Every spring, high school seniors anxiously await letters of college admission that will affirm and encourage their potential. At Princeton University, Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is the gatekeeper, evaluating thousands of applicants and deciding their fate.
Weitz was embarrassed that he never made a film with a woman as the clear lead and found the character Portia Nathan, played by the 30 Rock star and former Saturday Night Live cast member, intriguing. Paul Rudd who has played lead roles in several successful comedies, plays the character John Pressman, Portia’s romantic interest in the film.
The film shows Fey digging a little deeper than any previous comedic role and succeeds in stretching herself to carry the movie as a lead actress. Her character, Portia, is in denial of all her real feelings and desires until, John, played by Paul Rudd enters her life.
He comes upon a birth certificate pointing to Portia as the mother of one of John's students, later revealed that Portia gave up on the child as a young woman.
Well that all sounds serious, but the film is all laughs as she begins to unravel from her obsessive workaholic existence and total devotion to her admissions job. Translation: she has no life but her job.
Paul Rudd plays the straight-laced man as Tina Fay loses it, and seems to be a modern day Lucile Ball as everything thing she tries to do just digs her deeper into trouble.
Jeremiah (Nat Wolf) is Paul Rudd's troubled but incredibly bright student, and a new face that helps the film work. He is in a few films coming out next year and I think you will see a lot more of him in the future.
Portia is complicated and represents a lot of issues of modern women between career, children and adoption. While the film sometimes pretentious in the storytelling, it still manages to get a lot of laughs.
Portia evolves in the film and you will enjoy watching her grow.
Q and A with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd
What were the challenges playing these characters? Tina: For me, I was just trying to do a good job on what I felt was the dramatic art of the movie. There were some things in this movie that were more emotional than anything I’ve had to do before and try to prepare for that correctly and have that believable.
Paul: Just doing it is the challenge. Did he buy me in the part, does it work in the context of the story and does the conflict seem legit that the character is not one-dimensional or all those things existed in the script? Did I bring the material to life? Oh God. Did I really just say that? Forgive me.
Did you relate to this experience where you were expected to go to an Ivy League school when you were 17? Tina: I didn't grow up in some private school world where you were expected to get into an Ivy League school. I tried a little bit. I think people who grow up in a family where if you don't get into Harvard, Yale or Princeton you’re done. That's craziness.
Paul: I never grew up with that. I never applied to any of those schools mainly because I knew I wouldn't get in. I was out to lunch when it came to all that kind of stuff. My parents had a European education and never went through that. I got out of school.
I went to school at Kansas City University because I could afford it. Then I decided to go to acting school and I went to an actual acting school. I never went through that whole crazy process.
What was it like coming to NY from the Midwest? Paul: I wasn't born in Kansas. I was born in NY and then we went to Kansas City, then California and back to Kansas City. My parents were British and no one in my family did this, but it felt normal to me. I was pursuing what I wanted to do and I had as much false confidence as I could possibly muster because my parents told me as a young kid I could be anything. I wanted to be and I actually believed them.
Did you guys do the waiting tables thing? Tina: I made cheese steaks at a swim club snack bar so my mother could get free access to the pool. My brother did it for a while and then she transitioned me into the position so she could get employee access to the pool. I worked at a YMCA on the south side Chicago from 5:30 in the morning till 2:30 p.m. It was my first real job.
Paul: I waited tables in college. I worked in the kitchen at Bennington’s. I didn't even get to wait tables. I worked in the back expediting the salads. I was a D.J.
What do you think the secret is to great comedy? Tina: Try to surround yourself with people that are good at it like Paul. And when you’re writing, if you can surround yourself with people that you trust and write something that makes you laugh, and not trying to create some magical outside idea.
Was it hard to shoot scenes like the shower scene? Tina: There are so many humiliations built into a thing like this. When we shot that scene, I want to say it was 1 p.m. Just out of frame, I am wearing a rolled down bikini top and a weird tan bikini top, jams and crocks. We were standing in a barn.
Paul: What were you wearing?
Tina I didn't have a rolled bikini top but I had the jams and I think I had the crocks, because it was not clean.
Paul: It was a barn. All the steam you see is not real. It's fake.
Tina: It wasn't really a shower. It was a thing that was built into the barn.
Do you see movies as your next step? Tina: I see it as a series of increasingly larger gifts and I am running Thirty Rock as shell game.
Why did you choose this script? Tina: This is a part that made sense, like when I see people speak intelligently and speak like adults; I say ugh, college admissions lady. Do I look like that? Yeah. I look like that more than perhaps, Denise Richards. This makes sense.
Did you feel rushed shooting the script in 35 days? Tina: I am very used to shooting that fast coming from T.V. And I bet you are too shooting David movies.
Paul: I am used to working with fairly compact schedules. A lot of independent films are done in a short amount of time. I like it.
The film deals with more subjects than admissions. What kind of theme do you want the audience to come away with? Tina: I think it has a lot to do with parent hood and the kind of sacrifices people make as parents, coming around the moment that you realize you can't fight it. Being a parent is going to change your, life not always at your choosing.
Paul: I remember when I had my first child. My son, he is now eight. Early on the kid will adapt to your life.
Tina: Who are you talking to?
Paul: I actually believed that for a few months, and that changes quickly. Let’s go out to dinner and take the baby. That is something I thought about a lot with the character I played.
Did you get to talk to any admissions people? Tina: I did. Jean Korelitz, who wrote the book, worked in admission. I spoke to a few people. I also spoke to an admissions person who wasn't with the movie. People think they want to say no to everyone, but they really want to say yes. They’re happiest moment is to say yes to kids who could thrive at whatever school. Gene had written the same thing.
What would you say to kids going through admissions? Tina: I think you should do your best. Also, know that results do not define your value as a person or your future as a student or adult in the world. This will not define what you’re going to be.
As a woman, you are able to get movies made in Hollywood. Do you feel you’re being offered the right roles? Are you getting offers that work for you? Tina: Oh my gosh. Sure. Yes. I don’t feel I am at the place that I would say, ‘Let me see my offers today.’ There are a lot of real movie stars, and I am always thrilled anytime the phone rings and someone wants me to do anything. I feel so lucky to be offered this is lovely role.