Tina Fey & Margot Robbie - WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot





Tina Fey is a comedy powerhouse. Most know that she was the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live. Just don’t tell her that. She’s sick of hearing that. Fey looks forward to the day when she won’t be the first, or second, or even 25th woman to do anything. And she proves it with her sharp wit most of us wish we could bring with us into a tough business meeting. When a New York Times book review came out, mentioning that the author was a Tina Fey-like character, Fey’s agent immediately sent her the review. And the rest is, as they say, history—because that book is now the movie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, starring the brilliantly comedic Fey, along with the gorgeous and sexy Margot Robbie.

Fey dedicated this movie to her late father, Donald Fey, who was a Korean war veteran. He died from heart failure this past October and her family set up a special scholarship at his alma mater, Temple University’s School of Media & Communication, Department of Journalism. The scholarship is very specific and will go to any returning veteran who wants to study journalism as he did. “My dad served in Korea. He was a code-breaker. So he didn’t see active duty, but he was real smart,” Fey said in a recent New York Times “TimesTalks”.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot takes you on one woman’s journey to rearrange her life. A Chicago-based reporter volunteers to report on the war in Afghanistan to escape the rut she had been living in her own life. This true-to-life story tells the audience that she went from the windy city to the streets of Kabul. Kim Barker’s book, “The Taliban Shuffle”, is her real-life account of what it was like to be there, reporting in the middle of all the chaos that swirled around her.  

It is ironic that Barker was nervous to meet Fey. In our interview, Fey admits that after reading the book she immediately wanted to make it into a movie. Yet she also admits that she’s not sure that she could do what Barker did—to have the guts to travel to Afghanistan, and found her to be a legit “badass” after reading her account.


