A date with Steve Carell and Tina Fey
The American Office and 30 Rock stars team up for Date Night and talk lacrosse, robot sharks, and Jethro Tull. But which one of them goes swinging with pet-lovers?
Tina Fey and Steve Carell are the reigning king and queen of American workplace comedy: she as acerbic variety-show writer Liz Lemon in the award-gobbling 30 Rock; he as Michael Scott, the Stateside incarnation of middle-management bungler David Brent, in The Office. And now they’re working together, having paired up for Date Night, a Manhattan misadventure movie that’s surprisingly more shoot-’em-up adventure than run-of-the-mill funny flick. In the midst of car chases and showdowns with gangsters, there are enough side-splitting, silver-tongued one-liners (many of them ad-libbed) to suggest that this particular job was in no way a chore for either of its stars. When we catch up with them in a New York hotel suite overlooking frost-bitten Central Park, they’re quite the dynamic duo: Fey is prettily doe-eyed and stiletto-shod (“They’re borrowed!”) but still nervously nerdy, while Carell – a man who positively exudes kind, calm energy – is reassuringly clad in a navy-blue suit, as though he’s just stopped by on a coffee break from Dunder Mifflin …
Hi Steve! Hi Tina! When did you both first meet?
Tina I was a student when Steve was a main-stage performer at Second City [Chicago comedy theatre], so we didn’t know each other then. Steve refused to talk to the students, except the one he married. He was like, “My work here is done. I don’t need to talk to any more students. Ever.”
Steve I only talked to that one because I had a crush on her. The first time I remember meeting Tina was at an NBC press event five years ago. We had a lot of mutual friends from Chicago.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about each other while working on Date Night?
Tina He has a terrible temper.
Tina No, not true. I knew he was a great improviser and comedian and I knew he was a great actor from movies like Little Miss Sunshine. So I was excited. Stephen, you were everything I dreamed you would be.
Steve I felt the same way. Tina completely lived up to my expectations. She’s probably even nicer than I expected.
Tina Steve is also an excellent on-camera driver. It’s actually really hard when you have to drive up to a mark and hit it exactly. He nailed that. So not only is he a great actor, he has special skills.
What are the worst dates that you’ve both been on?
Tina I’ve been on so few. This isn’t a date, but in high school a guy gave me a box of microwave popcorn and a used battery tester as a gift. I was on a choir trip.
Steve Mine was my first date, when I was a sophomore in high school. We went to see a Jethro Tull concert, and I was too nervous to speak. At the end of the night I walked her to the door and shook her hand. We were both so ashamed that we didn’t talk to each other for about a month.
Tina But how was Jethro Tull?
Steve Awesome. At that point, Ian Anderson was blowing up giant balloons and piercing them with his flute. It was inspiring.
Do you have date nights with your spouses?
Tina My husband and I are swingers. We only go on date nights with people who we meet through pet-adoption groups who are also swingers.
Steve This is going to go into print, and what you have just said will now be a headline: “Tina Fey is a swinger!” My wife and I tend to be homebodies. We like to stay in on a Friday night and order a pizza and watch a movie. That’s our ideal date night.
Tina Probably the closest either Steve or I get to fancy date nights is when we get to sit in the audience at awards shows. That’s pretty good, though.
Steve Because it’s free.
Did Date Night give you a greater appreciation for action stars?
Tina I now know that they have a good time. It’s really fun to do.
Steve You’re made to look like you’re a much bigger stud than you actually are, though. The truly heavy lifting is done by someone who looks like you but is infinitely more athletic and bendable.
Tina When I watched the movie and it got to the part where my character smashes a glass door, I was like, “Damn, look at me smashing that door!” But all I did was punch the air, and then they brought in another lady so I wouldn’t cut my hand. But even I was fooled when I saw it. I now think I really did smash that door.
Steve Five years from now, you will be convinced that you smashed that door.
Steve, you crawled between two cars during a chase? Was that the most dangerous thing you did?
Steve I did it, on a soundstage. The car wasn’t moving, but the background was, which was extremely dangerous.
Tina And there was a wind machine.
Steve I could have been blown off.
OK, quiz time: would you rather drive a getaway car, impersonate a stripper in a strip club, or host an awards show?
Tina In this order: drive a getaway car, impersonate a stripper, and host an awards show. That would be a distant third.
Steve I agree. I think hosting an awards show would be excruciating. I think some people are built for it and are very good at it. But it’s far too daunting for me to even consider.
What would 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon and The Office’s Michael Scott make of each other if they met?
Tina I think they would get along. Liz might be off-putting somehow, but Michael Scott would try to like her.
