When you’ve got a movie starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, you’re bound to expect an excess of comedy, however, in the case of Paul Weitz’s “Admission,” the pair runs with their more “adult” characters and strike a an ideal balance between humor and honest emotion.
Fey stars as Portia Nathan, a Princeton admissions officer dedicated to the school’s lofty criteria. When the opportunity for a promotion arises, Portia’s determined to get the gig, so tries to impress her superior by expanding her yearly recruiting script to include John Pressman’s (Paul Rudd) alternative school, New Quest. That’s where she meets Jeremiah (Nat Wolff). He may not fit the Princeton mold of sky-high grades and an endless list of extracurricular activities, but Portia sees something in him that compels her to consider deviating from the school’s rigid standards.
While promoting the film’s March 22nd release, both Fey and Rudd sat down for a roundtable style interview. They discussed boarding the project, the appeal of their characters, the art of filming a cow-birthing scene and more, but the highlight might be the duo remembering the good old days, when they first came together to reenact “Sixteen Candles” for a failed VH1 show. Read all about that and more in the interview below.
How’d you get involved?
Tina Fey: I started talking to Paul Weitz about it a few years ago, and I actually had met Jean Korelitz, the author of the book, at a New Year’s Eve party. She said, ‘I have this book that someone’s gonna call you about it.’ And I was like, ‘Really? Happy New Year!’
Paul Rudd: My agent sent the script to me and I met Paul Weitz, and we had some conversations. Tina was already attached at that point. I read it, I liked the story, and I like Tina a lot. Paul I didn’t really know. I knew who he was, but I didn’t know him, and I enjoyed talking with him about the story, about the character and about things we wanted to do with it, so it happened fairly quickly for me.
What’d you like about your characters?
Fey: I really liked that it was a story about adult people. It was a world that I thought was kind of interesting, this world of not just college admissions, but people who live their whole life in a college environment and how insular and weird that can become. Also I really liked the story. I thought there was just really nice, warm heart to the story.
Rudd: A lot what Tina just said and I liked that the character I was playing was an adult. And I was interested mainly in the fact that he traveled the world and did all of these things that from an outside perspective would seem to be humanitarian gestures, magnanimous gestures, when really there was a selfish side of him. That aspect of the character was interesting to me.
Do either of you have any good college admissions memories or maybe even nightmares?
Fey: I remember tanking my own – well, tanking implies I did it on purpose – I remember failing my own Princeton interview. My mom wanted me to apply to Princeton because, I guess, since I was a kid, she had this dream that I would apply to Princeton, and it was not happening. I remember kind of like the scene with Nat in the movie where he goes to the alumni interview and just from the minute you’re like ‘No, This isn’t gonna…’ I had a long plaid skirt on and a suit jacket, and I just wasn’t bringing it. Unlike now, where I’m dazzling. [Laughs]
Rudd: Princeton’s loss, I say. I never applied to any colleges. My parents are European. I don’t think they understood the whole process. [Laughs]
How do you think your background in improv helps you prepare to be on set?
Fey: Well, hopefully it does help. There were definitely moments with Lily [Tomlin] where we did improvise a tiny bit. We may have done the tiniest bit. Certainly you’re not always necessarily improvising to try to find jokes. In this case, hopefully it makes you ready to react if somebody does something different, which you can definitely tell that Lily is really not only an expert at, but thrilled by it. If anything changes in a take, she definitely notices it and responds. In that one scene where it was the two moms meeting each other, that was probably the most improvisation.
Rudd: Every time she’d see my mother, she’d have a different reaction.
Tina we know you as a writer as well as an actor. When you walk into a project like this, is it difficult to leave the writer side at home? Do you want to change things?
Fey: No. In fact, I would guess that I am probably less likely to change things than other actors only because I know how mad it makes me when actors want to change things, so I try not to unless we’re specifically being asked to improvise. The thing about the book and Karen Croner’s screenplay, it was all so well done that you didn’t have the impulse of, ‘Oh, we gotta fix this.’ It was all really thoughtfully written and the story [was] broken up really thoughtfully. It’s nice when you can go into something where you can really trust that everyone involved has thought about it more than you have even. That’s like a gift.
What was your own college experience like? What was your favorite part of college?
Fey: I went to the University of Virginia. I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. It was like ’88 to ’92, I was there. The University of Virginia’s a great school. For me, it was very culturally different. I came from a suburb where everyone was half-Italian, half-Irish, Greek, whatever. It was the most really white people I had ever seen. It was the most beautiful blonde girls with the long ponytails and hoop earrings, and they all had horses and stuff. It was entertaining for me. I felt like I had gone to Sweden or something. But I got involved in the drama department there and that’s where I found the more oddly shaped people and we stuck together.
