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April 2004
Mean Girls: An Interview with Tina Fey

By Tonisha Johnson

Mean Girls: An Interview with Tina Fey

Based on the book "Queen Bees & Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman, Tina Fey writes a screenplay about a home-schooled student who comes to High School for the first time and has to deal with the pressures of "fitting" in.

As I sat down with Tina, she discussed the film and how her own school experience played a major role in the film as well as life on SNL (Saturday Night Live) and all that is going on and to come in her life.

How autobiographical is this movie?

Sought of little bits of stuff spread all over the place. Conversations that I remember. People that I kinda knew in High School. Shoved in on all different spots.

Was Regina based on anybody?

Regina is not. Regina is the most amalgamated. One of Regina's big moves in the movie is actually based on my mom. My mom has this habit that if she sees a lady in a really ugly hat or a glittery sweatshirt, she'll go "I love your shirt" and I'll say "Mom, that's really mean". And she'll say "clearly she wanted someone to notice that shirt. She picked it out. It has a huge Teddy Bear on it". That is actually the closest to a real inspiration for the movie.

I want to know. What was up with all the bodily harm in the movie?

The fighting? Part of it was when I was writing, that thing in Oak Park Illinois, with the girls hazing each other, was going on and I was like "yeah, this is getting into the real world. This is getting to like a nasty physical level".

What was it like working with Amy Poehler in the movie and what element does she bring into SNL that is different from anyone else?

Well, the thing about AmyI've known Amy now for 12 years. Which I can't even believe it as I'm saying it. We started in Chicago together and in Second City. We'll say to each other "Can you believe were making a movie?" I mean we just feel like were pulling a hug scam. "She's unbelievable. She commits real hard. I would say to her for years do you want to come be on SNL and she'll be like no no, love UCB. And then she was like well, maybe now. I can't believe it worked out.

How did you keep this movie from becoming a series of sketches?

The thing that was new to me because I had only written sketches for the last 12 years is yeah, you didn't want it to feel like that. So, I did what every bonehead does and read Syd Fields screenplay and tried to make sure that there was enough story in it that it would be believable. You do sought of tone down the jokes in a weird way because you're trying to go for 90 minutes. You write jokes a little differently then when your only go for 4 minutes.

Were you looking more for a Mark Waters "Freak Friday" or a Mark Waters "House of Yes"?

I was looking for a Mark Waters "Head over Heels"...lol. No, I've seen House of Yes years ago and then I saw Freaky Friday. And I was like oh this is great because I felt he did such a great job with Freaky Friday. And I knew he had that weird, crazy dark side from House of Yes. And the weird thing here is that his brother is Dan Waters and his brother wrote Heathers which is the weird connection. I like him because like me he's a very hardworking nerd.

Are High School kids this mean?

Girls are. Yeah. Absolutely.

What is the meanest thing that a girl has ever done to you, Tina?

I'm trying to think. I definitely had girls threaten to kick my ass. The thing in the movie where she (Regina) says, "Oh you're really pretty." And she (Cady) says "yes." And she says "So you agree?... lol. That has happened to me, other than that just the usual nonsense.

Were you in a clique?

I had a lot of friends. But like I said we were all AP students and so we were a sad little clique. We thought we were super cool but we weren't. There were the girls that were famous. There's always those girls that are always so famous and so popular. And everyone knows them and your always sought of like "that ones not even cute. How'd she'd get that job?" It's like, "cause she has nice Benetton Clothes...lol.

What really attracted you to Rosalind Wiseman's book?

When I write I just though immediately that this is something interested me. This was something I feel that I could write about. So I got a hold of the book immediately. I got hold of Rosalind. I got an advanced copy actually. And because it was about girls. And it was nasty and violent. And that appealed to me.

Have you ever been to Africa?

I have never been to Africa. And actual the weird thing the Africa element came from the studio. Originally Cady was an American home schooled girl. And the studio was like it's too weird. And then I had never saw the Wild Thornberry's and then I did and I was like "you tricked me, this is the Wild Thornberry's!" but it did at least lend it self to using that metaphor. Which Rosalind Wiseman I had talked to her before and she said "you should go hang out at the mall fountain. It's like animals at the watering hole." So I got to use the thing that Rosalind was talking about.

Has anything you've done, performance wise, at the UCB theatre ever let itself to creating this movie or anything you've done?

I hope so. I mean the UCB theatre here in New York; it's such a great, great theatre. It's the home of improvisation in New York. There's no place like it. Real long form improvisation, not like, uh "Whose line is it Anyway?"

How is Lorne Michaels of SNL different than Lorne Michaels the producer?

