By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have been bringing their goofy brand of girl-power humor to audiences since their days at “Saturday Night Live” cast members. After scoring a box office hit with 2008’s “Baby Mama,” the duo is joining forces again in “Sisters.”
The Jason Moore-directed comedy is going up opening weekend against the 800-pound gorilla known as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but instead of ignoring that fact, the stars and the filmmakers behind the oddball comedy are embracing it.
“Our social media campaign is #YouCanSeeThemBoth,” points out Fey, who also is one of the “Sisters” producers.
Fey plays Kate, an irresponsible single mom. Poehler plays Maura, Kate’s younger but always-reliable sister. They return to their parents’ Florida house to reclaim their prized possessions before the house is sold. Regretting the imminent loss of their childhood home, the siblings decide to throw one last bash. Their goal is to trash the house so that the incoming buyers will back out of the deal.
With the party in full swing, Kate—the designated party mom—suddenly has a change of heart when her parents phone from their new condo to tell her that she and her teenage daughter can have the house. Maura is in full party mode, so it’s up to sober Kate to stop the freight train of a wild party before the house literally is brought down by old and new friends. Co-starring alongside Fey and Poehler are Ike Barinholtz, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, John Cena, John Leguizamo, and a slew of “SNL” alumni including Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch.
The R-rated comedy is targeted at a much different audience than the family-friendly sci-fi epic sequel that is expected to break all box office records. Plus, the hope of Fey/Poehler & Co., is that the competition will serve as a rising tide that will raise all boats.
Neither Fey or Poehler have sisters in real life, but after all these years of working together, they are practically family. At a rented L.A. party home, they spoke about working together again on the Paula Pell-penned film.
Q: You two kind of swapped your usual good girl/bad girl roles in this where, this time around, Tina’s the naughty, party girl and Amy’s the good, responsible sibling. Why did you decide to do that?
Fey: When Paula (Pell, the screenwriter) started writing the script, she may have even pictured us in the opposite roles, I put my producer hat on—which is a beautiful hat, by the way—and I thought, “When you have a part where the character is supposed to be tightly wound in the beginning and then they go crazy, you should cast the person who’s better at going crazy,” and I just knew that Amy would play the back half of that better than me, so, what I tried to do here is was play the character like I was once the greatest ice-skater in the world, but now I’m in this wheelchair. I was the hottest girl, I used to party really hard, but you will never see me do any of it in the film.
Poehler: And I had never technically read the script, so… (She laughs.)
Q: Amy, were those actually your legs that fell through the ceiling in the party scene?
Poehler: Yep. It was such a party, I don’t even remember. It might have been my legs. I don’t even know, yo.
Q: Did you have any input as to the posters that were on the wall of your characters’ childhood bedroom?
Fey: Yeah, Jason emailed us and said, you know, “What do you want in the bedroom?” Amy contributed more, because for me, for my youth, we were both (quiet, cerebral) Maura, so…
Poehler: It was easier to understand Maura’s room than it was for us to understand Kate’s. Growing up, I would, I was more of a hair band, Massachusetts girl, so I had posters of Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, stuff like that.
Fey: Stock photos of cabbage rolls. (She laughs.)
Q: Was there a moment where you knew that the comedy worked really well together? Was it like doing Weekend Update on “SNL” again, or maybe a sketch?
Poehler: We learned pretty quickly that we liked the same things. We liked speaking the same way. So much of comedy in the beginning is finding your tribe, because no one’s very experienced. No one feels funny, but you end up searching out people who like the same things as you, or that get you. So, that was pretty quick. It’s a good first dating period, and now, we’re getting married.
Fey: This is a random thought, but back in the day I also had an opportunity that I’m so grateful for now. While I was a writer at “SNL,” I got to go on a scouting trip to the Groundlings in Los Angeles, where I saw a young Maya Rudolph on stage. I remember saying, “That lady’s funny. That girl’s good.”
Q: Amy, did you have a lot of fun working with Ike Barinholtz, who plays the hunky neighbor, James, that you hook up with? Did you know him beforehand?
