Tina Fey's post-30 Rock career begins in earnest with Admission, a romantic comedy set in the high-stakes world of college admissions. Don't think that qualifies as a "high-stakes" world? Then you clearly haven't had to apply to college recently. Fey plays career-minded Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan, who enjoys a meet cute with the personable principal of a progressive New England high school (Paul Rudd). Admission's director Paul Weitz, whose previous films include American Pie, About a Boy and last year's Being Flynn, spoke with us about collaborating with Fey and his own experience with higher education.
TWoP: This role is something of a departure for Tina Fey -- was she always your first choice?
Paul Weitz: Yeah, I thought of her first and she was the only person I thought of; without her, I wouldn't have gone ahead. Prior to writing the first draft of the script, [screenwriter] Karen Croner and I had breakfast with Tina and went beat by beat through the story. After that meeting, I felt like it would be a step she could take; she could still be really funny, but also very believable as a character who had convinced herself she had made all the right decisions in her life when actually she had this gaping chasm of insecurity inside.
TWoP: Obviously, the movie's success hinges on the chemistry between Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, who hadn't worked together in a film before. Did they hit it off right away or was there a learning process?
Weitz: They did, although I don't think it came from spending a bunch of time together before making the movie. I think they had a rapport because they're both really smart and funny and polite. I was hoping that they would have good chemistry with each other, chemistry that hearkened back to Adam's Rib or one of those other Tracy & Hepburn films. I think you believe they're both smart enough to be turning each other on intellectually. Paul was very instrumental in what his character ended up being. When he first got the script, he was like, "Gosh I really want to do a movie with Tina, but I'm not feeling it for this character -- he's just too much of a sweetie pie and too good to be true. So I worked with him on the script to really transform him into a guy who seems to be leading an irreproachable life -- he does relief work and he's a single dad who loves his kid -- but who is also, at heart, extremely selfish. I like that Tina is going through this huge change, but Paul has to go through a change, too, and the only person who can tell him whether he's doing a lousy job is a person who has no experience with parenting beyond reading college guidance essays.
TWoP: Fatherhood has been a central theme of your work going all the way back to American Pie with Jim's Dad. Was one of the attractions to Admission the opportunity to tell a story about motherhood?
Weitz: It definitely struck me that while I've hopefully had strong female characters in my movies, I haven't made a movie with a female lead, which is pretty shameful. You're always juggling three thing in parenting: 1) Societal obligations, i.e. if you're a dad you have to be tough and if you're a mom, you have to be nurturing; 2) The parenting you got, which is a very specific brand of parenting that you sometimes try to reject because you want so badly not to become the aspects of your parents that you don't like; and 3) The actual relationship you need to have with your kid. Societally it's interesting, because Tina's character is of the moment in that her decision not to have kids and put her career first isn't stigmatized. 30 years ago I think this would have been a very different movie; it would have been about the very odd decision of someone not having kids. Today, it's the norm for a large segment of society. And I really liked that it was about a woman who felt she had nothing to give on a nurturing level to anybody.
TWoP: You attended Wesleyan, which is a highly ranked private college like Princeton. Did you draw on your own time in that kind of environment to make the movie? And do you feel any differently about your collegiate experience after making Admission?
Weitz: The way I feel about it personally is that it doesn't matter where you go to school -- it matters who you come across with while you're at that school. I did grow up, for lack of a better word, in a kind of elitist situation in New York City and I can look at my classmates and some of them did fine and some went dreadfully askew. I think the movie is accurate in that these institutions are trying to be diverse at this point, because they don't want to be the stereotype of themselves. What I'm really excited to see is if college courses become more and more available on the Internet and whether that erodes the sense of elitism more with everyone trying to get through the doors of just a few places. In my personal experience, I have known people who have gotten a lot going to community college and people who have gotten very little out of going to Princeton or Harvard or Yale.
TWoP: Your movie About a Boy is being developed as a TV series for NBC. Are you involved with that adaptation at all?
Weitz: I'm not at all involved in it; I only found out it was happening because Hugh Grant e-mailed me asking if I knew about it. I'd definitely consider doing something more with TV. So much of the best storytelling is on television right now, I'd have to be a fool not to aspire to do that as well. Right now, I'm waiting for Game of Thrones to come back on; the show transports me into the pure joy of fantasy.
Watch a making-of featurette about Admission below.
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