Tina Fey talks about Will Ferrell, her new movie and the Twain Prize

by Julie Hinds

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

2 November 2010


Tina Fey sounds impressed by the talent of her cartoon alter ego in the upcoming 3D movie “Megamind.”

“The animation adds so much and adds this visual element to your performance that I was joking with my husband after I saw the cut. I was like, ‘Oh, my animated self is a much better actor than I am. Her face is so much more expressive,’” says the star of “30 Rock.”

As the voice of TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi, Fey brings her smart comic style to the all-star cast of “Megamind,” which opens Friday.

In the funny animated adventure, Will Ferrell provides the voice of the title character, a brilliant supervillain who is surprisingly endearing. Brad Pitt is his nemesis, Metro Man, the brave superhero who protects Metro City.

Megamind’s efforts to defeat Metro Man consistently fail, so much so that even he is surprised when one of his attempts actually works. Feeling lost without a foe to oppose, Megamind tries to create a new hero, Tighten (Jonah Hill), who quickly becomes destructive. Can Megamind change his supervillainous ways and save the city?

As Metro Man’s girlfriend, Fey’s no-nonsense character is frequently kidnapped by Megamind — and not at all intimidated by him.

For the actress, it was a chance to work on a project starring her former “Saturday Night Live” colleague Ferrell and directed by Tom McGrath, who helmed the hit “Madagascar” movies.

She thought the role was pretty cool, too.

“I really liked the part, taking that kind of archetypal Lois Lane part and updating it for the 21st century,” says Fey, speaking by phone from Los Angeles.

On Friday, she appeared in costume as Roxanne on “Today” for the morning show’s Halloween celebration.

Fey is one of the most successful stars of comedy on television and in the movies, but she says she definitely sees herself as a writer first.

She was a cast member and the first female head writer for “Saturday Night Live.” Her sitcom “30 Rock,” where she’s a writer and executive producer, is an Emmy favorite.

She’s starred in films like 2004’s “Mean Girls,” which she also wrote, 2008’s “Baby Mama” and 2010’s “Date Night.” In the pop-culture arena, she’s had an impact on entertainment and politics with her Sarah Palin impression.

On Nov. 9, she will receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in Washington. Previous winners include Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart and Richard Pryor. Fey is the third woman to get the prize; it went to Whoopi Goldberg in 2001 and Lily Tomlin in 2003.

“It’s a huge honor and I can’t believe the company that (I’m) being included in,” she says. “It’s something I never even dreamed of in my life. It’s the kind of thing that I’m just really excited for my parents to be there.”

But Fey isn’t one to talk up her accomplishments. While discussing the recent live episode of “30 Rock,” she credits director Beth McCarthy-Miller as “the MVP of that whole experience.” And she’s quick to point out that many talented women have found success in TV comedy.

“I think you’ve seen the face of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the dynamic of ‘Saturday Night Live’ change so much in the last 10 years. And just in general, I think there are just more women taking an interest in this, in improv and sketch comedy,” she says.

One of the highlights of “Megamind” is the banter between Fey and Ferrell as Roxanne and Megamind. Although such voice work is usually done separately, the “SNL” veterans were able to record some of their dialogue together.

“We did do several sessions together, which was a real treat,” she says. “You can improvise a little bit.”

Fey describes animation work as “really fun and freeing, because you get to goof around in the studio and you get to try things as many different ways as you want to, because they do all the voice recording first and then they choose what they want and animate it.”

And she says it was nice to reunite with Ferrell, describing him as a funny, generous colleague.

“He’s not the kind of person who wants to be doing all the talking all the time, or be stealing the scene. He started in improv and stuff at the Groundlings, and you can tell he’s just like a great, great team player kind of guy.”

Fey doesn’t overload her busy schedule with movie roles. “It seems to be that what my family and I can bear is about one every other year. And this animated thing certainly was a great way to be in a movie without having to pick up the whole family and move or something like that,” she says.

She wants to write another movie “at some point, but I can’t imagine being able to do that until the TV series is over.”

On “30 Rock,” many of the laughs come from the career and life stress that her character, Liz Lemon, copes with as a single producer of an “SNL”-style TV show. Does the motivation for irritating Liz come from Fey? “I think I must on some level enjoy playing those scenes,” she says. “I would rather be hit in the face with a million pizzas than have to do one genuine love scene, so I think in a way it does come from me.”

Fey recently was a guest on Comedy Central’s “Night of Too Many Stars,” the autism education benefit hosted by Jon Stewart, where she pitched a premium for contributors: a wacky Tina Fey calendar — one month showed her as a Chippendales-style male dancer.

“I have not heard how many they sold. I hope 80 million, but I don’t have the hard numbers on it,” she jokes.

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