Between 2004 and 2006, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler shared the news anchor table at “Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update” and though we’ve seen them reunited when Fey recently returned to host SNL, Universal’s new comedy Baby Mama lets the two comediennes do what they do best, which is make us laugh with their interaction. (Both Fey and Poehler appeared in Fey’s film debut Mean Girls, but they had very few scenes together.)
Written and directed by Michael McCullers, who shared an office with Fey back in their SNL writing days, the movie stars Fey as Kate, a successful executive who decides she wants to have a baby, but when she learns that she’s not able to, she goes to a surrogate agency (run by Sigourney Weaver, no less) where she’s teamed with Amy’s Angie, a loud-mouthed poorly-bred troublemaker who moves in with Kate and proceeds to turn her life upside down.
ComingSoon.net attended the New York press conference for their movie where we learned that their rapport and chemistry on “Weekend Update” was pretty close to what they are like in real life, as the two of them tried to crack each other up as much as they did the room full of journalists.
ComingSoon.net: I know you worked with Michael on SNL a bunch of years ago, so how did he approach you to do the movie and did he ask you two to do this as a team?
Tina Fey: It was weird. We were coming out of a building and he was waiting behind a trashcan and jumped out… No, he called through Lorne’s office. We had a meeting all together right away as soon as he came to us and to Lorne and said that he wanted to do a movie for the two of us.
Amy Poehler: Mm-hm, it was always pitched as a two-hander for us to do together.
Fey: So it was never turned down by the following people… (laughter)
CS: Can you talk about the first time the two of you met and how the relationship and friendship evolved over the years?
Poehler: I was like, “I finally found the woman I want to marry.” (laughter)
Fey: And then I had to break it to her that that’s not legal.
Poehler: Yeah. We met in 1993 in Chicago. I had heard about Tina on the streets before I met her, but we were both new improvisers who had moved from where we were going to college to study improv, and we performed together as an improv team named after a bad porn movie called “Inside Vladimir.”
Fey: Gay porn movie.
Poehler: Gay porn movie, not necessarily bad.
Fey: No, excellent. (laughter)
Poehler: So we were the two women on that improv team, so that’s where we met. We knew each other when we were just big eye-browed, poor, badly dressed.
Fey: I had also heard of Amy before… we were in separate classes, but it was like, “Oh, this girl is really good.” And then we ended up on the same team together. We really hit it off. It was a really nice group of people on that team — we all hit it off. I think we’ve always had a mutual respect for each other because we both took improv super seriously at the time…
Poehler: Yeah, we did.
Fey: At the time… and we still kinda do.
Poehler: We still kinda do. That time in Chicago for us at least was a time when there was a lot of really fertile talent coming out of Chicago. I know that Colbert and Carell and Amy Sedaris were performing.
Fey: They were all performing on the main stage when we were students.
Poehler: Yeah, Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz, and all these people were all kind of coming up, so it was a really interesting time to be there.
CS: To what degree did you lurk in birthing rooms to do research for these roles?
Fey: Michael did a great job. We had some experts on set who were these wonderful, very earthy women. One of them came up to me and said, “Are you having another child?” And I was like, “No.” And she was like, “You should consider a water birth.” I was like, “Did you hear the part where I said no?” (laughter)
Poehler: I remember telling people in their ninth month…
Fey: Because a lot of the women in the class were very, very pregnant.
Poehler: And she was explaining nice ways to make love, and the women were like, “No.” (laughter)
Fey: But by the end, I did want to have a water birth! (laughter)
Poehler: As you should. You don’t need to have a baby in a water birth. (laughter)
CS: Was there something that helped give you the outside perspective on this?
Fey: Well, Michael is a father of three, and his wife actually had a baby, God bless her, had to pick up, move her, two kids and her pregnant belly to New York, gave birth in New York, right?
Poehler: Yeah, while I spoke to her with a fake pregnant belly that I took off during lunch. “This belly is so heavy!” (laughter)
Fey: So he has a lot of perspective on all of that.
CS: Since Kate is also a successful woman, how did you play the character so that she was different from Liz Lemon from “30 Rock”?
