Could Amy Poehler possibly have more in common with Tina Fey? They’re both brilliant and beloved Saturday Night Live alumni who’ve moved on to movies (like Baby Mama, in which they co-starred) and they both head up hit NBC comedies (30 Rock for Fey, Parks and Recreation for Poehler). But the parallels end at their trophy cases: Fey has seven Emmys; Poehler, none… yet. Will this year’s awards change that? Let’s see how optimistic Leslie Knope’s real-life counterpart is.
TVLINE | How are you enjoying your Parks hiatus?
I’m loving it. I was just saying, “My God, this has been an especially good hiatus.” And my husband [Arrested Development star Will Arnett] was like, “Well, it’s the first one that you haven’t given birth during since 2008.”
TVLINE | That always helps.
It does. It makes you a little less tired.
TVLINE | Since you’re well-rested, let’s start this interview at the very beginning of your career. Back then, was there anyone’s career that you hoped to emulate?
I used to be really into Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, so I started learning about where they used to study, and they were at Second City. So, at the time, I was just emulating the people I knew from SNL and comedy movies. I loved Steve Martin, but I didn’t do anything the same way he did. I think I was a little lost, so I just kind of walked in their footprints for a long time.
TVLINE | Was the goal SNL at that point?
No. My aunt says she has a Christmas card that she wrote to me when I was 12 saying, “You’re going to be on SNL.” And I was like, “The Secret!” But I went to school for acting, so I thought I would be an actor first. I hadn’t done any stand-up, and I didn’t really know how to make a career out of doing sketch comedy. Those were kind of the two ways to get to SNL, and I hadn’t really done either one of them. So I just started acting. I don’t know if it was necessarily something that I verbalized, but maybe it was always kind of in the back of my head as a dream [to join SNL].
TVLINE | And when you were on SNL, were you thinking big picture, like, “Now, do I want to go the sitcom route or be a movie star?”
The first year or two, I was head-down trying to learn my job. I wasn’t thinking that macro way. But I watched Will Ferrell very closely, not only because I was such a huge fan, but I’m drawn to benevolent captains. I work well under their… tutelage. I was going to say under their reign, but that makes them sound like they’re dictators. Anyway, I just loved the way Will handled his career at that time. He was just doing what was fun and funny, with people that he liked to work with. So I learned a lot from him as far as how to manage being on that show and doing other things.
TVLINE | After Tina left and did so well with 30 Rock, were you itching to do the same?
Actually, when the idea of doing Parks came to me, I didn’t think I would be interested. I love television, but I was just coming off of a big eight-year run doing a TV show, and I thought I wanted to do more film and write more. So it really was like most things in my [career]: It was because of the writing [that I did it] rather than this big master plan.
TVLINE | Did you feel pressure before Parks debuted that “Wow, I need this to be a success?”
Tremendous pressure. I still feel pressure all the time. And we started in a really weird way, because there was all this misreporting that we were a spinoff of The Office, and we had to wait because of my pregnancy, so I had to do whatever I could to kind of drown that out. But certainly, I felt a weight to [do right by] the people who were trusting me with their idea.
TVLINE | The show wasn’t a huge critical success out of the gate. When did you feel like the show really hit its stride?
When we were back on the set shooting Season 2’s first episode, with the gay penguin marriage. I think everybody felt a really good sense that they had a lot of good ideas and stories to tell.
TVLINE | What did the first Emmy nomination for Parks feel like for you?
Unlike SNL, where it’s like you’re not trying to bring focus to this upstart show that is garnering an audience, with the Parks thing I felt like it could be good for the show, and that was a good feeling. It was awesome. It was totally awesome.
TVLINE | Sometimes the Emmys are slow to recognize new shows, especially if they’re not huge mainstream hits. Are you hoping that the nomination for you last year will maybe snowball into more this year?
Certainly for our writers and cast and our producers and stuff, I am. It’s also a blessedly crowded field — so many strong ladies in [my] category. Television has always been such a good place for women, but especially right now, I think. [Anyway, a nomination] feels good because those things can matter when you’re still feeling like you’re not totally sure about the future of your show. Now I’d like to think that we have some security and that we’ve kind of slowly earned it. So, it feels nice, the possibility. But if I’ve learned one thing it’s that, good [or] bad, you can never predict what’s going to go on that evening.
TVLINE | Do you find yourself not wanting to get too invested in the whole Emmy process because you set yourself up for disappointment?
Yeah. In 2008, I definitely thought SNL was going to win the Emmy. The Daily Show won. I was really surprised. I just thought the election stuff [SNL] did that year was off the hook. So it was a lesson of life. I will not be burned again. Fool me once….
TVLINE | Have you thought about which episodes you would submit from Parks this season should you secure a nod?
I don’t know. There’s a really nice feeling to have more than one choice for that. I’ve had some people say that they liked the flu episode because it’s stand-alone and jokey, and then some people say they like the one about Jerry’s painting, because it’s Leslie being kind of feisty. So, I don’t know. It’s almost like I’d like someone else to make that decision for me. Perhaps you.
TVLINE | Submit the painting episode.
OK. Copy that.
TVLINE | You were never better than in that episode.
Good, good. And there’s a little cleavage in that one. That never hurts.