Starring former and current “Weekend Update” co-anchors Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as uptight, terminally single executive Kate and her vulgar South Philly surrogate womb Angie, respectively, Baby Mama opens the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23 with a heavy dose of studio mainstream. Chugging Big Gulps and bingeing on Tastykakes, Poehler’s Angie is giddy and grave in equal measure, trampling all over Kate’s bobo ideals—even urinating in her fancy-pants apartment’s bathroom sink—while slowly coming to terms with her own, perhaps more limited options.
With a long resume of supporting roles, from Blades of Glory to Southland Tales, and seven years of SNL under her braided belt, Poehler, 36, is now the star—and acting like it. Wrapped in a promotional Baby Mama blanket at the Ritz-Carlton, Poehler, who lives in the city with her husband Will Arnett, talked to the Voice about her incredible fame, the wonders of eyelid-replacement surgery, and how Rachel Dratch will one day own Graydon Carter.
So . . . a press junket at the Ritz-Carlton.
This is my life. You can’t see me, but what people should know is that right now I’m giving this interview in a solid-gold Jacuzzi, and we’ve got a giant floating tray of pineapple in between us. I’ve got six assistants, none of whom have made eye contact with me—they’re not allowed to. I’ve got a record on from this band that no one’s heard of yet. The band doesn’t even know they exist yet—they’re that indie. I’ve got a limo waiting outside that’s going to take me straight to a massage party, and then . . . well, I just got my pilot’s license, so I’m going to get the old bird up in the sky and I’m just going to see New York. That’s the way I roll. So . . . Ritz-Carlton press junket? Kinda slumming it! No, it’s fun. In all honesty, joking aside . . . I am in a Jacuzzi.
In the film, Tina plays straight man to your incorrigible goofball. Do you two have a similar dynamic in real life?
I’m not as reckless as Angie, and Tina’s not as uptight as Kate. We’re probably much more alike than we are different. She grew up in Philly, I grew up in Boston—so we’re both kind of blue-collar girls. We did meet each other in 1993 in Chicago, and back then, I was rocking Doc Martens—I just checked to see if you’re wearing Doc Martens, but you’re not; you’re wearing really cute boots—a high-waisted jean with navy braided belt, a lot of flannel shirts. I would always wear mine tucked in, which was always a good look. I did not shave my legs; I didn’t pluck my eyebrows. Nowadays, I don’t have any eyebrows—this is all fake. And I got eyelid surgery, so these are someone else’s eyelids. I Botox my eyeballs—you can do it yourself if you’re not skittish. I got an eye-tuck and a nose-blast and a face peel and a head . . . shift.
One thing that surprised me about Baby Mama was how important class is to the plot.
That was a theme we wanted to play around with. Angie, my character, has more in common with Oscar, the doorman, than she does with Kate. They just both understand what it’s like to be working really hard for a living. When you have money, you have more choices, and class is a big deal. You have to have money to pay someone if you want to have them carry your baby. You have to take money if you’re going to carry a baby. I think that class issue lent itself to the tension and the comedy in the movie. It’s like the comedy version of Reds. You know the movie Reds?
I’ve heard of it.
It’s this great Warren Beatty story, a five-hour drama about the Russian Revolution. This is a comedy—Reds. This is a comedy—Hoop Dreams. This is a comedy . . . you know that song “Allentown” by Billy Joel? It’s like that.
Baby Mama is set in Philadelphia, and it deals a lot with issues of gentrification and the changing face of the city. How important was the setting to the story?
Philly just felt like the right town, a place where you could get a sense of both Kate’s and Angie’s worlds. But we faked Brooklyn as Philly pretty much the whole time. It was a really good match. It was fun to have a fake pregnancy belly in Brooklyn—even the hipsters had to turn when I took it off in the middle of the street and ripped off the Velcro. But they’d react in a really quiet hipster way.
Funny. Did you read the infamous Christopher Hitchens essay, “Why Women Aren’t Funny?”
I didn’t, but I think that story’s an old story. Same thing with “SNL is a boy’s club” or “SNL is dead”—they’re all just kind of lazy headlines to me. Like “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.”
You were recently on the cover of Vanity Fair in a rejoinder to that essay, along with Tina and Sarah Silverman. All of the women featured in that article are, well, attractive . . .
Thank you. We took a trip to Airbrush City—I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but you come out and you look amazing. So, continue—I’m naturally pretty . . .
Since then, your former SNL-mate Rachel Dratch told New York that she felt excluded, and there was a great deal of discussion on the blog Jezebel about how women are only allowed to be considered funny if they’re also conventionally pretty. Do you think that’s true?
Here’s what I think about Rachel Dratch: I think she’s a fucking comedy genius. She’s one of my best friends, and most people who know Dratch’s work feel the same way—that it’s only a matter of time before Rachel Dratch OWNS Vanity Fair. I tend to not read nor listen when other people talk about other people’s looks. That list is what it is. At the end of the day, it’s always about who’s funny.
Along those lines, Baby Mama is basically a female-female buddy comedy, which is so rare that I can’t even think of another example.
Yeah! Right on! I’m glad you say that—it’s exactly what we were going for. We wanted it to be as much Wedding Crashers as it was Working Girl—something that felt just like two buddies having a fun time. It was us getting to do comedy in a way that didn’t necessarily have to be specific to “lady comedy.” Not that I even know what that is, since I am a lady. You’re going to like our next buddy movie. We’re going to do Cagney & Lacey.
Who’s Cagney, who’s Lacey?
You’ll have to go to the movie to find out.
And until then?
SNL‘s going to be finishing up at the end of May. I’m not really sure yet what I’m going to be doing for the summer . . . It’s been an intense couple of months, so I may, like, I don’t know—watch a lot of hour-long dramas. I’m gonna go super-green this summer, and I’m going to . . . [long pause] . . . change some minds. I know that sounds super-vague, but you’ll see it when I do it. Oh, and I’m going to perform a one-woman show on the subway, and just go car to car all summer. I love being on the subway when it’s hot. And I’m just going to do really serious, long monologues up and down the subway.
Did you read that article that just won a Pulitzer, about the famous violinist Joshua Bell busking in a D.C. subway station?
I know! And they were wondering how much money he was going to make if he did play, and they thought there would be a giant crowd—people would gather, and there would be photographers—and he made, like, $35. So I’m going to do a bit like that where I’m going to stand in Grand Central Station and do bits on a violin. I can play the violin so it sounds like you’re telling jokes. I want that goddamn Pulitzer.
Do you actually ride the subway?
Yeah, it’s the best way to get around, especially if you’re going to midtown. We work [in Rockefeller Center], and the minute the Christmas tree goes up at the end of November, we’re just like, “Fuck, goddamn it, from now until February it’s going to be madness.” I usually take the 1/9, or sometimes the B/D/F/V. I just wrap myself in my Baby Mama blanket, and Tina and I get on the subway and hope people recognize us.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 22, 2008