Tina Fey on Date Night
What is the story all about?
Tiny Fey: ‘Date Night’ is about a very typical suburban married couple in New Jersey, who have two kids and lead a very normal life but realize that they are getting into a rut. They have a once-a-week time to go out and try to do something romantic as a couple, as I think a lot of couples do when they have the babysitter. And like a lot of people, by the time they get to that date night, they’re exhausted. Then the couple discovers that good friends of theirs, who they thought were happy, are getting a divorce. That sends them into a little bit of a panic, so they try to go out and have a special evening together, a more exciting night than usual. They actually venture back into Manhattan for the first time in years for a real “date”. But once they get there, crazy stuff happens. It goes completely awry. This is really a comedy about marriage and partnership – marriage as a good thing.
It sounds like married couples everywhere will relate to this story.
TF: I think that this is a very relatable story. Every couple can relate to having times when they have experienced the constant mix of frustration and love with their partner, on the long, long road of marriage and the bumps that you hit on that road.
Can you discuss the chemistry between you and Steve Carell?
TF: Well I do think that Steve and I look very plausible together as a married couple. We just look like people you would see at the mall. So you can pay ten bucks to see people you could already see at the mall. (laughs). It’s been very easy working together actually because we have the same kind of training and background, coming from The Second City in Chicago, (highly prestigious school of improvisation and sketch comedy) so we speak the same language. It was very pleasant and easy from the beginning.
Can you explain a little more about the experience?
TF: It would be like two chefs working together who had studied at the same school. You run your kitchen in the same way. Another example would perhaps be jazz musicians who play the same kind of music. Hopefully Steve would agree. We knew how to work with each other, but not get in each other’s way from the get go.
Was there a lot of improvisation?
TF: Comedy wise we both like to improvise but if the writing is good, neither of us needs to change anything just for the sake of changing it. We did a lot of overlapping dialogue and he was very supportive, very generous and a great person to improvise with. The training we both have emphasizes the importance of taking care of your partner and making the other person look good; that is drilled into you. And I certainly hope he (Steve) did that because I was probably not very good. (laughs).
Do you have a favorite improvised scene?
TF: One of my favorite moments in the movie is when we are unexpectedly propositioned by a beautiful woman, who wants us to have some sort of three-way encounter with her (laughs). And rather than using the line that was scripted for him, Steve just chose to start laughing uncontrollably and giggling nervously at the woman. It is a really funny moment in the movie. His laughter is much funnier than any scripted line could be in that moment.
Were there any other really funny moments when you just cracked up?
TF: Yes we had to do some sexy dancing and there is a stripper pole involved. Steve made the interesting choice that his character – in an attempt to be sexy – would lick the pole and then he immediately gets freaked out and nauseous and regrets it. That really made me laugh. Then at one point we have a nice romantic kiss and we thought “oh wouldn’t it be funny if this kiss lasted for four and half minutes.” So we actually attempted to shoot a continuous four and a half minute kiss – and that seemed funny at the time.
What kind of married couple do you depict?
TF: Well we met with Shawn (Levy) a few times as he was developing the script and we shared stories. We all thought it was important that these characters were not mean to each other because they do love each other. They have just been beaten down by the day to day exhaustion of being working parents and all the things about married life that wear you out, until you are barely a person anymore.
What makes the scenario so funny when the date night goes awry? Can you explain a little bit about the comedy?
TF: What creates the humor is that they are very regular people who are called upon to behave like they are action heroes in a way. There is a scene with a big action sequence when Steve’s character vomits from panic and exhaustion. Hopefully it will be funny because I think people will be able to imagine themselves in a similar situation and what they would do.
What attracted you to the part in the first place?
TF: This was a movie that I would actually want to go and see myself. That is how I try to pick films. I very much want to see this one. And I feel like my husband would agree to see it too. When a couple goes to see a movie, usually the husband decides what it will be. But I feel like this is a movie that both men and women will actually enjoy together.
