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People In Film | Tina Fey

Tina Fey | A Pre-Approved Performer

The multi-talented comic writer and actress Tina Fey has conquered every medium she's ever worked in – from stage to TV to print – so although she's a relative newcomer to the big screen, she was the instinctive choice to play the role of supersmart Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan in Paul Weitz's ADMISSION. The film's producer Kerry Kohansky-Roberts says, “We had heard Tina Fey was interested in doing a comedy/drama, and we thought the combination of her wry humor with the more serious undertones in the story would make for a movie that was substantive and also entertaining. Once we thought of Tina in the role, there really wasn’t a second choice for us.” Fey, as both a mother and an actress, was very drawn to the material: “When I told friends, especially those with children, about the film, there would be an instantaneous reaction and I would get peppered with questions. There’s a sense of panic in every parent who is about to go through [the college admissions] process. I found the story compelling, and I wanted to take on the challenge of playing this character at the center of that process.” Fey told Entertainment Weekly that in ADMISSION she had “to try to do acting—real acting. [My husband] Jeff kept telling me every day, 'Don't forget to do acting.'” If Fey felt any lack of confidence playing Portia, it certainly never showed. Fey's co-star Paul Rudd says, “Tina and I had done some sketch comedy on Saturday Night Live, but working with her starring in a movie was amazing; she had such a handle on the part of Portia. Coming into this, you know Tina is going to be funny, but she deflects all of her jokes. She’s not schtick-y; that’s not her style. Instead, she plays into what’s funny in the situation and the character, making sure that the humor emerges naturally.”

Tina Fey | A Comic Natural

When asked once about how she came to comedy, Tina Fey said, “Every kid has something they’re good at, that you hope they find and gravitate toward. This is my thing.” During her childhood, growing up in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania (just outside Philadelphia), Fey loved watching comedy with her family, everything from 70s TV comics, like Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore, to cutting edge sketch shows like Monty Python, Saturday Night Live and SCTV to classic Marx Brothers movies. That rare child who knows exactly what she wants to do and then goes and does it, Fey just zeroed in on comedy: in eighth grade, she penned an independent-study project on comedy, and in the latter stages of high school she performed in the choir and drama club while co-editing the school newspaper and also secretly writing The Acorn, the paper's satirical column. After studying playwriting and acting as a Drama major at the University of Virginia, Fey moved to Chicago, where she became a member of the legendary Second City comedy troupe (famous for alums like John Belushi and Bill Murray), calling it in her memoir Bossypants the “most fun I ever had.” In an interview with The Believer, Fey said: “The first time I went to see a Second City show, I was in awe of everything. I just wanted to touch the same stage that Gilda Radner had walked on. It was sacred ground. But my perspective changed pretty radically when I finally got into the training center. I became immersed in the cult of improvisation. I was very serious about it. I was like one of those athletes trying to get into the Olympics. It was all about blind focus. I was so sure that I was doing exactly what I’d been put on this earth to do, and I would have done anything to make it onto that stage.” Not only did Second City make Fey a brilliant improv comedian and help hone her comic chops, it also connected her with collaborators such as Adam McKay and Amy Poehler, both of whom would be important people for Fey as her career progressed.

Tina Fey | Live From New York

In 1997, Tina Fey's old Second City colleague Adam McKay (now best known as the director of such movies as Anchorman and Talladega Nights) contacted Fey about a possible opening for a writer at Saturday Night Live, where he was head writer. After submitting some sample sketches (which she told Entertainment Weekly were, in retrospect, “terrible”), Fey was hired and moved to New York to join the team. Fey, who grew up watching SCTV and SNL, had now moved from one vaunted comic institution to another. She was delighted, but also terrified. "My first week, I completely froze," Fey told NPR's Teri Gross. "I couldn't think of anything.” But, shortly after, she settled in very nicely. In 1999, when McKay left, she replaced him as head writer, becoming the youngest ever to hold that post. After a few bit parts, Fey moved into a regular role as a performer on the show. Moving in front of the camera suited her, as she told Gross. “It's very fun to be a writer at Saturday Night Live, but it's more fun to do both," Fey explained. "When you're a writer and you hit that after-show party, you're exhausted and you maybe combed your hair and you maybe bought yourself something at Ann Taylor. But if you're on the show, you're all fancy. So in that most basic level, it was an upgrade in the job." In 2002, she and Jimmy Fallon became the co-anchors of Weekend Update on SNL, with the chemistry between the two and Fey's biting wit making the segment a hit. When Fallon departed for Hollywood in 2004, Fey's old Second City pal Amy Poehler replaced him as her Weekend Update sidekick. In Time magazine's 2004 profile of Fey, Joel Stein wrote that Fey felt her time in the spotlight was limited: “she's also working on a sitcom-development deal at NBC. And she would like to write and direct movies in which she has small parts.” But when NBC bit on her sitcom idea in 2006, Fey did anything but disappear from view.

