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Alison De Souza
Friday, Sep 19, 2014

Showbiz

Comedy ninja

The Straits Times | Alison De Souza | Friday, Sep 19, 2014

Comedienne Tina Fey is a pretty well-known name in Hollywood after the success of 30 Rock and her stint as Golden Globes host last year.

With her starring role in the award-hogging sitcom 30 Rock and her much-praised co-hosting of the Golden Globes last year, comedienne Tina Fey is a pretty recognisable face these days.

But her recent success in front of the camera makes it easy to overlook the fact she started out as a writer. In fact, she was the first female head writer on the star-making comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live.

In person, the 44-year-old's fast-twitch wit and comic timing - which have won her numerous writing and acting awards - are unmistakable.

At a Los Angeles press event for her new comedy-drama This Is Where I Leave You, journalists in attendance can practically hear the gears clicking in her comedy-sharpened brain as she sits next to co-star Jason Bateman and dazzles the room with her wit.

The multiple Emmy-winning writer and actress is equal parts warmth and mischief as she interacts with reporters at the small studio in West Hollywood.

There is also a bit of shy schoolgirl in there somewhere, which is not surprising, perhaps, when you learn she based her screenplay for the cult comedy Mean Girls (2004) on her own awkward high-school years or that this thinking-man's sex symbol was once a frumpy wallflower.

Not being an outsider anymore has not dulled any of her bite, though. Fey is a comedy ninja, quiet but lethal as she delivers zinger after zinger in her sweet and tiny voice, with the effect ranging from insightful to just plain silly.

She explains that she signed on to do This Is Where I Leave You because she wanted to work again with Shawn Levy, who directed her and Steve Carell in the 2010 romantic comedy Date Night.

"I was also very excited to work with Jason," she says of her 45-year-old co-star, before cutting his legs out from under him. Referring to another popular actor, she quips: "I did think it was Jason Segel for, like, the first few weeks."

It continues like this throughout the interview even though she is meant to be promoting a rather serious movie about long-held family grudges and secrets - meaning she actually had to properly emote and even cry on screen for a change.

When Bateman asks her, "Is crying easier for you now you have kids?", Fey, the mother of two girls, aged nine and three, says: "Yeah. It opened my black heart."

In the movie, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, she plays Wendy Altman, a frustrated wife and mother who is one of four siblings forced to reunite after the death of their father.

It is a big departure for the celebrated comedienne, who has made it to Forbes "100 most powerful celebrities" list in recent years.

Her biggest success was with the satirical TV series 30 Rock (2006-2013), in which she played the hapless Liz Lemon, the head writer of a fictional sketch comedy show. It was a character based on her own experience of joining the writing staff of Saturday Night Live in the late 1990s, where they began putting her on camera after she decided to lose 30 pounds (13.6kg).

Despite spotty ratings, 30 Rock was a consistent critical favourite, nominated for more than 100 Emmys and winning 16 during its seven-year run - including Outstanding Comedy Series from 2007 to 2009, and the Best Actress Emmy and Golden Globe for Fey in 2009.

While this was happening, its star was also moonlighting on Saturday Night Live, where she unveiled her hysterically uncanny impersonation of Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate in the 2008 United States election, in sketches.

The Palin clips went viral, making her an international star and winning her yet another award, the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.

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