Paul Weitz’s new film Admission turns an inside eye on a subject near and not-so-dear to many of us- the college admissions process. At the heart of it is Portia Nathan (played by a more serious Tina Fey than we are used to seeing), a Princeton admissions officer whose world is suddenly thrown for a loop when a routine visit to an alternative school forces her to cross paths with a teacher (Paul Rudd) who thinks he may have found the son Portia gave up for adoption in college. Portia finds herself bending the rules, both official college rules and rules she has imposed upon herself to help this boy (Nat Wolff) get into Princeton, while falling into an oddly sweet relationship with his teacher. The film also stars a hilarious Lily Tomlin as Fey’s feminist, fire-breathing mother.
At the press day for the film Admission, Collider was present as stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd spoke to a small group of reporters about the film and their experiences making it. The two discussed meeting each other for the first time, working with director Paul Weitz and the atmosphere on set. They also spoke about how improv influenced their acting, the comedy community, if it’s too soon for a 30 Rock reunion, and discussed a shared experience doing a live reenactment of Sixteen Candles that sounds too good to be true.
Tina Fey: Well I started talking to Paul Weitz about it a few years ago, and actually had met Jean Korelitz, the author of the book, at a New Year’s Eve party-
Paul Rudd: Really?
Rudd: That’s interesting. I did not know that. I don’t know any of these…this is…let me get out my recording device too!
Fey: But that’s how, she said ‘I have this book, someone’s going to call you about it.’ And I said ‘really? Happy New Year!’ Which was appropriate, because it was a New Year’s Eve party. How about you?
Rudd: How did I find out about it? I just um…my agent sent the script to me. And I met Paul Weitz, and we had some conversations, Tina was already attached at that point. And I read it, thought it was, I liked the story. And I liked, Paul I didn’t really know, I knew who he was but I didn’t really know him. I enjoyed kind of talking with him about the story, and about the character, and about things we wanted to do with it and it happened fairly quickly for me.
What do the two of you like about your characters?
Fey: Well I really liked that it was sort of a story about kind of 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. And I also really liked the story, I thought there was really just nice, warm heart to the story.
Rudd: A lot what Tina just said. And I liked that the character I was playing was kind of an adult. And I was interested in mainly that he traveled the world, did all of these things that maybe from an outside perspective would seem to be humanitarian gestures, magnanimous gestures, when really there was a selfish side to him. And that aspect also with his son, that aspect of the character was interesting to me.
Do either of you have any good college admissions memories or even nightmares?
Fey: I’ve told Paul this already but, 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, cause she just I guess since I was a kid had this dream that I would apply to Princeton, and it was not happening. But I remember kind of like the scene with Nat where he goes to the alumni interview and just from the minute, you’re like ‘nah. This isn’t gonna…’ I had like a long plaid skirt on and a suit jacket. I just wasn’t…bringing it. Unlike now, where I’m dazzling.
There’s a quote from you Paul in the press packet that says that you appreciated ‘being able to see Lily Tomlin’s process.’ Are you guys amazed after all your work that you can still be influenced by somebody else’s working process?
Rudd: I’m not amazed. I’m still surprised. I’m still surprised I get to be in the same room with half the people that I’m working with. And particularly in the last year, I’ve really been able to work with people that live in very rarified air in my opinion. Albert Brooks and Lily Tomlin and Jack Nicholson. But uh, it’s always exciting. It’s exciting for me just, not even as an actor and process and all that stuff that sounds so boring to talk about anyway, but just as a fan of people. To see them doing things, like in front of our faces, it’s amazing.
Rudd: Yeah, completely. Yeah, how could you not be?
This is particularly for you Tina but for both of you, how do you think your background in improv helps you prepare to be on set and acting?
Fey: Well hopefully it does help. Certainly, there were definitely moments with Lily where we did improvise a tiny bit. And you and I, we may have done the tiniest bit but I don’t remember…and it’s certainly not necessarily improvising to try to find jokes, in this case it was hopefully it makes you kind of, you’re ready to react if somebody does something different. Which you can definitely tell that Lily is really not only an expert at, but thrilled if something changes in a take. Definitely, 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 that-
Rudd: Every time she’d see my mother, she’d have a different reaction.
Fey: Yeah, so I think in Lily in particular that really thrills her. She’s like ‘ok are we doing this? Are we changing stuff a little bit? Let’s go!’
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. But 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, really thoughtfully written and really, the story broken up really thoughtfully. So when you go into something where you can really trust that everyone has thought about it, more than you have even, then that’s like a gift.
You’re totally innocent on this movie?
Fey: I’m totally innocent!
What was your own college experience like? What was your favorite part of college?
Fey: I went to the University of Virginia and I came from, I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. It was, so it was like ‘88-92 I was there. And the University of Virginia is a great school. For me it was very culturally different. If only because I came from a suburb where everyone was half-Italian, half-Irish, Greek, whatever. And it was the most really white people I had ever seen. It was the most beautiful blonde girls with 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 did, I found, I got involved in the drama department there and that’s where I found the more oddly shaped people and we stuck together.
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. 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. 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.
Can I go back to the scene where the two mothers meet at the birthday party? Do either of you have horror scenes or embarrassing moments of your in-laws meeting each other?
Fey: No. My parents are very well-behaved. If anything, if my Mom were here right now, she would hug and kiss every one of you hello, and then she would feed you.
