Tina Fey and Amy Poehler turn friendship into onscreen comedy in Sisters

Actresses Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who play on-screen siblings, also feel like sisters in real life

Tina Fey (left) and Amy Poehler star in the comedy Sisters, about two siblings who throw one last party in their childhood home.
Tina Fey (left) and Amy Poehler star in the comedy Sisters, about two siblings who throw one last party in their childhood home.PHOTO: UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

If you developed a little crush on Tina Fey and Amy Poehler while watching them host the Golden Globes, hanging out with the two comediennes off stage will not disappoint.

At a Los Angeles press conference for their new movie Sisters, the duo's chemistry is as deliciously sharp, ribald and goofy as it was when they hosted the awards show for three years from 2013.

Anchored by their 23 years as friends and collaborators, that chemistry made it a cinch to play siblings in the film, which opens in Singapore tomorrow and is about two sisters who throw one last party in their childhood home.

Do they also feel like sisters in real life, a reporter asks.

"I feel like we are," says Fey, 45.

"Yeah, we feel like chosen sisters," agrees Poehler, 44 - then randomly decides that the age of Madonna's teenage daughter is a good way to underscore this.

We learnt pretty quickly that we liked the same things and we liked speaking the same way.

ACTRESS AND COMEDIENNE AMY  POEHLER on her relationship with her co-star and good friend, Tina Fey

"Our relationship is as old as Lourdes Ciccone," she says.

"And as talented," adds Fey.

"And as good at dancing," Poehler continues.

Neither she nor Fey has a sister, so they really have become as close as siblings, Poehler says. "I think as a woman, you get lucky if you get to choose your sister and you're not related to her because it's easier, isn't it?"

Hers and Fey's partnership began early in their careers. They were introduced in 1993 when they joined the same improvisational comedy group in Chicago, ImprovOlympic.

Fey says: "That was the first improv team we were on and I think that's where it started to work."

Poehler nods. "We learnt pretty quickly that we liked the same things and we liked speaking the same way," says the star, who has previously revealed that Fey first caught her eye with a play she wrote about Russian ruler Catherine the Great doing unspeakable things to a horse, meant as a commentary on the double standards faced by female leaders.

She adds: "So much of comedy in the beginning is finding your tribe, because no one is very experienced and no one feels funny. But then you end up searching out the people who like the same things as you do.

"So that was a good first dating period and now, today, we're getting married." 

Within a decade, both actresses had become successful comics and won coveted spots on the popular television sketch show Saturday Night Live (SNL), where Fey soon became head writer. She and Poehler also co-anchored the show's spoof news segment, Weekend Update. After their stints on SNL, they went their separate ways.

Fey created the satirical sitcom 30 Rock (2006 to 2013) and played the lead role of Liz Lemon, a harried head writer on a sketch comedy show, earning a shelf full of Emmys for writing and acting in the process.

Poehler would launch a successful acting career, playing the eternally optimistic Leslie Knopes, a mid-level public servant in the workplace comedy series Parks And Recreation (2009 to 2015), which won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy.

She also co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade, a sketch comedy troupe in New York and Los Angeles, and was the voice of the character Joy in the Oscar-winning animated feature Inside Out last year.

She and Fey's first major reunion after SNL was hosting the Golden Globe awards ceremony in 2013, which they did so successfully that they were invited back the following two years.

In this latest collaboration, Sisters, it is Poehler who plays it straight as the boring-but-responsible Maura, while Fey is her sister Kate, who has been the party animal since they were children.

Screenwriter Paula Pell initially assigned the roles the other way around, but Fey - who along with Poehler also executive-produces the film - had a different idea.

She says: "I tried to put on my producer hat - which is a beautiful hat, the front is a baseball hat but the back is all feathers - and thought: When you have a part for someone who is tightly wound in the beginning and then goes crazy, you cast the person who's better at going crazy. I just knew that Amy would play the back half of that better."

For her role as Kate - a hard- drinking single mother who is trying to get her life together, Fey says she "tried to play the movie as if I was once the greatest ice skater in the world, but now, I'm in this wheelchair. I'm the hot girl who used to party, but you will never see me do any of it in the film".

Both women confess that they were fairly straitlaced themselves when they were young.

"In my youth, I was more Maura," says Fey, who is married to composer Jeff Richmond, 53, and has two daughters aged 10 and four.

Poehler, who has two sons aged seven and five with ex-husband and actor Will Arnett, 45, admits she was kind of square too: "Growing up, I was more of a hairband- wearing Massachusetts girl."

The movie features several other SNL alumni, including screenwriter Paula Pell and actors Chris Parnell, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Moynihan and Rachel Dratch. Like Poehler and Fey, the cast drew on their training and shared background in improvisational and sketch comedy, which meant a lot of collaboration, very little ego and plenty of laughs.

"There's a bit of a shared vocabulary," Poehler says. "In the improv community it's like a well-run emergency room, there's not a lot of freaking out because you just don't have the time.

"You don't take up a lot of time talking about how something's not gonna work or you can't do it. You just do the best you can in the moment and you wish for the best - and you're around people who hopefully are more skilled and better than you at what they do."

She adds: "That's just a thing we're all used to. We like working and feeding off of one another. There's not a lot of ball hogs on our team. We all took great pleasure in other people's jokes and there wasn't a lot of feeling like we were competing against one another.

"That always makes for a better experience but oftentimes, a funnier film."

•Sisters opens in Singapore tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Sisters on screen and off'. Subscribe