Admission: Fey & Rudd talk comedy, chemistry & college
Working together in a feature film for the first time, Paul Rudd and Tina Fey respectively portray Portia and John in Admission. She’s a Princeton University admissions officer and he’s a New Age teacher who wants to get one of his best and brightest students (Nat Wolff) into the college. When the two strike up a friendship and Paul shares some information about his Princeton hopeful, Portia finds herself in an awkward position. Both characters learn a lot about themselves in a somewhat belated “coming-of-age” story. We recently talked with Fey and Rudd during a round-table discussion in New York. Here’s what they had to say about the film.
What’s it like doing collaborative comedy?
Fey: There are so many STDs. I’m kidding. Anytime you can use anyone you’ve known or that comes recommended, it’s great. I emailed Amy [Poehler] to see if Paul was going to be a cool comedy guy and she told me he would be so nice.
Rudd: I emailed Amy, too.
Fey: She said I would not be cool.
Rudd: You have to take that up with Amy. We actually knew of each other but we didn’t really know each other.
Fey: We did a special that never aired on VH1. It was a really cool thing where we did soundtracks live. We did 16 Candles. We’d act out the movie and people would sing. The show came out great but they couldn’t clear anything.
Rudd: They shot it and everything and John Hughes said no.
Fey: What role did you have?
Rudd: I had a few different parts and then sang a song, the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese.” Fred Armisen might have been on drums. Amy Miles was Molly Ringwald and Jon Glaser was Anthony Michael Hall.
How were you introduced to the film?
Fey: I had met the author at a New Year’s Eve party. She said, “I have this book and someone is going to call you about it.” I was like, “Happy New Year!”
Rudd: My agent sent the script to me. I met Paul Weitz and we had some conversations. Tina was already attached to it at that point. I read the story and I liked it. I didn’t know Paul, but I liked Tina a lot.
What did you do before filming?
Fey: We did a bit of rehearsal for this movie. Paul has made a thousand more movies than me. I’m still learning how to behave. It’s like when you go to the White House and you don’t know what fork to use.
Rudd: I just wanted Tina to like me. I wanted [director] Paul [Weitz] to be happy he hired me. We would just talk about our characters and it would happen. You hope for the best. I thought with Tina that there were certain things we wouldn’t need to get into. Maybe that’s just because we have mutual friends or knowing that she’s funny and smart. I think we just wanted to approach it from the same place.
Fey: We all had same understanding of the story and what it’s about. You don’t want to talk it to death beforehand. You want to save some of it for when you’re actually doing it. The rest of it was just seeing each other on the set every day.
What appealed to you about your characters?
Fey: It was about adult people and this world of college admissions and how life in a college world can be so insular. I also really like the story. It had nice warm heart to it.
Rudd: I liked that the character was an adult. I was interested in the fact that he traveled the world and did all these things that, from an outside perspective, would seem to be humanitarian, but there was really a selfish side to him. That aspect was interesting to me.
Do think your background in improv helps you on set?
Fey: Hopefully, it does help. There were moments with Lily [Tomlin] where we did improvise a bit. It’s not just improvising to find jokes. Hopefully, you are ready to react if someone does something different. Lily is an expert at that and if anything changes in a take, she definitely notices that and responds. In the one scenes when the two moms meeting each other, that was the most improvisation.
Rudd: Every time she saw my mother, she had a reaction.
You were fascinated by Lily Tomlin’s process. Are you amazed that after all these years, you can still be taken aback by watching someone act?
Rudd: I’m not amazed by that. I’m still surprised I get to be in the same room with half the people I’m working with. In the last year, I’ve been able to work with people who live in rarified air — Albert Brooks, Lily Tomlin, Jack Nicholson. It’s exciting for me not just as an actor but as a fan to see people doing things in front of our faces. It’s amazing.
Tina, as a writer and actor, is it difficult to leave the writer behind?
Fey: No. I would guess I’m less likely to change things than other actors, only because I know how mad it makes me when actors want to change things. The thing about the book and screenplay is that they are so well done and thoughtfully written that I didn’t have the impulse to change anything. I trusted everyone involved in it.
What are your memories of applying for college?
Rudd: I never applied to any colleges. My parents are European. I don’t think they understand the process.
Fey: I remember failing at my own Princeton interview. My mom had wanted me to apply. I remember the scene — and it’s kind of like the scene with Nat [Wolff] in the movie when he goes to the interview. I had a long plaid skit and a suit jacket, unlike now when I’m dazzling.
What was your college experience like?
Fey: I went to the University of Virginia and I came from suburban Philadelphia. This was ‘88-‘92. It’s a great school. But for me, it was culturally different because I came from a suburb where everyone was half Italian and Irish and Greek. College was the most really white people I had ever seen. The girls had long ponytails with hoop earrings and they had horses and stuff. It was entertaining to me. I felt like I had gone to Sweden or something. I got involved in the drama department and that’s where I found more oddly shaped people.