Well, he was a great liaison between me and the studio. I felt well protected. I feel if I had been a screen writer, just somebody off the street, I would not have been treated as wonderfully as I was. I mean I got to be included in the casting process. I mean I was just really well treated and I think that's because I had him with me. He really likes making movies. He has a lot of fun. He gets very excited and into like the Hollywood show business of like "I wanna go, were gonna be on the lot." And so it's like we both share the same feelings, like this is a fun thing that were doing on the side because we have our other gig.

How is it working with Teenagers?

It's good. Even though their teenagers they all had way more acting experience then I did in films. I was actually trying to learn from Lindsay like how to act on film.

Did you have any input in regards to the making of the film, cast, etc?

A lot. They sent me tapes. I went to some casting sessions in LA. But they sent me tapes all the time. They really really let me have a lot of input. And also because Lorne was a producer, I'd go to him and be like "I like this one over there."(lol). And especially the part of Damien, was a role that was cast at the very last second. I kept going "these guys are great but something's not quite right. And I can see it so clear in my head." And then we found Daniel and I said (snapping fingers) "perfect." What do you accredit to your success of becoming the first ever female head writer on SNL?

In the whole twenty years, there haven't been that many head writers. For awhile they didn't have anybody and then people would do it for a bunch of years, maybe about 4 or 5. But I think part of it is, if you're a writer at the show and you know, they're looking for a new head writer, 1. Are you a successful writer of the show?, 2. Do you have a temperament that you can be a liaison for other people? because you can be a super genius copywriter but be too much of a nut to be a go between for people.

Max Brooks says he just didn't fit in anywhere?

I had a lot of very dear friends of me that didn't fit. I hired a really good friend of mine who I know is a brilliantly funny guy and part of it is a personality fit. My friend Mike McCollum who writes all the Austin Powers movies; clearly a successful writer, he and I started at the same time. It didn't gel for him, he didn't like it, it didn't fit. He left his first year. So it's not for everyone. It's also, when you come in everyone there is either from Second City, their standup or their from Harvard. And if your not one of those things, then its hard for you to know where to land. When a Second City person comes they know all the Second City people, when Stand Up comes they bond over the clubs they've worked. So to come in like Mike McCollum, I mean, not only was he not from Harvard but he was from Yale.

How long do you anticipate staying with the show?

Like 30 more years. I don't really know. I don't quite know.

Was there a casting process? Were you responsible for Jonathan Bennett looking a lot like Jimmy Falon?

He does! I mean we saw him and he was another, like, last minute casting choice. Maybe I was sought of gravitating towards him because he does look like Jimmy. He's foxy.

Therefore, Jimmy's foxy?

Jimmy's foxy (giggle). Of course.

How hard is it to come up with something new every week without driving yourself crazy?

It's hard you know. Sometimes after work we just finished 17 shows out of 25 this year. Sometimes when you have an off week when you got nothing, someone else will step up. Because you know there are like 15 to 20 writers in the show. You don't have to win every week. But, it's also, the more you do it, it's like a muscle that you build. The more your writing sketches all the time the easier it is to do.

We've seen like Christina Aguilera, Ben Affleck; is it them is it like working with them?

It depends on the host. We've had a lot of these young pop star hosts that worked out really good for us this year. It's funny. It's all those mouseketeer kids (Lol) that come in a say "whatever", they did it when they were four. And Ben Affleck, I think he's like the next Alec Baldwin for us. I mean for us, he's gonna be like "great. Have him come back whenever he wants and you're a great sketch performer." But yeah, we've had some good shows this year. We've had Janet Jackson. She was great. She's another one who's been acting since she was 10.

Did it take you long to get comfortable in front of the camera?

Well, probably a little bit butI meanI just sought of pretend there's no camera and that there's a live audience because I'm not afraid to be on stage.

Back to the film, do you always think there will be Mean Girls?

I wish I could say that this film could change the world (lol), thru DVD rentals (lol), no, I think that its an innate part of woman that flairs up at different times in their lives but maybe between the film and what Rosalind does and has dedicated her whole life to, girls will be able to survive it more easily.

Are you working on another screenplay or are you taking a break?

I'm taking a break; I don't want to work on anything yet. I do want to do another one sometime and I'm also gonna try to do some stuff for NBC.

Everyone has had some type of Mean Girl in high school. Do you have any Mean Girls now? Some people never shake it off! I definitely in my adult life have found some but I'd have to say, I feel very lucky in my life right now cause like I said it's all my lady friends from like 12 years, all working in the same place.

What do you find funny?

It's like the longer you work in comedy the less you find funny. You don't find actual prepared comedy that funny very often. It's like you just sought of laugh at actual human behavior more.

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