12:03am

Fri March 22, 2013
Movie Interviews

Tina Fey, Movie Star? Not Quite Yet, She Says

Originally published on Fri March 22, 2013 10:55 am

Writer, actor and producer Tina Fey stars in a new movie out today called Admission, a film that's nominally about getting into college. Fey plays an admissions officer at Princeton University, one of those diligent bureaucrats who cull thousands of applications in search of a small cadre of brilliant young people who will be the freshman class.

There's a lot of comic hysteria built into that premise, and a strong cast, including Lily Tomlin, reinforces the film's approachable humor. NPR's Linda Wertheimer saw the movie and spoke with Fey about working with Tomlin, being a mother, and what comes next for the star after the finale of her popular NBC sitcom, 30 Rock.


Interview Highlights

On working with comic legend Lily Tomlin

"Oh, it was just splendid. I'm such a fan of Lily's, for so many years. I feel like Lily was the first popular mainstream crossover comedian who also was kind of an overtly feminist comedian. If you watch [The] Search for Signs of Intelligent Life [in the Universe], or The Incredible Shrinking Woman, or 9 to 5, there is a lot of gender politics at the forefront of her work, which was kind of thrilling for me to be watching as a 10-, 11-, 12-year-old kid.

"By the end of our story within the movie, she's quite vulnerable. We have a big fight, and she's just completely pleading for her daughter to forgive her and like her. Yeah, it is a reversal, and it's, I think, one that happens a lot with parents. I think that actually this movie has a lot to do [with] parenting and the kind of sacrifices you do or don't make as a parent."

On Admission's college application themes

"It was one of the things that appealed to me about the movie. ... I feel like there is a lot of inherent humor in the stress and insanity surrounding that process. People lose their minds to try to prove their parental worth by getting their children into one of five colleges, when there are thousands of good colleges across the United States and elsewhere.

"I have two daughters, and we live here in Manhattan, and having gone through the Manhattan kindergarten application process, nothing will ever rival the stress of that.

"They'll go somewhere [for college]; we'll find somewhere."

On why Fey's films have tended to lean toward romantic comedies

"When they put up the sign-up sheet of who wants to star in what movie, a lot of times I get there late. I was like, 'Oh, I want to sign up for Catwoman, and then Anne Hathaway had already signed up for it."

On temporarily giving up her writer-director chair

"This is [director] Paul Weitz's movie; this is Karen Croner, the screenwriter's, movie. To have such a lovely role in such a beautifully written script offered to me, it's like elves made the shoes.

"The idea of being in control for the sake of control is not really important to me. If everyone is sharp and doing what they're doing well, you don't really need to be in control all the time."

On why Tina Fey is not about to become a "movie star"

"I think the philosophy will continue to be what it always was, which was, 'Let's keep throwing a bunch of things at a wall and see what sticks.' This movie was made possible by the fact that someone else wrote it and we could shoot it on my last hiatus last summer, between seasons of 30 Rock. And now 30 Rock is over, so I definitely aspire to write another movie again. Eventually I will try to pitch something for television again."

On the manic appeal of shooting a TV show

"Television is a runaway train that you have to get on for nine months of the year, but at the same time it has a wonderful immediacy. And since you seem to be in the market for control, Linda, I recommend it — because it is a great medium for writers. Because there's just no time for a studio to interfere very long. You write, you shoot it, it's on TV."

On realistic euphemisms for unemployment

"There should be a new, more honest euphemism. 'I'm leaving office because I plan to solicit more anonymous sex in bathrooms.' 'I am going to dedicate myself full time to my day-drinking.' Yeah, I am actually spending more time with my family, which is nice."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tina Fey is out to prove there is life after "30 Rock."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Her critically-acclaimed NBC sitcom went off the air in January, but she barely missed a beat, winning wave reviews as co-host of the Golden Globe Awards.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS")

TINA FEY: Anne Hathaway, you gave a stunning performance in "Les Miserables." I have not seen someone so totally alone and abandoned like that since you were onstage with James Franco at the Oscars.

INSKEEP: Ow. Today, Tina Fey has a new movie out. It's called "Admission." She plays a Princeton admissions officer. NPR's Linda Werthiemer talked with Tina Fey about the movie and what comes next.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Tina Fey's character, Portia Nathan, is good at her high-tension job, but it's her personal life that blows up in this movie. When her live-in lover leaves her for a woman she thought they both disliked, she goes home to mother, and not the most comforting mom in the world - a sharp-tongued feminist author wonderfully played by Lily Tomlin, who seems to think poor Portia wimped out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ADMISSIONS")

FEY: (as Portia) Sometimes you make sacrifices for the person you've been living with for 10 years. That's what a healthy relationship is, Mom.

LILY TOMLIN: (as Susannah) Oh, thank God I'm not in one of those.

FEY: (as Portia) Yes, thank God.

TOMLIN: (as Susannah) If I had to do what I'm supposed to be doing every minute of my life like you do, I'd kill myself.

FEY: (as Portia) Did you just say if you were me, you would kill yourself?

TOMLIN: (as Susannah) Portia, don't exaggerate.

