On Oscar night last month, Tina Fey hosted an exclusive, intimate viewing party at her New York home. That is, exclusive and intimate, Fey-style: "It was sweatpants-mandatory," she said in a phone interview two days after the ceremony, "because I was so thrilled to not be in a gown, anywhere."
Fey, 42, has earned some sweatpants time. In January, she and her long-time pal Amy Poehler co-hosted the Golden Globe Awards. They were the first female hosts in its history, and they killed it. A few days later, Fey's series 30 Rock – which she wrote, produced and starred in – aired its final episode, ending a seven-season run whose ratings weren't great, but whose fans, including most TV critics, were fiercely loyal.
Over the years, she won seven Emmys, two Golden Globes, five Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four Writers Guild of America awards. She was the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live and the youngest-ever winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Her first book, Bossypants, topped The New York Times bestseller list for five weeks, and her latest movie, Admission, opened Friday.
So if her idea of a perfect day sounds less than glamorous – "going to the gym to do some really lame exercise, doing a few hours of writing and being home by the time my older daughter [Alice, 7] gets off the school bus" – that's just fine with her. (Her younger daughter, Penelope, was born in August, 2011.) "I'm weirdly still exhausted, I don't know why," Fey says, laughing. "It feels like I'm re-entering society, after having been held hostage in Long Island City," where 30 Rock was shot. "I'm hopefully in a recharging period right now."
She's been asked to host the Oscars for real, of course. But her answer remains no. "Every year, I'm glad it's not me," she says. "Seth [MacFarlane, whose performance as Oscar host has been hotly debated] went at it hard, he gave it all he's got, which is what you have to do. It's just such a hard gig. For the Golden Globes, on the other hand, Amy and I wrote jokes, we had some friends write jokes, and then the Friday night before the show we met for a while in the hotel. That's it."
In conversation, Fey is friendly, though not the instant girlfriend you might expect. She answers what's asked, but no more, and would rather quip than confide. She does admit that shooting 30 Rock's final season was "increasingly emotional" for the cast and crew. In the run-up to the last episode, she and her writers watched a number of series finales for inspiration. Fey made a last-minute addition – the finale of the tween show iCarly – and had an unexpected reaction.
"I wept," she says. "Maybe I was in an emotional place. But I thought they did a really good job of letting characters say goodbye to each other. I realized it would be okay to let some emotion in. It's okay to let people say goodbye."
Though she doesn't normally "do Tweet," she says jokingly (adding, "though I am talking to you on a cellular phone"), Fey watched her finale in tandem with Twitter, so she could see people responding in real time. "I mainly think Twitter is a promotional tool for events and human beings, to promote that they are extant," she says. But she found witnessing viewers' live reactions "heartwarming," as was an unprompted wave of affection for the show on the Internet – people posting their 20 favourite jokes, or favourite weird guest characters.
"Who knows if I'll ever again have anything as special to me as 30 Rock was?" Fey continues. "We definitely got to do tons of things I'm proud to have done, both silly and not. Having Jack say, 'She's fired, and don't ever make me talk to a woman that old again.' Letting Tracy and Jack argue about race. Having Kenneth see the whole world as Muppets. Even just the fact that we survived as long as we did, much longer than we thought we would." But she feels she did what she set out to do, and that she stopped at the right time. "To stare down that schedule for five more years would have been quite hard on my family," she says. (Her husband is TV producer Jeff Richmond.) "It was much easier to do the last season knowing it was, in fact, the last."
For now, she's excited that she and her 30 Rock writing partner, Robert Carlock, are moving into new offices in Manhattan, which means she'll be able to walk to work. They're kicking around sitcom ideas, especially ones for a multi-camera series, the kind that shoots in front of a live studio audience (such as Friends, which Carlock worked on). "Something that's just as much a commitment and labour of love as 30 Rock, but would come out faster," Fey says. "Like a second baby – slightly less hard, but still a perfectly good baby." She's working on a couple of movies with friends – "I'd like to keep that scam going" – and she's keen to write something on her own, though she hasn't yet figured out what.
"I have no hobbies," Fey says. "I don't scrapbook. There's just work and children, and work and children. What else do you need?" She finds her daughters hilarious and calls the youngest "a real firecracker. She's climbing everything and she screams at everybody. She's fair-haired, she looks like my dad. She seems determined. I feel like some temperament is coming to get me."
In Admission, which was directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy, Little Fockers), Fey plays Portia, an ambitious admissions director at Princeton University – they shot a few scenes on the ivied New Jersey campus – and Paul Rudd plays an alternative-school teacher who goes to bat for an unconventional student. Somewhat predictably, narrow minds are opened, hearts that had shrivelled are re-plumped. It's pleasant enough, but I can't help thinking that most of Fey's films somehow dilute her verve, and that her book and series were more daring.
Her next sentences make me think she might agree. "In this movie, I had to actually display emotion," she says lightly. "I was like, 'Okay, let me try that.' But the truth is, there are some crutches you can use for that. They can blow stuff in your eyes and make you cry. But they can't blow stuff in your face that makes you tell a joke right."
So rest up, Tina Fey. Take your time. When you're ready for the next thing, we'll be waiting.