Poehler: Ike was, I think, 13 when we met. He was a young surgeon, like Doogie Howser. (She laughs.) No, Ike was at Second City in Chicago when we were there. He was about 18 or 19. We had fun acting together, because we’d done a lot of comedy together. We’d done a lot of big, boisterous improvisational stuff together, and we had a lot of fun working with Jason (Moore, the director) to create an arc in this film where you cared about whether or not Maura and James (Barinholtz’ character) got together. That was really fun.
Q: Both of you have brothers but no sisters in real life. You guys have worked together for quite a long time. Do you kind of feel like sisters?
Poehler: Yeah. We feel like chosen sisters. I was saying today that our relationship is as old as (Madonna’s teenage daughter) Lourdes Ciccone (Leon)… and as talented.
Fey: And as good at dancing.
Poehler: As a woman, you get lucky if you get to choose your family—your sisters and people who knew you when, but you’re not related to them. It’s easier, isn’t it? I don’t know, I’ve been told, yeah. We were both talking about how interesting it was to see “Sisters” together, because all sisters like to tell you how different they are from their sister. I didn’t hear a lot of people saying, “Me and my sister are so close and we’re so alike.”
Fey: And we’re exactly the same.
Q: Maura loves to dispense advice to Kate on little handwritten cards, just as she’s trying to figure out what to do with her life. If you look back to a time in your life when you were unsure about what the future held, what Maura-like piece of advice would you give to herself back then?
Fey: Don’t do drugs. (She laughs.) I’ll just start and you can finish it. Time is a spaceship…
Poehler: … so why not take a ride? Okay, now I’ll start one and you finish it. To live is to surf…
Fey: … and many surfers drown.
Poehler: There you go. (She laughs.)
Q: Are you more relaxed and in-synch now than when you made “Baby Mama” in 2008?
Fey: Yeah, we had a lot of fun making that movie, but I do think we were more relaxed making this movie. We all have a lot more experience, which enables you to worry less.
Q: Is there a sense of “SNL” camaraderie on such a set, because you have Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell, Kate McKinnon and Bobby Moynihan in supporting roles?
Poehler: There’s a bit of a shared vocabulary. I would even go farther than just “SNL” and say that the improv community is like a well-run emergency room. If you see a well-run emergency room, there’s not a lot of freaking out, because you just don’t have the time. You don’t take up a lot of time talking about how something’s not going to work or that you can’t do it. You just kind of do the best you can in the moment, and you wish for the best. You’re around people that are, hopefully, more skilled and better than you are at what they do. It’s just a tonal thing that we’re all used to. Also, we like working and feeding off each other.
There weren’t a lot of ball-hogs on our team so that was really fun. We all took great pleasure in other people’s jokes, and there wasn’t a lot of feeling like we were competing. We were feeding each other ideas and thoughts, and I think that always makes for not only a better experience, but oftentimes a funnier film.
Q: A few years ago, there was so much time talk that females couldn’t lead a comedy movie. They were believed they couldn’t be as funny as male-centric comedies, but now that’s all audiences seem to want. What’s that experience been like, seeing the evolution?
Poehler: It’s really exciting when new voices are become commercial, because it just means that there is an audience for them. I still think that stories told through a female perspective are really interesting because there just hasn’t been as many. We aren’t treading the same stuff, and there’s still a spectrum of stories told through the lens of female characters that are just really interesting, because frankly they’re just newer and on top. So, we’re excited to …
Fey: … tap that aspect of cinema. (She laughs.)
Poehler: It’s interesting that the film is about dealing with people who knew you when—the good and bad of that—because people have an idea of you, and the question is: can you change the story about yourself? Are you just stuck always being this kind of person? We all worked with people that we’ve known for a really long time, and so it was really easy to play old friends, obviously, because we all are. But it’s also cool to watch all of us and, hopefully, until the robots kill us in the future, to see the different versions of us as we grow and change.
Fey: The robots are coming, yeah.
Q: Amy, are you going to return to “SNL” and do your Hillary Clinton send up in 2016?
Poehler: (Shakes her head and smiles.)