By: Anne M. Raso
Tina Fey is in peak form in Admission, a social satire on the Ivy League admissions process that undoubtedly hits close to home for a lot of parents helping their smart kids fill out those complex forms right around this time of year! Fey plays Princeton Admissions Officer Portia Nathan, a conservative woman raised by a Susannah, a radical feminist mother (played by Lily Tomlin, sporting a large Bella Abzug tattoo). Paul Rudd plays the handsome and charming John Pressman, head of an alternative high school who has a wild card Princeton candidate for Portia--a kid named Jeremiah Balakian (played by Nat Wolff) with high SAT scores and crappy everything else who just may or may not be the son she gave up for adoption while in college. It's a clever plot and all we can say without giving away spoilers is that Portia's determined to get Jeremiah into Princeton come hell or high water.
|Tina Fey and Paul Rudd at The Waldorf Towers, NYC|
I spoke to Fey during the press day roundtables for the film at the Waldorf Towers in NYC. She must have gone through an intense admissions process getting her own daughter into one of New York's most prestigious grade schools but when I asked her about it, she joked that she keeps her children locked up in the bicycle room of her apartment building--and while they have approved her keeping her children there, they have not actually approved the bicycle going in there yet!
|Nat Wolff at The Waldorf Towers, NYC|
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in tackling the role?
TF: For me, it was just trying to do a good job on what I felt was the dramatic arc of the movie and there were certainly scenes that were more emotional than anything I ever had to do before and prepare for that correctly and have that be believable.
Q: Can you relate to that idea of being willing to do whatever it takes to get into a good school?
TF: I wasn’t growing up in some kind of private school world where it was expected of you to try to get in to an Ivy League school. I tried a little bit, but I think people who grow up either because of what there family is into, or where they grow up, or where they go to high school where it’s like if you don’t get into Harvard, Yale or Princeton, you’re done. I think that’s craziness. Nobody I grew up with really tried that.
Q: What kind of jobs did you have before you made it as an entertainer?
TF: I made cheesesteaks at a swim club snack bar, so my mom could have free access to the pool. That was one summer job. My brother did it for years and then she transitioned me in to doing it, so she could have employee access to the pool. And I worked at a YMCA outside Chicago. My hours were like 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. That was my first real job.
Q: What is the secret to great comedy?
TF: Obviously, try to surround yourself with people who are really funny and good at it, like Paul (Rudd). Even when you’re writing, if you can surround yourself by funny people and write together, that always helps. And trust your instincts, like what’s funny to you, instead of trying to think of some magical outside idea. Anything with humor, any time you can read it out loud or get it in front of other people is good.
TF: There are so many built-in humiliations in something like this and I want to say it was like one o’clock in the morning.
We shot that scene very late in the morning and just out of frame as I am always wearing a rolled down bikini top. The wardrobe people get you one and they’re like, “We got you a flesh colored one in case it shows.” So it’s like a weird tan, a bikini top, Jams and Crocs and you’re standing on the barn floor. So, it’s already ridiculous. It was not clean…
There was dry ice. It wasn’t really a shower. It was something they built and put into the barn. There was a guy named Phil--the same guy who was in charge of helping us make the cow give birth—who is the real man behind this scene. He was pumping this water and you always had the fear the water was going to turn ice cold at any second.
Q: Is starring in the big-screen college comedy Admission a third act in your career?
TF: I see it as a series of increasingly larger grifts that I’m running; 30 Rock was more of a shell game. This is kind of a Ponzi scheme that I’ve perpetrated in America.
This happened while 30 Rock was still going and on summer hiatus. It felt like a really lucky thing to be offered to do and a part that made sense. I’m always enthused when I see a part where people speak intelligently and speak like adults. And I go: “College admissions lady? Do I look like that? Yeah, I can look like that more than, perhaps, Denise Richards. This makes sense.”
Q: You got called a “cougar”…
TF: It was in my contract.
Q: How did you do with such a fast shoot?
TF: Well, I’m used to shooting that fast because of television. It keeps it kind of lively as long as they can light fast enough.
Q: How do you think the film’s theme of be who you are might resonate with the gay community?
TF: It is a movie about chasing acceptance and that sometimes a formal, outward acceptance really shouldn’t be valued as much. You should just be who you are.
Q: Do you think there are any other themes to this movie?
TF: I think it is a lot to do with parenthood and the sacrifices people make as parents. Being a parent is going to change your life in ways that are not always your choosing. I think that’s definitely a theme of the movie.
Q: What did people you talked to in preparing for this role say about the college admissions process?
TF: One thing someone who wasn’t connected to the movie who was an admissions person said to me that actually was already in the script was people think we want to say no to everyone when we really want to be saying yes. Their happiest moments and what their goal is is to be able to say “yes” to as many kids they think will thrive in whatever school it is.
Q: What is the key to juggling work and family?
TF: You take as much help as you can get and go to sleep whenever no one is looking.
Q: What is up next?
TF: I’m doing the Muppets movie next.
Q: Is that one for your kids?
TF: I want to spend time with the Muppets.
(Junket photos by Anne Raso; others courtesy Focus Features.)