When we think of serious rockstar women (we're talking whip smart, naturally beautiful, and gall for days...that kind of rockstar) Tina Fey always tops our list. Not only did she survive 14 grueling years in the SNL writer's room and create one of our favorite ode-to-NYC sitcoms ever, but she does it all with a signature brand of sass and wit that we only wish to replicate. But, even though it may seem like she's got it all — and has it all together — in real life she has way more in common with her off-kilter characters than she lets on in the tabloids. And, almost laughably, that makes her even more likeable.
In this month's Admission, Fey reprises her formula of unlucky in love-meets-career woman for the role of Portia Nathan, an admissions counselor at Princeton University. While her character is in charge of making those ever-important selections, Tina's real-life admissions process was anything but seamless. "I remember tanking — or failing — my own Princeton interview," she told us. "My mom wanted me to apply to Princeton, because she had this dream since I was a kid that I would apply to Princeton, and it was not happening. I had this small plaid skirt on, and a suit jacket, and I just wasn't bringing it."
Eventually, she landed at the University of Virginia, a place where she found herself struggling to fit in — picture Liz Lemon out clubbing with Jenna, or hanging out anywhere but her couch after midnight. "I came from a suburban town [outside of] Philadelphia, and for me it was very culturally different," she said. "It was the most beautiful blonde girls with the long ponytails and hoop earrings. They all owned horses and stuff, I felt like I had gone to Sweden or something." Luckily (for her, all Mean Girls obsessives...and pop culture as we know it), she eventually found her calling in life. "I got involved in the drama department there, and that's where I found the more oddly shaped people, and we stuck together."
Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features
Like any true professional, Tina's never stopped honing her craft. Admission, in which Tina costars opposite new pal Paul Rudd, sees her playing a whole new part: Actor. And actor only. After decades spent in control of scripts and reading lines, she's easing into her new life of relinquished control. The move is graceful, of course (this is Tina Fey we're talking about, here!), but she admits it brings up those not-so-calm feelings evoked when actors try to run the show. "I'm actually probably less likely to change things than other actors, only because I know how mad it makes me when actors want to change things," she says.
All the time behind-the-scenes has certainly made Fey a more understanding actor, but that doesn't mean it all comes easily — especially when scenes call for a little more than your average banter. In the interest of not, well, spoiling the plot, we'll save you the gruesome details, but let's just say Admission features a benchmark scene that finds Tina's character on the business end of a (very) pregnant cow. "It was the Ginger Rogers of cow scenes," said Fey. We'll just leave it at that.
With the beloved 30 Rock wrapped, Tina can focus on churning out even more hit rom-coms — though here's hoping her days acting opposite livestock are over. When she's not sidestepping reunion interrogations ("It's too soon, but who knows. I don't think any of us will live long enough to make it to a reunion," she said when we probed desperately), she'll be aiming her sights on the tasks at hand: Having her pick of movie roles, reveling in the Golden Globes afterglow, and playing Mom to her two daughters — a gig which she takes on with her signature sass, no overbearing neurotica to be found. "I've decided not to send her to school at all," she cheekily told us in response to questions about her parenting style. "She is being kept in what is technically our building's bike room." [Ed. Note: For absolute clarity, Tina Fey totally does not keep her daughter in a bike room].
(Fake) shoddy parenting aside, we've come to the conclusion that Tina's discovered what we're dubbing tentatively The Winning Formula of Awesomeness: One part self-deprecation, one part social awkwardness, and a whole lot of wit and determination. When it comes to our wonder woman hall of fame, Tina Fey: You're accepted. Take that, Princeton.
Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features