REALLY BIG TEAM
Amy Poehler on Her Badass Lady #Squad, From New Pal Hillary Clinton to BFF Tina Fey
The Golden Globe-winning actress/writer/producer opens up about new movie Sisters, women in comedy, and whether Leslie Knope ever made it to the White House.
“I have a really big squad—but the problem is I’m a little old, so I forget who’s in it,” quipped Amy Poehler to The Daily Beast, mulling recent reports that she’s a bona fide member of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s official #squad.
In millennialspeak, the Golden Globe-winning comedian and the politician she uncannily lampooned during her reign on Saturday Night Live are practically besties, even if Poehler herself shies away from social media: “Instagram is where you take a picture and it comes out and you shake it and it develops, right?”
Poehler, 44, has a really big team spanning her Upright Citizens Brigade days, her SNL family, her Paper Kite production company, and the Smart Girls online community she co-founded to encourage young women to find and express their own unique voices. Indeed, Hillary did call her “a friend of mine” during her first televised national campaign interview. When she took the stage at the Emmys with comedy’s other great Amy—Amy Schumer—they spoke as one: “Hello. We are Amy.”
But everybody knows that Poehler’s once and future BFF onscreen and off, her longtime partner in crime and comedy, is her Sisters co-star Tina Fey.
The duo find a fertile platform for their snappy natural chemistry in the Universal comedy about two grown siblings—Katie, an irresponsible single mother (Fey) and Maura, the divorced Type A smotherer (Poehler)—who throw one last rager in their childhood home before their parents sell the place.
Directed by Pitch Perfect’s Jason Moore and scripted by SNL veteran Paula Pell, Sisters is the latest onscreen Fey-Poehler collab after their historic SNL/Weekend Update run, 2008’s Baby Mama (in which Poehler played the loose cannon), and their now-iconic reign as Hollywood’s best and ballsiest celebrity awards show emcee tag team.
Neither Poehler nor Fey grew up with sisters, but they bounce off each other as if they were thanks to their close-knit bond and shared knack for irreverent, unapologetic humor. The two first met in their early twenties in Chicago’s comedy scene, graduating from the ImprovOlympic and Second City to comedy’s biggest televised launching pad.
“We’ve known each other for so long, we really feel related,” said Poehler of their 22-year friendship. “We don’t have sisters of our own, and I like the idea that sisters and mothers and friends will go see [the movie] together—it’s this idea that when you’re connected with family there’s a complication that isn’t around when you’re with someone you’ve chosen as your sister. So it’s fun to play the complication of that and see what it would feel like.”
Fey revealed recently that they’d originally been cast in each other’s roles before she deemed Poehler a better fit for late-blooming Maura. “I put my producer hat on, and I thought when you have a part for someone where they’re supposed to be tightly wound in the beginning and then go crazy, you cast the person who is better at going crazy. I just knew that Amy would play the back half of that better.”
Poehler, last seen wrapping up her Golden Globe-winning run as dedicated Pawnee, Indiana, public servant Leslie Knope on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, plays Maura’s well-meaning neurosis with crushing self-deprecation, excelling in moments of extreme cringeworthiness. Reading their high school diaries in a shared bedroom still appointed in the ’80s teen dream decor of their youth, the sisters trapped in their own respective pits of arrested development realize that their glory days were maybe not so glorious after all. But while Fey’s Katie is faced with assuming the adult responsibilities she’d always shirked, Poehler’s Maura gets to grow up by letting loose.
“What was fun in the film was that my character Maura goes through a metamorphosis,” Poehler mused. “She starts thinking that her days are long behind her and she’s missed her chance, but as the party rages, she does too. I got the gift of getting to play both, which was really fun.”
Unlike Maura and Katie and just about every pair of siblings that have ever existed, Poehler says she and Fey have never had a bitter sisterly fight in real life. Poehler waxes celebratory about their longstanding friendship. “My mom said it was very important to have people in your life who knew you when, and Tina and I were diamonds in the rough and knew each other well before we really had any sense of what we wanted to do,” she said. “We kind of were in the trenches together, and you remember those times and those people very well. You treasure those friendships because they span really important times of your life.”
