlene the costume designer, ”You know what I think would be smart, since I have to be in these heels the whole movie, I think we should get a ballroom dance shoe — that way it will bend…” She was like, ”Mmmm-hmmm,” and then just ignored me. [Laughs] Instead they were so worried about the heel breaking that they just made this special shoe with a steel-reinforced high heel — which is incredibly painful. It hurt all the way up to my hip — but the heel didn’t break! If it were here [on 30 Rock], I’d say, ”Hey, guys, let’s do this,” and we would do it.
The following year, you released Bossypants. When did you start writing it?
I started carrying a notebook around on the set of Date Night. [Director] Shawn Levy was making fun of me: ”You’re trying to write your book right now?” ”Yeah, I’m trying to write it on turnarounds. I bought a composition book and everything!” [Laughs] I didn’t get very far. It was the fall of 2010 — that summer and fall I really got to work on it.
The book is part memoir, part essays, part observations — how did you decide what to put in?
It is a weird mix. I had a lot of freak-outs as I was finishing it to my husband: ”I don’t know who this book is for. Who is going to want to read this?” I kept saying, ”This is going to ruin me!” I used that phrase a lot.
Did you write much for the book that ended up getting cut?
There was a thing called the ”Dumb-Dumb Test” — a template for a test that all politicians should take. Just the way we have LSATs, I thought there should be a test that they should have to take before they run for office — or we should at least know their score.
”The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” went viral and was hung on refrigerators around the world. Was that something that you knew you wanted to write when you started the book?
No. I can’t exactly remember how it came about, but I know it was when I was living in a temporary apartment. It was a Saturday morning and I said to [my husband] Jeff, ”I’ll go downstairs to the lobby — I’ll just try to write for an hour, and then we can all go out to have our day.” Alice was about 5. I would try to carve an hour out on Saturday morning and an hour on Sunday morning, Jeff would hang out with Alice, and then we would all start our day. That one came out very quickly, and I knew from SNL if you had an idea for a sketch and then it came out very quickly, it was usually a good sign. I wrote it in, like, an hour, and I was weirdly moved by it — I got teary writing it. I thought, ”Okay, I think that’ll stick.” I was very happy to see that other women liked it as well.
What’s your next book going to be about?
There is no talk of a next book from anyone yet, so I don’t know. I think I would like to do it again, as terrifying as it was…. I know one thing that I regret I never did. I regret that I never did a novelization of Mean Girls. I had so much extra stuff from all of those drafts of the screenplay that I could have probably done a pretty good, juicy novelization.
You could still do it.
You think I could?
I think you should. I mean, ABC Family made Mean Girls 2 last year. The Plastics are still a viable franchise.
What about Mean Girls the Musical?
Yes! Are you going to do it?
We’ve been holding on to [the idea] until we have time to focus on it. Jeff and I want to do it together.
Before you write anything else, obviously, you’ve got to finish up 30 Rock. In last season’s finale, Tracy decided to start his own studio à la Tyler Perry, Hazel and Kenneth began shacking up, Criss and Liz decided they’re ready to have a baby, and Jack and Avery got divorced. Where will those story lines go this year?
Liz and Criss are trying. It does lead to a sexual awakening for Liz, who’s always been not that interested in sex?which has also been a point of discussion for people. Some people don’t like it that she’s not a sex-positive character, but for me it’s always been that I don’t want to shoot those things, and I don’t want my career to hinge on wearing a bra on camera. Also it was a point of view that you didn’t see that much.
True. When someone asks Liz how her sex life with Dennis Duffy is and she says, ”Fast and only on Saturdays?it’s perfect!” I think lots of women across the country were thinking, Amen.
30 Rock was starting right as Sex and the City was finishing, so at the time it felt like a fun flip side to have her be that way. But as she goes into the process of trying to conceive, there’s so much scheduling and organization and unromantic things about trying to conceive that that’s what she finally gets into. What finally turns her on is how much paperwork there is. [Laughs] James Marsden and I just shot a ridiculously stupid sexy montage in a Staples last Friday. She’s cross-referencing the show’s schedule with her menstruation. The montage is, like, me tilting my head back and him dumping a whole barrel of paper clips on my face, me pouring Wite-Out on his shirtless body? God bless him.
