In her new film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” Tina Fey plays a TV reporter named Kim Baker, on her first international assignment in Kabul. Based on the memoir “The Taliban Shuffle” by the journalist Kim Barker, it’s a “MASH”-style dark comedy with a rowdy feminist bent.
Ms. Fey had a meet-cute with the book, optioning it after a review in The New York Times called Ms. Barker a “Tina Fey character.” (Ms. Barker is now an investigative reporter for The Times.) Ms. Fey produced the film, with a script by her longtime “30 Rock” collaborator Robert Carlock, and a cast that includes Margot Robbie as a fellow journalist and Christopher Abbott as a Pashto- and Dari-speaking Afghan fixer.
The film is dedicated to Ms. Fey’s father Donald H. Fey, a Korean war veteran and one-time journalist who died last year. She and her family have started a scholarship in his name at his alma mater, Temple University, for veterans interested in journalism.
In a phone interview as she was returning to New York from the Oscars (“I had not one drop of booze — I just went back to the hotel and had a milkshake”), Ms. Fey discussed how war reporting is a little like “Saturday Night Live,” and what’s in store for Kimmy Schmidt. These are excerpts from the conversation.
A. I think he exaggerated. I just thought the book was funny and interesting. And I could play this part. It wasn’t like I was trying to play Charlize Theron’s part in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It was like, this is a person that was looking around and writing things down. It’s plausible that I would be that person.
What research did you do?
I read other books, I tried to watch as many documentaries as I could about Afghanistan. The idea of people throwing themselves into an adrenaline lifestyle, I felt like I understood that — weirdly, in a small scale way — from “S.N.L.” [But] I don’t think I have the kind of boldness that Kim Barker really has.
The movie highlights Kim’s dual life in Kabul: reporting by day and partying at night.
That’s one thing that surprised me. I just found it fascinating, the weird mix of Kim having this freeing, wild experience privately, in the middle of a place where women are so oppressed.
As a producer, do you feel a responsibility to put a different caliber of female character on screen?
“Sisters” was the first time I was a producer on a film, and this is the second. It’s much more gratifying to have some say. I really like that Margot and I, we don’t start out with some kind of knee-jerk, immediate rivalry, because that wouldn’t ring true to me. Having been in environments where there’s very few women and a lot of men, that usually bonds you immediately. I also really liked that no part of this story is Kim being like, “And I should have a baby!”
How much say did you have in casting?
I had a lot of say. If your next question is, why is Chris Abbott not Afghan? — I did beg [the casting directors], “Guys, my preference would be a native speaker.” They pleaded their case that Chris [was] their choice. The tricky thing is, Afghans [can be] Caucasians. [I said:] “Do you really like this guy? Because the only person — the only person! — who’s going to get in trouble for this is me.” He took his work and research so seriously. No one’s wanting to make a misstep there.
Tell us about the second season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
It’s her figuring out what is her moral compass. I love that we get to tell stories about her overcoming weird sexual problems, or her completely different worldview. We had one day this past season, shooting a scene with the three mole women in the bunker. I was like: I just love this! I love the sight of a female stunt coordinator teaching three women in weird religious garb how to fight each other. That’s a good day.