Steve I think Michael Scott would like her a lot. And I think she might actually be kind to him.
Tina I think she would try to go out with him.
Steve Really? Wow! She’s that desperate?
Tina She’s not desperate, she’s just working very hard at opening herself up to different options.
Steve That is a formidable option for her. But yeah, I can see that. Though I don’t think it would be a lasting relationship.
Tina They’re very similar but opposite. Liz ruins everything by being sour, and Michael ruins everything by being …
Steve An idiot.
Tina I was going to say “needy”.
Do you think that men and women find different types of jokes funny?
Tina I think there’s a tremendous amount of overlap, but I think on the far end of things there are differences. On the masculine end there are robot sharks.
Steve I’ve never met a woman who finds the Three Stooges funny.
Tina I think they’re kind of funny. But I don’t like the usual ones. I like the one where they put gum in a cake. Not so much where they’re hitting each other.
Steve I think generally speaking, that’s where it drops off.
Tina You know what movie I never liked? I could never get my head around [National Lampoon’s] Vacation, and I’ll tell you why. I’d get super bummed out by the part where Chevy Chase was trying to cheat on his wife. His wife was nice! Every time I’d try to watch it, I’d get to that point and get bummed out and then not want to watch the rest of the film. That might be a girl thing.
Tina But then on the other end of things, I find that guys don’t like Absolutely Fabulous. Not a lot of men are going to sit and watch it. Straight men, I mean.
Steve I think that’s the definitive word on the subject. We can make a graph now.
Had this comedy thing not taken off, what would your alternate career paths have been?
Tina I would have been a teacher. Though I’m worried that part of that is because you have a captive audience you can bore to tears. But I’d like to think that I’d actually like to help children learn.
Steve That was my idea, too: I would have taught history and coached lacrosse.
Tina I would have taught English and directed school plays. And befriended gay youth who needed help with their situation.
Steve I’d have signed a petition for the smoking lounge. Because, you know, kids need a place to smoke.
What do strangers say when they come up to you on the streets?
Tina Which way is Broadway?
Steve When I was on The Daily Show, the only people who recognised us were baristas at Starbucks. They were probably the only people who watched it …
Tina Some people are very nice and say that they like the show. But some of them are lying, and don’t actually know what show they’re talking about. Sometimes people still talk to me about Saturday Night Live, because they don’t realise that I haven’t worked there for four years.
Do you think you’ll work together again?
Tina Yeah, hopefully.
Steve I have no doubt that we’ll work together again. Whether it’s on that or doing something else. Maybe fast food.
Tina We could become a figure-skating duo. Or there’s the Star Wars prequel-prequel that we wrote. George Lucas doesn’t want anything to do with it, unfortunately.
You could be like Tracy/Hepburn. Or Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase?
Tina Yeah, that would be good. Or we could make a movie of Hart To Hart. “When they met, it was moidah!” But who would play the manservant?
Steve That would probably be the most fun part to have, actually.
Steve, your Date Night character leaves drawers open, and Tina, yours sleeps in a drool-coated retainer. What are your own worst domestic habits?
Steve Leaving the drawers open. That’s something both Tina’s husband and I do, evidently. Other than that, I have no bad habits. I’m a perfect husband. Although my wife is not here to support that statement.
Tina In fact, she hasn’t been seen for weeks. I have been informed that I leave my shoes everywhere. I’m not a good cook. And I make stacks of things everywhere. My husband opens cereal boxes like the Hulk. He can’t open cereal without ripping every corner of the box. It’s like, “I’m too strong!”
Steve Before the containers had screw-tops, did he mangle cartons? Tina Yep.
Steve I would do that, too. I would open the wrong side, and then take a knife and try to cut a hole in it. I would spend my whole lunch hour as a kid trying to get the thing open. I was not a smart little kid.
What are your favourite scenes in Date Night?
Tina There’s a scene where we’re in the middle of a marital argument/discussion, and Steve’s character admits that his long-time sexual fantasy is Cyndi Lauper. It’s improvised, but it’s so gentle and lovely. I did not see that one coming. I also have very fond memories of shooting a scene where we escape by boat in Central Park. There were times between set-ups when we’d just be waiting there, floating, and I remember thinking, “This is a cool thing you don’t really get to do – lie in a boat in Central Park at three in the morning.” It was so calm.
Steve There’s a rooftop scene involving the bad guys and a Swat team that I very much enjoyed. It felt very movie-ish. Ray Liotta was brandishing a gun at me, like Goodfellas come to life. It was one of those moments I had to pinch myself and say, “Wow. I’m in a movie with Tina Fey and Ray Liotta.”
Tina In that order, of course.