When ELLE met Tina Fey

The Kimmy Schmidt creator's talents know no bounds

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How to win friends and influence people, Tina Fey style: write Mean Girls, a witty and acerbic portrayal of high school starring Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams. Devise, write, produce and star in 30 Rock, a sitcom that runs for seven series, collects 69 awards and makes us laugh until we cry; write a bestselling autobiography. Host the Golden Globes alongside your BFF Amy Poehler, and nail the delicate balance between clever and caustic. Be a wife, mum of two and a kick-ass model of womanhood. Oh, and then follow up your 30 Rock TV success with the brilliant Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the somehow hilarious story of a woman rescued from a doomsday cult. Tina Fey, don’t think we’re not taking notes.

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Which filming experiences have been surreal for you?

We shot a scene for 30 Rock with the real Condoleezza Rice and she played the piano while Jack Donaghy aggressively played the flute – they were supposedly former lovers. That was a weird day.

Which one piece of work best showcases what you do?

There’s an episode of 30 Rock where I’m taking care of the other characters and being put upon. That’s probably the best use of me.
 
Which of the characters you’ve played would you get on with?

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Liz Lemon (from 30 Rock). Sometimes I’d think she was a bummer, but other than that, I love her dearly.
 
Are you drawn to big characters?

Muppets was a lot of fun – doing an accent in a crazy costume is not something I typically get to do. Generally, I’m pretty much playing myself.

Tell us more about filming Muppets Most Wanted.

Most of my work in the movie was with Kermit, which, as a child of the Seventies, was a dream come true. Kermit was very prepared, a great improviser and very handsome.
 
Was Miss Piggy a diva?

Miss Piggy and I only appear in a few scenes together. There’s tension because my character falls in love with Kermit and she senses that. I’d say she was pretty restrained in a high-status, Mariah Carey way. I was the Nicki Minaj to her Mariah Carey.
 
Do you feel pressure to represent funny, smart women?

Steve Martin, a hero of mine, once told me, ‘You have to try to kill every time.’ He’s right. He’s a huge star but he never glides on it. He knows it’s his job to be funny. So I try to remind myself: ‘They brought you here to be funny.’
 
Are you a feminist?

Of course. There are different ways to be a feminist in your writing. You can either write for an ideal universe where everyone models what they want the world to be, or let your characters be imperfect and spark discussion. Mean Girls is very pro-women, but a lot of the jokes come from the terribleness of the behaviour.
 
How do you handle the critics?

At some point you have to use your own instinct as a guide. The internet is not your boss.
 
What’s the best praise you’ve had?

Sheryl Crow told me what a good time she’d had filming 30 Rock and said, ‘You should feel good about that because usually the fish stinks from the head.’ I was proud that the show was a great place to work.
 
Which song would provide the soundtrack to your life?

If I was going to go aspirational, I’d take a dance-floor remix of the Wonder Woman theme. There’s also a lyric from Paul Simon’s Gumboots that says: ‘You don’t feel you could love me, but I feel you could.’ That was a metaphor for my early attempted career. ‘No, you could love me. You don’t think you can, but you could. Let’s keep this discussion going and, before you know it, you’ll love me!’
 

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is on Netflix now

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