Fey: Well, she is higher functioning than Liz Lemon. She’s a successful business person; she’s a more pulled-together, confident person. Renée Kalfus and I talked a lot about the costume design that this is a woman… it’s very subtle, but her clothes are different, it’s very mainline Philadelphia — pulled-together, old family jewelry. I think that this character is certainly WASPier than I am in real life because I’m not WASPy at all. I said we’ve gotta pretend that she really has straight hair — my hair is like a giant bush. (Poehler almost cackles at this statement.) I think her speech is a little different. I think it would have been a disservice to the entire movie to go coo-coo far to make that distinction because they are East Coast white women in their late 30s, but they are different hopefully.
CS: Why do you think there have been so many pregnancy comedies in the last year?
Fey: I think it is a universal experience, and I think there may be a generation of comedy writers that are hitting that age where they all have kids and the guys that would have written their dating fantasy comedies 15 years ago are people writing what they know. It might be a little bit of a generational thing.
Poehler: I think “Juno” is very different than “Knocked Up,” and I think our film is very different from that, too. I think they’re all kind of different, although they tend to deal with the same topic, that’s really where it ends in some ways. But I think our film is in the same vein as “Knocked Up” — it’s kind of straight-up comedy.
CS: Can you talk about the improvisation you did on the set and are there moments where you crack up the other one and ruin a take?
Poehler: That was a fun day when we shot that scene [where Angie gives birth]. There’s always a lot of birthing movies that never really talk about how foul people’s mouths get. So that was a fun thing — it was all one long shot, so as Tina was pushing me down the hall, we got to do a lot of stuff and grab a lot of stuff and there were real extras who were genuinely startled by me yelling, so that was a lot of fun.
Fey: I think the take that’s in the movie was the last take of the night. Amy asked Michael, “Is this the last take probably?” And he said, “Uh huh,” so she pulled the Christmas tree down, ripped an IV out of a patient. She made sure she was enough of an obedient good girl that she didn’t want to wreck the set until it was the last take and then she tore the place up.
CS: This movie is also about class in America and some people groan when Tina’s character calls you “white trash.” Can you talk about that?
Poehler: That’s a really interesting moment in the film actually. We were actually pleased that it got the reaction that it did. There’s this moment where they’re being their worst to each other and they know ways that they can hurt each other, and so that’s the moment where Kate decides to hurt Angie in that way. She was very, very hurt herself — she’s been deceived, and she’s been tricked, so it’s a way for her to strike back. There’s a lot of that in the film, which is the idea of what make a person successful? What are you good at? What skills do you have? what does it mean to be smart? All those things are things that separate them, and then they find that they’re more alike. The reaction to it is very interesting. I think it’s nice because to me, that means that people have bought into this hope that they’re gonna be friends.
Fey: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite moments in the movie even though I come up villainous because it interests me that people have such a strong response to it and the moment before, Kate has been incredibly hurt and betrayed, but the audience still which is partly a testament to how much they like Amy’s character and also just the class thingthey still are like, “Woah!!”
Poehler: Angie’s really fooled her and yet, they’re still rooting for Angie a little bit.
Fey: Yeah, so we were really happy it stayed in, because I think it is the nadir…
Poehler: Yeah, nice word. (laughter)
CS: Two part question: Can you talk about working with Sigourney Weaver and Amy, would you like to become a mother yourself?
Poehler: To Sigourney Weaver, yes. (Laughter) I would love to cradle Sigourney Weaver and tuck her in and whisper quietly and sing to her. I’d love to sing to Sigourney Weaver and give her a bath… (laughter)
Fey: She was incredibly delightful. We were so shocked and pleased that she agreed to be in the movie. And she’s really funny and very warm. I think on-screen, she plays a lot of strong, cold characters, but she’s very warm and she does improvise a lot in the movie and I really enjoyed it.
Poehler: “Working Girl” was a film we talked about a lot because it was another example of class division of a strong working woman, so I know Michael and I talked about that a lot, so it was really great having her there after studying her stuff.
CS: Tina, do you have any memorable experiences about being a city parent?
Fey: It is a different thing to be a city parent, because there’s pressure like “What kind of classes should my children take?” My daughter starts pre-school next year, so I just went through the process of taking her to her pre-school interviews and you’re just hoping, “Just please don’t poop yourself during this time. (laughter)
Poehler: Did she wear a little power suit? And carry a teeny tiny briefcase?
