“I still feel like this is enjoyable and a very long-sustaining prank that I’m playing on the American people.”
That’s how Tina Fey views her career, even though she was the head writer for Saturday Night Live (which she’ll be hosting this weekend), she’s the creator and driving force behind the Emmy-winning series 30 Rock and she’s a movie star in Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy’s new comedy Date Night with Steve Carell. If she still feels like an impostor with all that success, how are the rest of us supposed to feel?
It seems Fey has a pretty good idea of how normal people operate, however, given the level of reality she helps portray at the beginning of Date Night, where she and Carell play a rundown, exhausted married couple who care about each other, and yet tend to feel like their regularly scheduled outings without their kids are almost a chore instead of a much-needed break. “Maybe once a month my husband I get out,” Fey says of her real-life date nights, “and it’s a massive effort to get a babysitter and if we get more than 10 blocks from our house, it’s a miracle and we’re exhausted. I definitely related to the idea of ‘oh good, it’s our date night, oh good! (sighs)’ That made sense to me.”
“The idea that it was a married couple who are grown people appealed to me, because that’s what we are in real life,” she continues, before adding “At a certain point, you can’t be making a movie about your g-d wedding, you know? At a certain point, you’re getting up there. I felt like this was a movie that, if my husband and I got out, we would actually want to go see this topic, so that appealed to me, too.” (Editor’s note: yes, she did actually say “g-d” instead of the full naughty word.)
“We all wanted the movie to feel like it was at the top of its intelligence in dealing with this couple and marriage,” Fey notes, “and we really wanted this couple to feel truthful and realistic to us, and they weren’t a couple who hated each other and were fighting all the time. They were just a real couple who were worn down by their everyday lives and were, in a way, struggling to try to come together, and this night sparks that for them.” Another realistic moment comes when haggling to try to get a table at a snooty restaurant in New York City. “I’ve definitely encountered people like the maitre d’ in that movie,” she admits. “People propping up their own self-worth by trying to make everyone feel terrible.”
Of course, all that initial emotional reality goes completely out the window when they steal someone else’s reservation and wind up being chased around by dirty cops, drug dealers and psychos, and it quickly becomes a crazy broad action comedy – not something we’re used to seeing from Tina Fey. Carell noted that during their initial phone call to suss each other out, “Tina said the funniest thing. She said ‘wouldn’t it be fun to just be hanging off a car and bombing through New York City?’ I’m like ‘yeah, I’m in, that sounds great!’”
Fey was indeed enthused by getting to be sort of a badass. “I thought all the actiony stuff was really fun to do. We spent several days and nights in those cars and being pulled on giant rigs. It found it really fun and impressive. Our crew was awesome that they built these crazy things – it involved two monster trucks tethered to two cars. It was pretty cool. I watched the movie and I was like ‘yeah, and then I smash that window!’ And then I’m like ‘I didn’t smash that window! A stunt lady smashed that window!’ But I thought I smashed it. It was Mommy’s day out. The last few days of the shoot were on the roof in New York City. That was good times. We were pretending a helicopter was coming and screaming – who doesn’t want to scream at Ray Liotta?”
What’s likely going to be the most talked-about sequence in the film involves an entirely different kind of action. Fey had to put on stripper regalia and improvise a sexy routine with Carell that a suburban married couple with no exotic dancing experience would bust out. “Going into that sequence, Steve and Shawn and I agreed that we should not plan it, because then we would just get in our heads about it and try to learn it too much,” Fey reveals, before joking that “it would have been too good and people would’ve gotten aroused and then it would’ve been embarrassing in the theaters.”
She’s quick to give most of the credit to Steve Carell, though. “The part where Steve carries me around – we only did like two long takes of the whole sequence, and the first take, Steve picks me up and I sort of neglected to hold the pole! I was like ‘oh, right, I’m supposed to be going around the pole!’ I remember Steve going ‘hold the pole, dammit!’ It was a sequence that I was kind of nervous going into, but I knew I could count on Steve to deliver throughout it, which he did. There’s the robot, and one of my favorite things in the movie is Steve licking the pole and immediately becoming nauseous. So I’d like to say that we went to a bunch of strip clubs and really studied and stuff, but we didn’t.”
One would wonder if Fey is interested in the standard career trajectory of an actor, springing from television to movies, but she’s noncommittal about it. “One every two years is about all I can handle,” she says of making films, “because being the creator at 30 Rock, my year starts in the middle of June and goes back around to March. I look forward to writing movies again. This is certainly fun and good times, but to be in movies, I’m just going to take it as it comes.”
That leads to the inevitable question of whether or not she is feeling fatigue with 30 Rock and when she’d want to wrap up its run. “I feel constant fatigue, but we’ll see. We’ll keep going until we can’t anymore. I don’t know. I won’t know until I’m there.”
So if the long-term is unclear, what about the short term? What’s in store for the rest of this season? “We are building to a multi-wedding season finale,” she reveals. “It’s good. Apparently, people like weddings, so we’re just trying to do a bunch of weddings. I think Liz ends up actually having to have a function in three weddings on the same day.”
Sounds like Liz Lemon will be as busy as Tina Fey herself is. But as we’ve already seen, she doesn’t take anything for granted despite all the amazing and hilarious work she offers us, and she never shies away from the truth. That’s evidenced by her reaction to her network’s much-publicized shortcomings.
“Thank God NBC is having trouble,” she says, “or my show would not be on the air.”