Also, the chance to work with Steve and with Shawn was obviously great – I had to do it. Steve and I knew each other peripherally from ‘Second City’ as I mentioned, but we never overlapped there and we had never done any work together. But I have been a big fan of his since I was a student there and he was on the main stage. That was back in 1995. Working with Shawn was a great opportunity too. He is super professional; he absolutely knows what he is doing and he is very detail oriented. He is really excited about the story; it came from an idea he and his wife had when they were out on a date night. Shawn is really thorough and thinks about everything visually and he cares about making a good movie and keeping the audience entertained.
What was it like working with Mark Wahlberg?
TF: He is great. I felt sorry for him because his character wears no shirt for the whole movie. Of course he looked amazing; he obviously completely carried that off. But because Mark himself has a fair number of tattoos, he had to cover them with body makeup so he could never wear a shirt, not even when we were on our lunch break or between set ups. My daughter was visiting one day and said “why does that guy never wear a shirt?” Mark said, “I want to wear a shirt, believe me.” Mark was great and very natural. When some actors have to play intimidating characters you see them working at it, but Mark was very relaxed and very quiet, and it comes across as incredibly intimidating. He improvised some really funny stuff as a result of listening and reacting to what Steve was doing.
What were the specific challenges of this movie?
TF: It is hard when you are shooting scenes out of order and a lot of crazy things are happening within the story. You are trying to monitor the anxiety or panic level of the characters. It is a movie that takes place almost entirely over one night, so you have to keep track of where you are within that single night. Another challenge is shooting at night in New York City. Now I used to work on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and I would stay up all night long and used to brag about how I could do that easily. But since I had a kid, I have turned into one of those wimps from ‘The Apprentice’, who stays up for just one night and starts crying and quits the show. On this film I had to shoot three weeks through the night, 5pm to 5 am, wearing a corset and heels while Steve was comfortable in a tracksuit. It was a challenge.
Do you and your husband go on date nights?
TF: We do try, yes. But it is hard, especially if you are a working parent because you want to be at home to put your kid to bed at night. By the time our daughter is ready and off to sleep, it is ten o’clock at night and all you are thinking about is “oh my gosh, she is going to wake up so early, I don’t want to be hung-over when that kid wakes up.” I do know the feeling that you get when you are going out for a date night but you are just so tired that you are actually envious of the babysitter who is settling in to watch television and order food and you are thinking “Why can’t I stay in with the babysitter?”
You are so funny. Were you funny as a child? Has comedy always been natural to you?
TF: I was sort of sarcastic as a child but I was never really that funny; I was a very shy child. I was always muttering in the back of the class but not really a class clown.
What makes you laugh?
TF: My favorite funny films are ‘Election’ and ‘Annie Hall’, as well as many old movies such as ‘My Favourite Wife’ and the Marx Brothers films. I love Cary Grant. I grew up on ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Stripes’. I enjoy that laid back kind of comedy where the characters themselves are being funny, it’s not just that they are in funny situations. I like that Bill Murray Chevy Chase vibe. I am a big Woody Allen fan. I am a big fan of Steve’s too; I thought ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’ was a really great movie.
Do you think the whole premise of the date night is relevant everywhere even though it is essentially an American term?
TF: I do think it is a little bit of an American thing in that we tend to put labels on things like this. It is a relatively recent thing and the same applies to terms like ‘playdate’. Europeans drag their kids around late at night; they go to dinner at 10.30 at night and take their kids with them. Americans are ridiculous about living their lives for their children; that is particularly true of the last generation. You build your whole lives around your kids. You go on vacation where they want to go, you plan your weekend around their soccer games and hockey games and birthday parties. In my generation you didn’t go to fifteen birthday parties a year. Now there are two parties in one weekend. So because Americans are ‘cuckoo’ about their kids, we have to carve out time for relationships in a more rigid way, which is why we have the term ‘date night’.
Finally, how exciting is your career just now?
TF: It has been a crazy, crazy year or so and a very exciting time. Every time I thought it could not get crazier, it got even crazier. But hopefully at this point my family and I are settling into a more normal routine. Steve and I were just talking about this. Coming into it all (the craziness) a little bit older is really a blessing because it makes you realize that what really matters is your home life. What matters is that you do the kind of work that you want to do; You don’t need to take the kind of work that anyone asks you to do. So I feel very lucky to have some perspective on it all. I also feel very aware that it will not be this way forever.