Did you have this experience with your own daughter? Did you try to get her into any of the New York private schools?
Fey: I’ve decided not to send her to school at all. She’s being kept in what is technically our building’s bike room. [Laughs] No, she goes to school …
Rudd: Wait a minute. Hold on. You have a bike room?
Fey: Well, I’m not allowed to keep a bike. I’m on a waiting list to keep a bike.
Rudd: You have to apply…
Fey: I am on a waiting list to get my bike in tat building. A lot of people have moved; I don’t know why there’s not room.
Rudd: You would think at this point you would have gotten your bike in there.
Tell us about that cow scene. Was that improv?
Fey: Yeah, some of that was. In the front, they asked me while I was talking to the cow to improvise some things. I’m trying to remember, while I was talking to the front of the cow, did you have to stand at the back of the cow the whole time?
Rudd: Yeah, I was behind the cow for …
Fey: The Ginger Rogers of cow scenes.
Rudd: It shot over a couple of days, so acting’s hard.
Had you done anything like that before?
Fey: I haven’t.
Rudd: Well, most of the time I’ve spent with cows has been on the other side. [Laughs] I used to live next door to a farm, so every day for a while I used to just walk over and feed the cows when I was in school, which was weird because I lived in a subdivision, but this one holdout in our neighborhood in Kansas still had a farm. I’ve spent time with cows, but I’ve never spent that kind of quality time behind a cow.
What’s the movie magic behind a moment like that? Obviously the cow isn’t giving birth, so what’s going on back there?
Fey: There was a guy named Phil, special effects guy, who made some fake calf legs that had a handle on one end and he would squat under the camera, and I guess there was a tail …
Rudd: There was another tail. That’s right! Nat actually held his tail and then there was another fake tail.
Fey: Was the real cow still – Phil was under the real cow a little bit, which is incredibly dangerous!
Rudd: And there was a bucket of goop.
Fey: So Nat, Paul and I eventually had to pull on the fake cow legs and Phil would pull back until he was given the cue to – birth. [Laughs]
Can you talk a little bit about the comedy community? Is it as collaborative as it seems? Are you always aiming to cast each other in each other’s movies?
Fey: So many STDs. No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] Anytime you can use anyone that you’ve known for a long time or that comes recommended – I remember I emailed Amy [Poehler] when I found out [Paul and I] were doing this together and I was like, ‘Is he gonna be nice to me or is he like a cool comedy guy?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh my god, he’s gonna be so nice to you!’ I was like, ‘Okay.’
Rudd: I emailed Amy, too. [Laughs]
You knew each other before though, right?
Fey: We’d met.
Rudd: We knew each other, but we didn’t know each other very well. I’m trying to think; did we meet during the Soundtracks thing?
Fey: Yeah. We did this, would you call it a pilot? This special that never aired on VH1.
Rudd: It was like a live thing.
Fey: It was a really cool thing Amy Poehler and Amy Miles kind of ran. It was this thing called ‘Soundtracks Live’ where they would take a movie like – was it ‘Sixteen Candles?’
Rudd: Yeah, we did ‘Sixteen Candles.’
Fey: Where you act out the movie and then a band would play the soundtrack live, and people would sing the songs.
Rudd: They started at UCB. They had live shows and then this.
Fey: I think it just became a thing where the show came out great and then I think they just couldn’t clear any of it.
Rudd: We shot it, we did everything, it was amazing and then John Hughes said, ‘No.’ [Laughs]
How long ago was this?
Fey: Fifteen years ago? Ten years ago?
Rudd: It might have been about nine years ago.
Fey: What did you play in it, in the ‘Sixteen Candles’ part of it?
Rudd: I had a few different parts.
Fey: You were a swing?
Rudd: I was a swing, yes. [Laughs] And then I sang a song at the end with The Vapors, “Turning Japanese.” [Fred] Armisen might have been on drums.
Fey: And I played one of the grandmothers!
Rudd: Yeah, you were the parents. You and, Will?
Fey: Arnett? Yeah, Arnett and I.
Rudd: Jon Glaser was Molly Ringwald. No! Amy Miles!
Fey: Amy Miles was Molly Ringwald. Glaser was Anthony Michael Hall.
Rudd: [Jack] McBrayer was in it.
Fey: Someone should really find this.
Does this exist somewhere?
Rudd: It does exist somewhere!
Fey: In Amy Poehler’s living room. VHS.
Rudd:Actually, she told me she watched it recently.
Fey: That’s what reminded me. S he sent me a screen grab of it recently.