On “30 Rock,” the NBC comedy Tina Fey created, writes and produces, she plays Liz Lemon, a competent television producer whose personal life is a catastrophe.
In “Baby Mama,” which opens Friday, Fey portrays Kate Holbrook, a competent Philadelphia organic-food store executive yearning for a baby whose personal life is a catastrophe.
The central difference between Liz and Kate is that the latter sports tighter skirts and higher heels. Amy Poehler, Fey’s former “Saturday Night Live” “Weekend Update” deskmate, costars as her working-class surrogate mother from Jersey.
So here sits Fey, 37, the woman who in real life has it all: the hit show, the new movie, the husband, the 2-year-old daughter, some Emmys.
“Things are going good. My life is not terribly angst-ridden. I have a lot of support,” Fey confesses, sitting on a hotel sofa. “And I don’t do anything else.”
“I don’t - and this is not an exaggeration - have time to put lotion on,” she says. “If I get enough time in the morning to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth and put on the clothes that I wore the day before, that’s it. The idea of putting lotion on my legs, that’s not happening.”
The first female head writer in “SNL’s” history, Fey was chosen as one of Time’s “100 People Who Shape Our World,” People’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” Entertainment Weekly’s “Entertainers of the Year,” and Glamour’s “Women of the Year,” besides winning Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award and a Peabody award, all while making women who wear glasses feel better for wearing them.
Fey’s humor is fresh, dry, clever and smart, doesn’t self-denigrate - as women like Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers did - and is devoid of rancor. It’s the triumph of a shy, witty woman who becomes lovelier with success.
Her appearance reflects the wondrous alchemy of being Fey, alarmingly competent yet refreshingly unaffected. The hair and makeup are perfect, the work of others, presenting an idealized self to the camera. The attire, her own, reflects her true character, a T-shirt, black pants, worn brown Nikes.
Fey wrote the 2004 hit “Mean Girls,” back when Lindsay Lohan still acted, giving herself a supporting role. “Baby Mama,” penned and directed by Michael McCullers, Fey’s former “SNL” officemate, was sold first as a vehicle for Fey and Poehler, then developed through story pitches. “This was the situation that worked best where we could be funny and sabotage each other,” Fey says.
Seemingly a plot anachronism in the 21st century, pregnancy has become huge in such recent movies as “Knocked Up” and “Juno.” While those pregnancies are unintended, “Baby Mama” is their complete opposite, with a woman who will do anything to have a child.
“This movie is different. It’s more a straight-up comedy with jokes,” says Poehler, 36, during an earlier press gathering. Her character, Angie, dreams of a better life and nicer man. Along with class, “Baby Mama” deals with female fulfillment, and the kind of life Fey actually has.
Fey met her husband, “30 Rock” music supervisor Jeff Richmond, 10 years ago. They married in 2001. Alice arrived four years later.
“There was never going to be the right time to have a baby,” Fey says. “I was pursuing a lot of things, so I decided that we’ll see what sticks first. The TV show and the pregnancy happened to be green-lit at the same time. So we ended up pushing the pilot (back) for a year.” Alice wasn’t going to wait.
“On a good day while shooting `30 Rock,’ if I’m lucky, I get to come home in time to play with my daughter and then put her to bed,” Fey says.
“Baby Mama,” set in Philadelphia, was filmed in Brooklyn with three days of location shooting. (Alas, it has some of the worst geographical verisimilitude since John Cusack’s “Money for Nothing,” the Joey Coyle story where Pittsburgh proved an absurd, and mountainous, substitute. Kate lives near a hilly Rittenhouse Square. When Poehler goes into labor in Philadelphia, the women rush across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to Camden to go to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Ugh.)
Fey went straight from completing the debut season of “30 Rock” to shooting “Baby Mama,” though the second season loomed.
Other stars bring offspring and pets on location. Not Fey.
“Instead of a gym trailer, I brought the writers,” she says. “Our `30 Rock’ writers were in a camper on the street near the set. The camper was air-conditioned and windowless and the writers had the kind of laser focus that people have in a casino, when there’s no sense of time.”
She laughs at the memory. When “30 Rock” is in production, they come to her Upper West Side apartment at night so she can be with Alice and work.
The movie’s multimillion-dollar question is whether two television actresses can open a movie.
“First of all, I think this is a movie that men would enjoy perfectly well,” Fey says.
“And, secondly, this is a time when women need to say `We’re going to this movie.’” She lets out a laugh.
That said, Fey acknowledges it’s a struggle to get men to see movies starring women, especially when most men consider “Saving Private Ryan” a period costume drama.
“This happens in my own life. When you get down to that Friday or Saturday night, no matter what you’ve read, when you go to the theater you kind of want to just have fun,” she says. “You don’t want to feel like you’re taking your medicine and you don’t want to be bored. I think, anecdotally, that men make that decision about what we’re going to see more than women.”
It took work, she confesses, to get her husband to “Enchanted,” which he loved.
“This is not `Sense and Sensibility.’ This is not `Wuthering Heights,’” Fey says. “I think this is pretty dude-safe. It’s got a lot of funny dudes in it.”
She mentions Dax Shepard, Romany Malco and Steve Martin. Greg Kinnear plays her love interest, a juice-bar owner with an improbably perfect townhouse.
Fey was relieved when a recent New York Times article compared sister companies NBC and Universal’s hopes for “Baby Mama” with the success that Jason Lee, star of TV’s “My Name Is Earl,” had with “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
“I love it because usually people compare it to Steve Carell’s success in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” That’s daunting. I’m maybe more comfortable with (Alvin).”
Perhaps not. Carell’s work yielded almost $110 million domestically, while “Chipmunks” grossed $217 million.
Fey and Poehler, along with Sarah Silverman, posed for the April Vanity Fair cover story “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?”
Christopher Hitchens did, in that very publication, last year.
“I never read the articles. I sort of did a President Bush on that,” Fey says, in an early press gathering with her costar. “But I’m sure I disagree.”
“Yeah, she Bushed it,” Poehler says. The April article, more fashion layout than essay, presents the visual argument that women can be funny as long as they’re young and pretty and hot.
Fey and Poehler met at Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe in 1993. “We are good friends,” Fey says. “We have a very flexible friendship that is always built around work. We almost only see each other when we’re working together.”
Fey is rushing off to Boston for three days to film Ricky Gervais’ “This Side of Truth,” playing the British comic’s assistant, before returning for “Baby Mama’s” opening.
Then, for the first time in forever, “I’m going to have some nice time off,” she sighs. Six weeks without work. She can relax. She can travel. She can moisturize.
“I’ll play with my kid, which is more exhausting and fun than anything else I do.”
What about the other script she has in development?
“Oh, yeah, I have to do another draft of that one,” she says, as if it’s nothing at all.