It’s got to be tricky to find a proper ending to Liz Lemon’s story. While part of you must want to give her the traditional married-with-kids scenario, part of you must feel like that’s not true to the show.
Yeah, I think it’s going to be okay for her to move forward and to get some of those things in her life, but without romanticizing them, and keeping her who she has been this whole time. She’s not going to stop working. She’s not going to soften.
You recently wrapped a movie with Michael Sheen and Paul Rudd called Admission, directed by Paul Weitz. How would you describe your character?
My character is a very bright woman; she’s an admissions officer at Princeton who is living this kind of quiet but pleasant life with her boyfriend who’s an English professor, not really wanting to get married, not really wanting to have kids. Then a series of things just kind of upsets her life; her life kind of comes apart completely. It was nice because it’s a very intelligent book and screenplay. It was certainly a challenge for me to try to do acting — real acting, Kristen. Jeff kept telling me every day, ”Don’t forget to do acting.”
A couple of years ago the Interwebs exploded with the news that you might be doing a movie with Meryl Streep.
Oh, yeah, it seems to have fallen apart for now. It was this thing at Sony called Mommy & Me, and the script went through a lot of permutations and almost got made, and then didn’t…. It was [about] a woman who loses her job and has to move home with her mother…. The script didn’t really come together. The headline I saw was ”Tina Fey to Receive Acting Lessons on Camera From Meryl Streep.” That’s about right. Maybe something else will come together someday.
When you accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2010, you joked that you were more qualified for the ”Harper Lee Prize for Small Bodies of Work”?yet at that point you had already earned a boatload of Emmys for SNL and 30 Rock, you’d starred in and/or written several successful movies, and you were in the process of writing a best-selling book. To quote Jack Donaghy quoting Hans Gruber from Die Hard, ”…and Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” What’s left for you to conquer?
Some days it feels like I’ve done a lot of stuff, and some days it feels like I’ve only had two jobs in my adult life. It’s hard to get lightning to strike twice, but I would love to get another TV show on the air someday. I very much want to write another movie, and I do think a lifestyle where you can do both is really great for writers.
If you do another TV show, do you want to star in it?
I think we would want to see what the idea was and then go from there. I probably would want to be in it because once you’re in stuff, it’s so fun to get to leave the writers’ room. ”I have to get dressed now. Bye!” Whether I would try to be at the center of it, I don’t know.
I don’t want to depress you, but it’s hard to imagine that there will ever be another show and character more perfect for you than 30 Rock and Liz Lemon.
It doesn’t depress me because I feel like, no, there won’t. For sure there won’t. To be able to do a show with so many friends of mine and to be able to do it for this long is very lucky and is for sure a once-in-a-lifetime thing. If I could just be the equivalent of Mr. Furley on something later in life…
You’re a Mr. Furley person, not a Mr. Roper person? Interesting.
Yeah. I mean, would I have Jack McBrayer here if I weren’t Team Furley?
True. You’ve been working nonstop for over a decade. What will you do with yourself once 30 Rock is done?
It’d be nice to do a movie or two while we’re developing [TV projects]. And work on my minor-league baseball team that I bought, just really get hands-on with that… I think it will be hard. One thing I keep telling Jeff and [30 Rock exec producer] Robert Carlock is that when you work at SNL, you know that when the season ends you’re going to crash and you’re going to feel a little depression. You just get to know it. I imagine it’s like when you barf after running a marathon. [Laughs] It’s just a physical thing that happens. We’ll have to learn how to stop, and I think we’ll pretty quickly get hungry again.
You recently signed a new, four-year development deal with NBCUniversal. Are you going to give yourself permission to take a break with that hanging over you?
If I went somewhere new, they’d be like, ”Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” But I think the timing of it will leave us off the hook for this development season. I see these stories like, so-and-so works three days a week on whatever?listen, if I could get a job where I go in three days a week and pitch stories on Smash, I am there. I will bring my own scarves. I have a lot of ideas.
Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan star in the Emmy-winning comedy. You want to go to there.