Can you talk about cows? Tell us about the cow scene [where a cow gives birth, aided by Fey and Rudd.] 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. And I’m trying to remember, while I was talking to the front of the cow, did you have to stand behind the cow the whole time?
Rudd: Mmhmm. 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.
Have you done anything like that before?
Fey: Uh, I haven’t.
Rudd: Well most of the time I’ve spent with cows has been on the other side than where I was. I used to live next door to a farm. So every day for a while we used to just walk over and feed the cows when I was in school. Which was weird because I lived in kind of a subdivision, but this one holdout in our neighborhood in Kansas still had a farm. So I’ve spent time with cows, but I’ve never spent that kind of quality time.
Fey: Right. 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! Yeah Nat had to hold, well Nat had the fake tail then there was another real tail-
Fey: Was the cow still…Phil was under the real cow, which is incredibly dangerous!
Rudd: Yep, and there was a bucket of goop.
Fey: And there was goop, which, yeah, so 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.
So it’s only been a week but is it too early to ask for a 30 Rock reunion?
Fey: (Laughs) It’s too early. It’s too soon. Who knows. I don’t think any of us will live long enough to make it to the 30 Rock reunion.
Fey: Oh in this movie? Um, I know Paul, there was this role that seemed sort of perfect for him and I think Paul Weitz, if you talk to him you should ask him, I think he was at first a little worried because Michael had been on 30 Rock, as a sort of failed love interest of mine. I called for it from the beginning, because he’s just so funny. He just plays such a wonderful weasel. In my mind he was perfect for it.
I’m hoping you guys can talk a little bit about the comedy community, working with Amy Poheler and I know you guys are close so, what is that like? Is it as collaborative as it seems, are you always trying to cast each other in each other’s movies?
Fey: So many STDs. No I’m kidding. It is nice to, anytime you can use anyone that you know for a long time or like that comes sort of recommended by someone you…I remember I emailed Amy when I found out we cast Paul and I said ‘is Paul gonna be nice to me, or is he like a..like a cool guy, comedy guy?’ And she said ‘oh he’s gonna be so nice to you!’ and I was like ‘ok, ok.’
Rudd: I emailed Amy too when I found out I was working with Tina.
Fey: And she said I really would not be very nice.
But you knew each other before.
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: I think that might have been, yeah, we did this, would you call it a pilot? This special thing that never aired on VH1.
Rudd: Yeah, it was like a live thing.
Fey: It was a really cool thing that Amy Poehler and A.D. Miles kind of ran where 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 would like 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, yeah.
Rudd: We shot it we did everything it was amazing and then John Hughes said no and–
Fey: He said he didn’t like it, and it was like… ok, great.
How long are you talking about, approximately?
Fey: Uh, 15 years ago? 10 years ago?
Rudd: It might have been about…9 years ago?
Fey: What did you play in it? In the Sixteen Candles part of it?
Rudd: I did um, I had a few different parts.
Fey: You were a swing?
Rudd: Uh, I was a swing yes. And then I sang a song at the end. With The Vapors. Turning Japanese. And Armisen might have been on drums.
Rudd: Yeah, you and…Will?
Fey: Arnett? Yeah, Arnett and I.
Rudd: And Jon Glaser, Jon Glaser was Molly Ringwald. No!
Fey: No, Amy Miles was Molly Ringwald. Glaser was Anthony Michael Hall.
Rudd: Glaser was Anthony Michael Hall.
Does this exist somewhere? Can we watch this?
Rudd: It does exist somewhere, yeah.
Fey: In Amy Poehler’s living room.
Rudd: Actually, she told me she watched it recently.
Fey: Yeah, she, maybe that’s what reminded me, she sent me a screen grab of it recently.
All these years later you come back and work on a film together, what’s the first thing you do, did you work out your characters with each other at the set?
Fey: We did rehearse a little bit for this movie, and I think so much of it, for me anyway, you’ve made a thousand more movies than I have, I always feel like I’m still learning- how do people behave on a set? Like you go to the white house and you’re like what…fork…I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do.
Rudd: My thing is I just want Tina to like me. Honestly, like Paul to just be okay, happy, that he hired me, and you know-
Fey: It never changes, for anyone.
Rudd: It never changes. And then we’re at the table read and then it gets down to just kind of let’s, how does this make sense. What can we do, how do you feel about this? We just start talking about our characters, it just kind of starts to happen. And, you know, and then you just kind of hope for the best, in a way. I don’t, I think, I always felt like with Tina, even before we’d ever really worked together, there were certain things that we wouldn’t really need to kind of really get into because I just somehow had a feeling and figured maybe because of so many mutual friends or just being a fan of Tina’s and knowing like, thinking she’s funny and smart, that when it came to certain aspects of the story and the characters we would just kind of approach it from the same place. Which I think was kind of true.
Fey: I think so, yeah. And once you get in the room and you’re talking to Paul Weitz more and you’re reading it and we realized we all had the same understanding of what the story is about and what’s happening here, and I think going back to talking about the improv background, some of it is you kind of don’t want to talk it to death beforehand, you want to just kind of save some of it for when you’re actually doing it. So it was nice we sort of had a nice amount of rehearsal to break the ice and then the rest of it was just kind of saw each other on the day.