Television has come a long way in recent years where respectability is concerned, but there is still one potential problem for any actor who stars in a long-running show: typecasting. For example, Tina Fey played the straight-edge, workaholic Liz Lemon on 30 Rock for so long that audiences have come to directly identify her with the role. As it turns out, this wound up having a significant effect on the new movie Sisters, as it was getting away from the Liz Lemon persona that led her to take on the wilder protagonist role in the film.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Sisters director Jason Moore to talk about the upcoming comedy, and part of our conversation centered on the dynamic created between Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the movie. Referencing the last movie that the two actress made together - Baby Mama - I asked if there was a conscious choice made to swap their personalities. Moore confirmed that it was an active decision, though a more significant part of it was Fey’s long run on her critically-acclaimed NBC show. Said Moore,
Tina was finishing 30 Rock, and you know, whenever you read the script, because of what you’ve seen Tina do most often, in the recent past, you would sort of associate the responsible one with Tina. And she was like, ‘You know what? I’ve played Liz Lemon for five years, and my TV show is wrapping up, and boy would I like to do something different. And I was like ‘Amen.’
Sisters could have very well kept Tina Fey swinging in her wheelhouse, but having her do something different was clearly an exciting prospect for the production, and made Moore that much more interested in her performance and what she could do with it.
I think it’s always fun to see talented people do something fresh and new, and I had seen her in many things and some sketches, and I knew what a good actress she was from the Shawn Levy movie [Date Night], and I had also spent time with her. I’d been around with her and I heard her like sly remarks. And you know, she’s lots of fun after a martini or two. So, I started to go, ‘I could totally see this.’
What only makes this situation that much funnier is the story arc that Kate Ellis, Tina Fey’s character, goes through in the movie. She is introduced as the much wilder, free-spirited sibling compared to Amy Poehler’s Maura – but during the epic party they decide to throw, Maura is given permission to go crazy while Kate has to stay sober and responsible. So while Fey was excited about the idea of playing a crazier character, the role winds up doubling back in a fun way. As Moore explained,
The conceit of the story became, I have to learn who you, about what you were like and you have to learn what I was like. So Tina ends up having to play the straight arrow, so you’re kind of delivering what you would expect, but in a surprising way, and that was fun to do.
It is actually great to see Tina Fey go against "straight man" typecasting in Sisters, and as you’d expect, she has fantastic chemistry with Amy Poehler. But you’ll be able to find that out for yourself when the film arrives in theaters this Friday, December 18th.