On 30 Rock she’s a geek, but in person she’s a mom, wife, writer, producer, and movie star. The comic heroine reveals the secret to her success (and it’s not yoga).
It’s funny, hearing Tina Fey laugh. It’s not that she’s one of those comics who go dark when the camera stops rolling — it’s more that she makes us laugh so often (on her now-49-times-Emmy-nominated 30 Rock, as well as with her genius Sarah Palin impression on Saturday Night Live, which still tickles our subconscious a year later) that to hear her do it is striking.
A typical Fey day sounds like a punch line, but more for a black comedy: “Work, come home, play, kid bounce, work again, go to bed.” She has thought about yoga, even done it a couple times. “But,” she notes, “even yoga classes go on 80 or 90 minutes.” Not for Tina the ethos of Gwyneth Paltrow or Madonna, with their two hours plus of bendiness a day. “You will still die,” she observes. “I’ll do grave yoga. Someone can come and stretch me in my grave.”
Tina, 39, is busy. So busy that she often writes dialogue for 30 Rock in the car on the way to the New York studio each morning. 30 Rock is both her brainchild and her baby. (She does have a real one, her four-year-old daughter, Alice.) “Sometimes I’ll be telling my husband [composer Jeff Richmond], ‘I think I’m cracking up,'” she says with a sigh. “Sometimes you just need a minute to say, ‘I think I’m cracking’ and just acknowledge it.” Alice has opinions of her own on her mother’s workload. “Last weekend,” Tina recalls, “she started chanting, ‘Daddy is my mom! Daddy is my mom!'”
Tina is pretty good with the quips. She famously claimed, “Bitch is the new black” in an ode to Hillary Clinton on SNL‘s “Weekend Update,” and she verbally sliced and diced Republican vice-presidential candidate Palin in the heat of election season last year.
It’s a good thing, then, that the bouffanted one is on the speaking circuit in Hong Kong because Tina, who once said, “I want to be done playing this lady November 5,” now adds slyly, “I feel like I’ve probably not worn that wig for the last time. At some point, it will come out of the closet.”
Plopped on the couch of her office in Silvercup Studios, where 30 Rock is filmed, Tina is still bemused by her influence. “I talked about [Palin] in this office-water-cooler sort of way, but it had some strange weight to it. It was weird. I’m not a pundit.”
Tina is, as Hollywood would refer to her, a hyphenate — actually, more of a hyphen-hyphenate. “My last couple years at SNL,” she recalls of the show, which she left in 2006, “I said, ‘I’ll just throw everything out there. I’ll try to get pregnant [Alice], try to write a movie [Mean Girls], and try to do this development deal [30 Rock].’ Everything of the three happened.”
30 Rock headquarters forms one third of a triumphant New York nexus, with Gossip Girl‘s and Sex and the City‘s offices across the hall. In the reception area is a hodgepodge of Tina’s press, including red-carpet moments and magazine covers, pinned up like a proud mom’s scrapbook. Today she is wearing an ivory shirt and trousers (“I don’t know why I’m in head-to-toe ivory”) and new Prada Sport sneakers to put the pep in her step. “Shopping!” she says gleefully. “I’ve been shopping. I am no longer the least stylish woman in the room.”
Two doors away is Tina’s kingdom, the buzzing, sacred writer’s room. A dozen mainly young writers eye their visitor with friendly suspicion. “How good is your eyesight?” Tina asks, referring to the show’s upcoming plotlines, etched on a white board in different colored markers. “Because if your eyesight is too good, you can’t look.” Eyesight is bad. All seem pleased.
