As America ponders the question, “What will that Tina Fey do next,” she faces a week when the better question might be “What won’t she do?”
The star and creator of NBC’s “30 Rock” has that series ongoing.
“Out last night, on set, shooting until 11:30,” she says with a yawn.
Then there’s the new animated film she stars in — “Megamind.”
And on Nov. 9, the “Saturday Night Live” alum, “Date Night” box-office movie star and Sarah Palin impersonator extraordinaire will be honored with the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize, humor’s highest honor. The ceremony will be broadcast on PBS on Nov. 14.
“It’s a huge honor,” she says, “and I could never have dreamed this sort of thing would come along. Look at the people who have received that — Lorne (Michaels of “Saturday Night Live”) and Steve Martin and Whoopi (Goldberg) and Dr. (Bill) Cosby. It’s an insane thing to think about. ‘I’m in that group, now?’ “
Yup. The woman Vanity Fair once labeled America’s “brainy glamour-puss” is, at 40, in her moment. She’s thrilled at the cross promotional possibilities — Twain Prize, TV series that could use some viewers, kids’ movie that needs to sell tickets.
“I think children will know, ‘Well, we should see ‘Megamind,’ because it has Mark Twain Prize-winner Tina Fey in it.’ They’ll know. And that will be their reason for wanting to see the movie, or stay up past their bedtime and watch ’30 Rock.’”
She laughs at that, and at the idea that all these different pieces of work are spreading her a bit thin.
“I’m working harder than I ever have. But it’s one of those cases, ‘Make hay while the sun shines,’ you know?”
That’s why animation appeals to multi-tasking Fey. She shows up, records her lines, maybe improvs a few with her former “SNL” cast mate Will Ferrell (he plays Megamind) and the result? Cartoon immortality.
“You jump at the chance to make one of these, or the chance to work with Will Ferrell again,” she says. “The films are so good, you want to do it even if you don’t have kids.” Her daughter is 5.
And she loves what the DreamWorks animators did with her look.
“I love the fact that she has short hair,” she says of her character, Roxanne Ritchi, a TV reporter who is always being kidnapped by the titular villain of “Megamind.” “Usually in animated films, ‘the girl’ has long, long … yellow hair.”
“Her face is distinctive,” she says of Roxanne. “And in the vaguest way, she looks a little bit like me. A perkier version of me. And I love her apple-bottom shape!
“As a character, she’s more interesting than you first think. She wants to be more than just a pawn between the good guy and the bad guy. That makes her an active participant in the story, forcing Megamind to figure out that maybe he needs to turn over a new leaf. It’s funny that the idea never occurred to the hero or the villain that this woman who is being tied to the railroad tracks is kind of over it.”
It’s not her first shot at animation. If you have small children, you know. She was the leave-the-kid-home-alone-during-a-storm mom in the English language version of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime gem, “Ponyo.”
“Isn’t that a beautiful movie? I love that mom. She’s doing her best. She’s not a TV sitcom mom. She’s a mom struggling to do a lot on her own. She reminded me of the mother in ‘E.T.’ “
But all these bits of work force Fey and her husband (composer Jeff Richmond, who also works on “30 Rock”) “and everybody who works on the show to try and stay focused, to maintain quality.”
Not that she isn’t planning for that day when the show ends. Fey wrote the sassy and smart teen comedy “Mean Girls,” and “I look forward to the day when I can write another film script, a movie, start-to-finish. But that just won’t happen until ’30 Rock’ ends.”
So for now, it’s back to the TV studio to finish the series’ fifth season, then figuring out what movie she can shoot in between seasons if “30 Rock” is renewed. And maybe she’ll take just one night off, get all glammed up to be feted and roasted by her peers at the Kennedy Center.
“I remember being an actor in Chicago and auditioning for a two-person version of ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” she says of her days as a struggling improv comic and actress. “I think I got the job, but found out it only paid $20.
“Mark Twain had this great gift and license for writing the way people really speak. He was one of the first people to do that, and that’s something we should all strive for.
“I grew up watching ‘SNL’ and ‘Monty Python,’ and those shows were huge influences on my work. As a writer, I fell in love with Caryl Churchill (“Cloud Nine,” “Serious Money”). Her plays were so important to me, her mix of the absurd and the emotional were kind of what I aim for.
“But you cannot be into American humor and not be into Mark Twain. I can’t tell you how honored I am to receive this prize named for him.”