Have the two ever wing-womaned for one another, as Katie does with unabashedly florid sexual innuendo to her sis’s love interest-neighbor (Ike Barinholtz)? “Tina pretty much met her boyfriend now-husband in Chicago, so she’s never really been single for me to wing,” laughed Poehler. “But we’ve gone out for wings. We’ve all gone out for wings.”
Sisters is unquestionably the Fey-Poehler show, but it’s also a showcase for a killer lineup of female comedy talent. Maya Rudolph sneers in suburban chic as Fey’s former high school nemesis, while fellow SNLer Rachel Dratch plays a perennially deflated ex-classmate. Kate McKinnon, Samantha Bee, and Greta Lee also turn up in striking supporting roles.
“There are so many incredibly talented, funny women right now in their thirties and forties, including women in Sisters like Maya Rudolph and Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Leslie Jones and Schumer—all of these people that are creating all this stuff that’s exciting to see,” said Poehler, who also executive-produced the film.
Poehler’s also an exec producer on Broad City, which recently landed a cameo from Hillary herself. Her company also produces female-driven series Difficult People for Hulu, and has two female-led comedy features in development at Universal.
“I just like working with women,” Poehler explained. “From a very selfish perspective I just like how they work. I like hearing stories with specific and fresh new points of view. From a creative perspective, I think the audience demand is catching up with the supply—that there are a lot of people wanting to see stories told from whether it be women or people or color or any kind of diverse new voice, people are hungry for that. And demand is bigger than before, even though I’ve known over the past 20 years so many talented people who have been ready to express themselves in that way. It’s pretty cool to feel that and in some very small way to be a part of that.”
Her wariness of social media and “other poisonous bullshit on the Internet” partially led to the creation of Smart Girls, which “has less to do with the entertainment world and more to do with how does one figure out who they are in life, what are you interested in and what are you curious about, and kind of celebrating the person who’s interested in things they’re interested in,” she said.
“It’s just like anything: What’s wonderful about the Internet and social media is feeling connected, and less alone, and part of a bigger thing. Smart Girls has been trying to do that, to feel like everybody is linked in this small army. Every time I get frustrated or stuck, I turn to young people because I think their impatience and their dedication and their quote-unquote optimism is super inspiring and creative. It gets me out of that cynical place.”
Poehler is, of course, firmly on Team Hillary. “Let’s do this,” tweeted the Smart Girls account in April when Clinton announced her 2016 White House bid, accompanying the endorsement with a GIF of the women side by side on the SNL set.
“It was such an exciting time to be doing a live variety sketch show because there were so many women in politics and so much stuff happening, so much to play,” Poehler recalled of her first brush with playing Clinton. “When you’re doing a sketch show, you want to have people to play. It was a really exciting time.”
She and Fey return to their old stomping ground this weekend, hoping to give Sisters an SNL bump on a daunting opening weekend sure to be dominated by Star Wars mania. Fans, of course, are hoping to see the pair reprise their Sarah Palin-Hillary Clinton one-two punch—but Poehler generously defers to current star McKinnon, her successor in Hillarydom.
“Every election is different,” she said. “I’m really interested to see how this one starts to unfold—it’s starting to, and it’s its usual combination of interesting and bizarre—and frankly, excited to see what Kate McKinnon does with her stuff on SNL. She’s a genius and she’s playing Hillary on SNL now. One cannot take that impression with you, you’ve got to hand it over.”
In related presidential news, following the series finale of Parks and Rec every Knope devotee had one burning question in mind: Did Leslie finally make it to the Oval Office? I put the query to Poehler.
“Leslie had such a long road to the White House! I loved that ending because I love that the Secret Service is talking to both of them and one isn’t quite sure who is in the White House,” Poehler laughed.
“What I love about Parks is that at the end of the day, it wasn’t a show about big-time politics. It was about small-town characters,” she said. “So to successfully evade your question, do I think Leslie Knope is in the White House? I don’t know.
“I’d like to think that you think that,” she teased. “It’s more important that one would think that and believe that to be the case. I’d like to think that in the future, the idea of a female president is a boring topic because it’s happened so much. That would be exciting.”
She paused dramatically, setting up one last zinger like a pro. “Let’s be honest, we’re all going to be ruled by robots in about… six years. So it’s whatever the robots allow.”