Liz Lemon, Tina’s by turns hapless, arch, and eminently relatable 30 Rock character, speaks, sometimes with freakish accuracy, to a certain school of New York women. She’s the yin to the yang of Sex and the City‘s muse, Carrie Bradshaw. “I wanted her to be believable, and she’s based on a version of myself from before,” Tina explains. “Being a writer and first moving to New York … a lot of women live like that. It’s not that there is anything wrong with them or they are not together, intelligent, attractive women. It’s just that the numbers are off or something.” What would swinging Carrie make of the oft-oppressed Liz? “I think they would get along,” Tina says. “Liz has little to no style and little to no sex drive. Carrie would be very encouraging of Lemon and help her have more confidence.”
Tina, with her increasing awards-show outings, is climbing up the red-carpet stylometer herself. “When it comes to going to the Emmys, say, people always say, ‘You should wear some color,’ but I always wear gunmetal or black.” She’s had some recent hits — most prominently a metallic Zac Posen she wore to this year’s Oscars. (“That was a beautiful dress. I felt really good in that dress.”) A close second was the black halter Roberto Cavalli she wore to the Golden Globes this past January. (“That was the most comfortable ever. And it did a lot of service to the lower half disappearing.”)
Tina’s awards-acceptance speeches have become the stuff of lore. (From the Emmys in 2008: “I want to thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities.”) She credits Steve Martin for instructing her in the ways of onstage mojo. “He said, ‘You have to always kill.’ If you are in any way a comedian, you should try to be funny.”
And sometimes you can be pretty and witty. On the rituals of beautification, Tina, who has a facial scar from a childhood attack (when she was five, she was assaulted outside her Philadelphia home), says, “You can point any kind of laser at my face, but I don’t think Botox is for me. I think it is bad. People who have too much, they look like their faces are full of candles — a shiny, shiny face.” Festive, though. “Yes, festive. A holiday candle.”
Tina has her vanities, of course, and sometimes it helps to be the empress of 30 Rock. “I have the camera frame me from the waist up,” she jokes. Really? “Sometimes. If there is a shot that is bad, I can take it out. That is why L.A. is so bad, because they can take your picture from any side. That is why people in L.A. maintain 360-degree fitness. I don’t have that kind of time.”
Keeping her hair looking television appropriate is another time suck. Tina had a blowout today but stresses, “When I am not shooting, my hair looks like a Halloween wig.” She lapses into an impersonation of a hair stylist: “‘I hate to tell you this, but it’s because you are shooting all the time. You know those old actresses that are bald?’ And I shoot 200 days a year.”
Tina’s emblematic glasses have almost bitten the dust too. “I don’t wear them very much in real life because I need them to see only far away. And I don’t wear them when I am dressed up, because then I would look like Tootsie,” she says. Liz Lemon may be seeing more clearly too. “It is funny because some of the grandma, old Dynasty-style lighting tricks that I’d like to be able to do are problematic with glasses. You see the lighting instruments. You may see Lemon start taking her glasses off more and more frequently as the season goes on so it becomes Barbara Walters.”
Tina is similarly old-school when it comes to maintenance. “I like to delude myself that I’m in the old-Hollywood mode. I just tailor my clothes well and try to keep my skin clear. While it would be great to work out an hour a day, there is something inherently sort of selfish about it. I can’t do it.”
Also on Tina’s plate is an upcoming humor book for which she signed a rumored $5 million-plus deal with Little, Brown last year. “It’s full of incredibly angry ranting,” she says. “Actually, it’s recipes, photographs of doors. And then, more recipes.”
Then there’s next year’s Date Night, in which Tina and Steve Carell play a couple who will go to any lengths to spice up their love life. Tina didn’t go on a huge amount of dates before she met Richmond, whom she married in 2001. “I went to a formal once in college where this guy came up to me — this really handsome, nice guy — and asked me to go to his fraternity’s formal. I said something like, ‘You are gay, right?’ He was like, ‘What? No!'” She pauses. “Then he came out — not during the date but almost that same night. His straight-dar was off.”
Tina Fey’s humor GPS is spot-on. During her ode to Carell, she says modestly, “I can officially put on my résumé, ‘Special skills: stands next to funny person.'” But there is a growing number of people who want to stand next to her.