Tina Fey | Rock Star

During her time at SNL, Tina Fey developed a sitcom for the show's network, NBC, which was initially supposed to be set around a cable news network but evolved into something much closer to Fey's own experiences: 30 Rock, about a female head writer working at an NBC comedy sketch show. On the series itself, life imitated art: Fey played the lead role of Liz Lemon, while also being 30 Rock's showrunner. “A portion of 30 Rock is autobiographical,” she told The Times of London in 2009. “Our world is a little more bent, but the relationships reflect the kind of overfamiliarity and competitiveness mixed with friendship mixed with contempt. ...The one thing about our show was that we could never portray writers as heroic. They’re the least heroic, most cowardly, lazy group of people you could spend time with.” When 30 Rock debuted in 2006, it was up against another NBC series about the behind-the-scenes goings on at an SNL-type sketch show, Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and was the underdog hotly tipped to be canceled first. But, with Fey flourishing both in front of and behind the camera, 30 Rock outlasted Sorkin's show, with audiences warming to its fast-paced humor and many colorful characters, such as network exec Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), unhinged comic star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), shallow co-star Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and naïve page boy Kenneth Parcells (Jack McBrayer). Along with The Office, it became a lynchpin of NBC's Thursday night comedy block, and after a triumphant seven seasons – winning the adoration of critics and viewers alike – the show had its finale in early 2013. In the process, 30 Rock won 14 Emmys, 9 SAG Awards,  6 Golden Globes and 3 WGA awards, with many of these accolades going to Fey herself. (On the strength of her work in 30 Rock, in 2010 Fey also became the youngest ever recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.) Arguably, the success of 30 Rock stems from the charm of its protagonist, Liz Lemon, an all-too-real heroine who stood out among other female figures on TV. “We wanted to make sure that everything we did with Liz Lemon rang true on some level — to me or to one of the other women in the room,” says Fey. “And we did kind of know we were going into her as . . . well, as the opposite of a Sex and the City character. She’s not about wish fulfillment or fantasy.”

Tina Fey | Doing It All

In 2009, Alec Baldwin wrote a profile of Tina Fey for Time magazine (who'd named her in the Time 100, the list of “the people who most affect our world”), and said, “Tina works long days. Take your long day times two — that's how long her days can be. Write, produce, act, promote. And she finds time to [be a] mother.” What's maybe most impressive about Tina Fey is that she does it all. While at Saturday Night Live, she adapted the book Queen Bees and Wannabes into the hit teen comedy Mean Girls (starring Lindsay Lohan), which won her plaudits not only as a writer but also as a performer. (Roger Ebert wrote, “The screenplay by Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey is both a comic and a sociological achievement... Fey also plays a math teacher named Ms. Norbury, who is more plausible and likable than most high school teachers in the movies, and also kind of lovable.”) While making 30 Rock, Fey moved into big-screen starring roles, appearing with her good friend Amy Poehler in the pregnancy comedy Baby Mama (2008) and two years later teaming with The Office's Steve Carrell in the comedy thriller Date Night. Of Fey in Baby Mama, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Every inch a woman who conveys an ease in her own skin, she has become a madame comedy ambassador of her sex, able to negotiate with the big boys, then relate the experience in a way that has the smart girls hooting with knowing laughter,” while James Rocchi of MSN Movies enthused about Date Night, “Fey...can play the frazzled neurotic to perfection, but that's always tempered by a certain warmth and kindness.” During that same time, she also voiced the animated movies Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, Ponyo and Megamind, and made legendary appearances on SNL as Sarah Palin, which not only won her an Emmy but arguably had a genuine impact on the political perception of the wannabe veep from Alaska. In 2011, she once again proved that she indeed never rests by publishing Bossypants, her first book. Highly anticipated and enthusiastically reviewed, Fey's comic memoir sold over 1 million copies, while the audiobook version shifted another 150,000 units and also earned Fey a Grammy nomination.


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