Fey: (laughs) and she had a teeny-tiny resume… made of candy…
Fey: But she ate it. (laughter)
CS: Who came up with the name Stefani for the baby?
Fey: Was that your joke or McCullers’ joke?
Poehler: I don’t remember. First, it was Christina with an “X.”
CS: Hollywood has the tradition for picking strange names for children but you picked a fairly traditional name for your daughter. Can you comment on the trends and backlashes of having strange baby names?
Fey: I like interesting names, too. My daughter’s middle name is sort of unusual, but they’re all family names. I do think when you have a kid you gotta try and think, “Okay, when this kid is an adult, how is name going to suit this person?” I like the name Apple.
Poehler: I’m just gonna name my kids numbers. New Dude, Little Dude, Old Dude, and Eight: George Foreman. (laughter)
CS: Can you talk about Christopher Hitchens’ “Vanity Fair” article and what you thought of it?
Fey: I’ve never read the article because first of all, I don’t have that kinda time — I can’t read a Vanity Fair article.
Poehler: It’s like, too long — 15 pages!
Fey: But also I’m sure I disagree, so I’ll sorta do the President Bush on it — “I’m not gonna read that — I’m not gonna like it!”
Poehler: You Bushed it?
Fey: I Bushed that one.
Poehler: Nice. It’s that thing like, “Oooo, white men can play basketball.” It’s just kinda boring. I think it’s a boring story, it’s an old story. It’s the same thing when people ask if SNL’s a boy’s club — it’s not, hasn’t been for a long time.
Fey: I usually find that when someone is drifting toward writing about that topic, to me it always says, “Oops! Somebody didn’t have an idea this week. Let’s go back to the old Filofax…”
Poehler: Yeah. (laughs)
CS: There was a recent Times article about “30 Rock” pushing the boundaries of family hour, so is that something you’re deliberately trying to do?
Fey: No! I take great pride in operating within the boundaries of the standards rules. I think it’s harder to make comedy when you can’t curse and stuff. I don’t think I realized how shocked people might be by the term “MILF Island.” The New York Post would not print the word “MILF.” They print a five-page spread about the glamorous life of a prostitute… (laughter) So I was surprised. No, it’s not our intention to ruin family time. Often times when I’m in the writers’ room, I’ll say “This is gonna be on at 8:41 PM, let’s back off it a little bit.”
Poehler: I love ruining family time. I just haven’t had the chance. (laughter)
CS: Can you each talk about some of your own favorite television shows?
Poehler: I’m just a drama fan really. When you get home from the office, all you want to do it cry. So I know it’s over, but I was a huge “The Wire” fan. That’s the best show I’ve seen in the past years, so we were really sad when that was over. I watch like “Frontline,” “The Wire,” “Intervention,” Oprah. Things to really bring me down. (laughs) Well, Oprah sometimes brings me up, too.
Fey: I really like “Arrested Development.” I like “The Office” — both the British and American version. I think the American version did a great job of finding its own voice because it’s different. I also likeI’m a 37-year-old white ladyI like “Project Runway,” “The Barefoot Contessa.” I’m my own worst enemy — I watch a lot of Food Network and stuff and not much network TV.
CS: If you could write a sketch about each of your lives, what would the title be?
Fey: God, that’s good.
Poehler: Because if it was a sketch, it would have to be funny. (laughter)
Fey: “Tired Times Talk Show”?
Poehler: There you go. That’s a good one. I wanna be, “What’re You Looking At?” (laughter which gets Amy laughing at her own joke)
CS: If you two could write a dramatic play together, what would you write if you had the chance?
Poehler: We’re gonna do a dramatic musical where we’re going to play two of the three Pointer Sisters. (laughter)
Fey: But there are other Pointer Sisters musicals in development. We’ve written sketches together.
Poehler: Yeah, I think that Tina and I are lucky that every couple of years or months, we keep being able to come back and work on stuff together, which is really a pleasure. I mean, I have her phone number and I know where she lives. She can’t hide from me. (laughter)
Baby Mama opens on Friday, April 25.