The 30 Rock Emmy winner chats about starring in the new animated movie Megamind and the pleasures (and perils) of parenting in NYC.
Wed Oct 20 2010
Tina Fey is in a hurry: Her five-year-old daughter, Alice, needs her mommy ASAP. "She just threw up," Fey says during a phone call from her office. "In the back of a cab, no less. Apparently, the driver wanted to kick her out right then and there. Thankfully, Alice talked him out of it." The 40-year-old Emmy winner sighs, laughs and settles in for a chat—with a warning: "As soon as I hang up with you, I'm leaving the office to see what I can do for my sick little girl. I get that how-do-you-balance-it-all question a lot, and my advice is always: Whenever you can, just go home."
In case it's not already clear, Fey throws herself into mothering with as much gusto as she did writing for Saturday Night Live (she was the show's first female head writer), and as she does executive-producing, writing and starring (as Liz Lemon) in 30 Rock, the best show on TV that's not called Mad Men. She shares her character's zealous work ethic, if not her neurotic tics. "Someone recently asked if I'd ever pulled any Lemonisms when I'm with my daughter, and the answer is that Liz and I really aren't that different," she says. "Besides, I personally think Lemon would make a great mom. She's used to sacrificing her dignity for others, which is parenting in a nutshell."
While Alice is too young to be familiar with Fey's 30 Rock character, she has watched her famous mom on the small screen thanks to DVDs and the family's DVR. "She's caught a few [recorded] Saturday Night Live skits...although she thinks Amy Poehler is a lot funnier than me," Fey says. "The other day, she came up to me very worried and asked, 'Mommy, why does Date Night have so much love in it?' If she sees me doing a scene with a man who's not Daddy, she gets very upset. It's nothing against Steve Carrell; Alice is just looking out for Daddy's best interests."
That said, Brad Pitt had better watch out: Fey voices the heartthrob's romantic admirer, Roxanne Ritchi, in the 3-D animated flick Megamind, due out November 5. "Basically, there's a superhero named Metro Man, who's voiced by Brad Pitt," she says. He goes missing, "which opens up a lot of opportunities for his arch nemesis, Megamind—played by Will Ferrell." In addition to pining for Metro Man's love, Ritchi also reports for the local TV station. "Any resemblance between Roxanne and other famous female reporters who have dated comic-book superheroes from another planet is, of course, entirely coincidental," Fey deadpans. She can't say much more than that about the plot, though she does offer some thoughts on the fighting prowess of her costars. "If you put Brad Pitt and Will Ferrell in a barroom brawl, my money is on Ferrell," she jokes. "Will is scrappy and fights dirty; he'll bite and scratch and break a bottle. Plus, Brad would be at a disadvantage because he'd have to protect his face. Whereas Will, quite obviously, would not."
Of the film, Fey says that "there's nothing in there that would make a kid freak the geek out." It's rated PG, which is good news for Alice, who can finally see her mom on the silver screen. Date Night and Baby Mama weren't exactly up the five-year-old's alley, though Fey says her daughter's moviegoing palate is actually pretty sophisticated. "She's been watching a lot of classic horror movies with her dad, like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Them!—which she pronounces 'The-UM.' And when you say it that way, the thought of giant radioactive ants terrorizing Los Angeles seems sort of adorable, really."
Alice's highbrow movie watching goes down in an Upper West Side apartment Fey shares with her husband, musician Jeff Richmond, and child. Fey is a huge fan of the neighborhood, first and foremost because of the easy commute it affords to the 30 Rock sets in Astoria and to the titular midtown building. She also appreciates the area's laid-back sensibility. "You hear that it's obnoxious, but actually the Upper West Side is pretty chill," she proclaims. "I don't want to anger any of our other fine Manhattan 'hoods—no offense, Upper East Side!—but I think it's a great place to raise a youngster. I mean [Fey's voice drops down to a stage whisper], there's a little La Leche pressure when you're with a newborn there, if you get what I'm saying. But kids are allowed to be kids: They get to dress sloppy, spill things on themselves, run around and play in the park. There's no preciousness; it's all very normal."
Ask Fey about the cons of raising kids in New York City, and she can only come up with one: "There's no space," she says. "Don't even think about trying to find an apartment with a basement. The lack of toy management at my house because of that fact is, frankly, stunning." Ask her about the pros, however, and she quickly rattles off a number of favorite places and extols the perks of raising kids in a big city. "When I was growing up [in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania], going to a museum was a big deal. It was a major day trip that you had to plan for. Here, you walk out your front door and five minutes later, bam! You're staring at dinosaur bones. The proximity is great. Of course, if you ask Alice, she'll say that all she wants is a yard."
When they aren't strolling through museums or hanging out at Riverside Park ("I'd better not see my name showing up on Gawker Stalker now, Dave!" she jokes), Fey and her family spend time on Fire Island. "Great, now you've just made me give up the location of our secret lair. My neighbors on Fire Island are going to be very angry with me." Suddenly, it's as if an enthusiastic TV announcer has taken over the phone line. "Hey, everybody...don't go to Fire Island!" she chirps. "You won't like it there, believe me! Go to the Hamptons! So much better than that horrible, horrible Fire Island!" Fey laughs and reverts back to her normal speaking voice. "You can print all that in a bigger, bolder font, right?"
Perhaps anticipating the night ahead of her, Fey then waxes poetic about the difference between regular sleep deprivation and parental sleep deprivation. "Before kids, I always thought: 'Please, I worked at Saturday Night Live for ten years...I lived, ate and breathed sleep deprivation! That was my Tuesday!' And then, when you're dealing with a baby for that first year, it's an entirely new genre of sleep deprivation. You're tired, and P.S., you're also responsible for another tiny, fragile human being! You can be super exhausted and up all night around a bunch of adults really easily. When it's 4am and your daughter is crying, it's an entirely different ball game. But somehow, you wouldn't trade any of it for anything," she says, then pauses for effect. "And now I'm off to clean up some barf."
Tina Fey's favorite...
Manhattan play space "Like an indoor play space? We don't really hit those up anymore...she's too big! But for outdoor play spaces, we're big fans of Riverside Park—especially Hippo Playground (at 91st St). You can't go wrong there. Beautiful place."
Kid-friendly restaurant "Five-Napkin Burger (various locations, see 5napkinburger.com, hands down. They get extra points for truth in advertising, as you really need five napkins there. Great burgers."
Kid's favorite dessert: "At home, Alice eats a lot of Fage Greek yogurt...that's pronounced 'FA-yeh.' I'm so psyched that she loves it. When we go out, she usually likes this Yolato treat that I think is some sort of Pinkberry knockoff."
Book to read to her daughter: "Oh, gosh, that's a tough one...there's a book called What's Going on in There? by Geoffrey Grahn that I like a lot. It's really funny."
Kids' TV show: "I loved TV growing up, but there was so much less to watch...you had three hours on Saturday morning, and that was really it. Now, there's stuff on all the time, so I try to toe the line about limiting her viewing hours. That said, she's very into that Disney show Phineas & Pherb, and [Nickelodeon's] Penguins of Madagascar is a big household favorite."
"Adult" thing her child has said: "Last week, Alice kept yelling, 'Mommy, I want to be in beauty pageants!' I have no idea how kids find out about these horrible things. She doesn't even know what they are, really; she just knows she wants to be in one. I had to tell her, 'Well, sweetie, they actually don't have them in New York. And, well, even if they did...absolutely not!'"