WERTHEIMER: How was it to work with Lily Tomlin?

FEY: Oh, it was just splendid. I'm such a fan of Lily's, for so many years. I feel like Lily was the first popular mainstream crossover comedian who also was kind of an overtly feminist comedian. If you watch "Search for Signs of Intelligent Life" or "The Incredible Shrinking Woman," "9 to 5," I mean, you know, there's a lot of gender politics at the forefront of her work, which was kind of thrilling for me to be watching as a 10, 11, 12-year-old kid.

WERTHEIMER: I think the idea of Lily Tomlin's, sort of, sardonic air that she has in this movie where she's constantly keeping her daughter, played by you, feeling somehow inadequate, and then the roles switch.

FEY: Mm-hmm. By the end of our story within the movie, she's quite vulnerable. We have a big fight, and she's just completely pleading for her daughter to, kind of, forgive her and like her. And, yeah, it is a reversal, and it's, I think, one that happens a lot with parents. I think that, actually, this movie has a lot to do about parenting and the kind of sacrifices you do or don't make as a parent.

WERTHEIMER: What parents and children will do to get into college functions as a kind of backdrop for this movie.

FEY: It was one of the things that appealed to me about the movie, was I feel like there is a lot of inherent humor in the stress and insanity surrounding that process. People lose their minds trying to prove their parental worth by getting their children into one of five colleges, when there are thousands of good colleges across the United States and elsewhere.

WERTHEIMER: It is something that presumably you, as the mother of very small children, will not have to do for a while.

FEY: I have two daughters, and we live here in Manhattan, and having gone through the Manhattan kindergarten application process, nothing will ever rival the stress of that.

WERTHEIMER: So you figure college, piece of cake?

FEY: They'll go somewhere. We'll find somewhere.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: I guess it seems to me that your movies have sort of fallen into the romantic comedy line, and I just wondered if...

FEY: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: ...you ever thought of leaping out of the...

FEY: When they put up the sign-up sheet of who wants to star in what movie, a lot of times I get there late.

(LAUGHTER)

FEY: I was like, oh, I want to sign up for "Catwoman," and then Anne Hathaway had already signed up for it.

WERTHEIMER: Tina Fey stars in "Admission," but she did not write, produce and perform as she has for other movies and for "30 Rock," the just-ended, brilliant TV, comedy about producing a TV comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")

ALEC BALDWIN: (as Jack) On Monday, you will have to present and justify your budget to them. Can you handle that?

FEY: (as Liz) Handle a presentation? Jack, I put on a live show every week. I've got some Trix up my sleeve.

BALDWIN: (as Jack) That's my girl.

FEY: (as Liz) You know, Trix, the cereal. I've got some in my sleeve. It's sticking to the fibers.

WERTHEIMER: "30 Rock," in fact, bounced off Tina Fey's role as head writer and performer for "Saturday Night Live." In what might be a new phase of her career, she stars in "Admission," but it isn't hers.

FEY: Yeah. This is Paul Weitz's movie. This is Karen Croner, the screenwriter's movie. To have such a lovely role in such a beautifully written script offered to me, it's like elves made the shoes.

WERTHEIMER: Wow. How about, though, the idea that when you do it yourself, you're more in control of it?

FEY: The idea of being in control for the sake of control is not really important to me. If everyone is sharp and doing, you know, what they're doing well, you don't really need to be in control all the time.

WERTHEIMER: But this movie, are you thinking that this is now your career? You're going to be a movie star?

FEY: Well, I think the philosophy will continue to be what it always was, which was, let's keep throwing a bunch of things at a wall and see what sticks. This movie was made possible by the fact that someone else wrote it and we could shoot it on my last hiatus last summer, between seasons of "30 Rock." And now "30 Rock" is over, so I definitely aspire to write another movie again. Eventually I will try to pitch something for television again.

WERTHEIMER: But television was kind of a grind, right? I mean, every single week like housework, you had to do it all again.

FEY: Television is a runaway train that you have to get on for nine months of the year, but at the same time, it has a wonderful immediacy. And if you are, since you seem to be in the market for control, Linda, I recommend it.

(LAUGHTER)

FEY: Because it is a great medium for writers, because there's just no time for a studio to interfere very long. You write it, you shoot it, it's on TV.

WERTHEIMER: I heard you tell David Letterman the other week, that you considered yourself to be unemployed. Is that correct?

FEY: That's a joke. Yeah, no. I'm still technically employed by the National Broadcasting Company.

WERTHEIMER: Mm-hmm.

FEY: And I'm sure at some point in a month or two they would like to know what I'm thinking about.

WERTHEIMER: The reason I asked was that, you know, here in Washington when politicians decide not to run again they always say that they plan to spend more time with their families.

I wondered if you had those kinds of plans.

FEY: There should be a new, more honest euphemism. Like, I'm leaving office because I plan to solicit more anonymous sex in bathrooms. I am going to dedicate myself, full time, to my day-drinking.

(LAUGHTER)

FEY: Yeah, I am actually spending more time with my family, which is nice.

WERTHEIMER: Tina Fey. Her new movie, "Admission," opens today. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.