STRIPLV: Was it after reading Kim Barker’s book, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan” that you decided to do the movie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that it was based on? 
FEY: I’m embarrassed to say that when I first became aware of the book—it wasn’t even that I even saw the Times review… I think it was like my agent who forwarded the Times review of the book where they referred to Kim as a “Tina Fey-type character” and so then, because I’m an egomaniac, I tracked down the book and read it, and found it to be so funny and fascinating and intelligently written and well-observed.  
STRIPLV: Could you immediately see it as a dark comedy film?
FEY: Well, I definitely thought: ‘I want to take this to Lorne Michaels, and we’ll take it to Paramount and see if we can sell it as a movie, because I’m always looking for things that I can believably be in that are still unusual—and not always playing a mom, or lady working at a magazine. And so this definitely seemed like a more exciting environment for a film.
STRIPLV: What were the key ingredients that interested you to produce this film?
FEY: As a producer, the book interested me because I think you look for things… I look for things that would be good scenes, really, and so many things that really happened to you (looking at Barker) were just “juicy” for lack of a better word. So yeah, as a producer I thought: ‘This has cinematic appeal!’
STRIPLV: Kim, what was it like in the beginning, when your book was being pitched as a possible Tina Fey film?
BARKER: The review came out and it was Michiko Kakutani at the New York Times, and of course I was thrilled to be compared at all to Tina. And I think talks started probably within a week, ten days? (confirming with Fey)  
FEY: Very quickly, yeah. And then it was within two weeks—it was the night of my book party, actually, that I found out Paramount was optioning it—and I got a call at a party and it was happening.
FEY: Oh, that’s great!
BARKER: Yeah, yeah! Thank you, for that!  
FEY: Yeah! That’s good times.
BARKER: It was a good present.
STRIPLV: Tell us about what it was like for you, seeing your book turned into a movie.  
BARKER: It was called originally: The Taliban Shuffle, and I went back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obviously you had to cut one of those countries out—which meant you had to cut Nawaz Sharif, and there’s some pretty good scenes with him in the book, in real life. And you know, obviously, you had to make it a bit more Hollywood—and you expected that. There’s more explosions. There’s a different romance than I actually had (Fey chuckles) and you expect that. But I think that at the core they tell the same story. You know, I like to refer to the movie as “truthy,” (laughter) if not entirely accurate, you know, in terms of like what happened with my life. I know that Robert Carlock, the script writer, he talked to a lot of people besides me. He talked to my friends. He talked to other people. He did a lot of actual original reporting. So I think there’s actually a lot of stories that happened, maybe not to myself, but to other people that are layered on top of this story.
STRIPLV: What was your first meeting like together?
FEY: We had like a brunch…
BARKER: It was a lunch… it was September 11th, 2014.
FEY: It was!
BARKER: (smiling) Of course, I’m gonna remember that day. And yeah, they set it up, and I was really worried about what to wear that day, because I was like: “What do you wear?”
FEY: (chuckles) You were like a fashion icon.
BARKER: You know, I was like: “Should I be casual and like cool about this?”  
FEY: (laughter)
BARKER: “…or should be I wear a suit? Should I wear heels?” So I opted for like you know, a skirt, flats and an Ironic T-shirt and I think like a suit jacket or something like that.
FEY: I remember thinking: “My God, she’s nailed it! She’s nailed her look today.” (laughter)
BARKER: She was wearing like a flannel shirt over a t-shirt and a…
FEY: Children’s pajama pants…
BARKER: …aspirational hot pink sports bra, yeah and jeans, you know. (laughter) I remember all of it so vividly, because I went there early, well not early, it was like five minutes early, and I asked for the Tina Fey table. (laughter) You know, and they were like: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” So then I ask: “Does she have a reservation?” “No.” And so I’m asking for the assistants… “No.” And then they’re just looking at me like: “Are you crazy, Ma’am?” (laughter) So I said, “Can I just get a table for two?” and she walked in, so, and of course it’s New York, so they’re completely blasé about it and said: “Oh, yeah—there’s Tina Fey.”
FEY: Because no one cares.
BARKER: No one cares. That’s the great thing about New York.
FEY: Midtown—no one cares. So we met, and in hindsight, I was like: “We should have met closer to the thing,” because I didn’t… I was like, “Yeah, so we’re gonna do this…” like I didn’t have like very good questions or anything.  
BARKER: Yeah, like: “Were you ever scared?”
FEY: “Where’d you get tampons? Did you bring them from home?” (laughter)
BARKER: I did, yeah.
STRIPLV: What was it like to have Kim come to the set and share her real-life experiences with the crew?
FEY: We were nervous to have Kim come. We were nervous because what if she gets here and just says, “Guys, it’s all wrong—it’s all wrong.” And there were a couple of things like that. It’s funny, because early in the beginning of the process, when we talked about Robert Carlock had done so much research and he was like so, so dedicated to his research. And I had a fitting one day, and I sent him pictures from my fitting, saying, “Look, I’ve got my burqa on, and I’m trying on my vest.” And he said (sternly) “That vest should say ‘PRESS’ on it—blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Okay, it’s just a fitting. I’m just trying to have camaraderie with you right now. Like, relax.” And then months later, we get there and I’m wearing the vest and Kim comes and says: “Oh, we’d never wear one that said ‘Press’ because that would just make us a target.
BARKER: (cracking up) That’s true!
FEY: That just goes to show you the level of complexity, and even with the best, most over-thinking intentions, like: “Oh, I shouldn’t be wearing that!” And I was like: “Oh, I’ve already worn it in a bunch of scenes, so I can’t change it.”
BARKER: Yeah, I wasn’t gonna bust them too hard for anything—because it’s a movie, right? Just as, like, they probably can’t write journalism stories, I can’t write scripts.
FEY: I think Robert can. I’d have to go back to school.
BARKER: He might be able to. Yeah, he did report that out. I mean, for me, it was exciting to be there obviously, but I thought it would be more exciting, and it actually turns out it’s a lot of sitting around.
FEY: It’s so much sitting around.
BARKER: And I have a short attention span, because most journalists do. It’s like, you know, we’re onto the next thing.
FEY: What’s more sitting around? A real embed or a fake embed? (Embedded journalism refers to news reporters being attached to military units involved in armed conflicts)
BARKER: God, they’re both sitting around a lot of the time—waiting to do something.
STRIPLV: Did you get to add some input when you visited the shoot?
BARKER: I came in and they were already halfway done with shooting, so… I mean, I did make one suggestion that they took me up on, which was when she was going up on the embed. You were wearing those high-heeled boots, and originally there was a joke about the high-heeled boots, and I said, “Okay, man. I didn’t know what I was doing, but they sent me a list of things to wear, and I was wearing hiking boots.” And so then they changed the joke to the backpack, which was actually very funny.
STRIPLV: During your actual journalistic schedule in the Mideast, what were your accommodations really like?
BARKER: The space that we had, like in Afghanistan, it was more of a low-slung. And it was sort of this one-story, sort of ranch house, where one room spilled into the next room, and you were always walking through somebody’s room and whatever was going on in there, to get to the bathroom. And the name of our house was “The Funhouse.” And it was like a rotating cast of characters, whether they were diplomats or aid workers, journalists, U.N. workers, who would sort of stay there when they were in town. But it was like dance parties, and it was Thursday nights, and you would drink an incredible amount. You know, people will say: “That doesn’t seem realistic at all.” And anybody who’s been over there knows—that like, when you’re covering really difficult things, it’s difficult—and you don’t have like the sort of release that you have in real life, like back here. You can’t go to the gym. You can’t like go for a run outside. My mother would always tell me to do yoga. I was like, “You do yoga, mom. I’m gonna go to the party.” (laughter) You know? And it just like became this thing, and you know, you sort of always were going back. I call that section of the book, ‘Kabul High,’ because it was sort of like being in a fraternity party in high school again, and being this really strange environment, and everybody was living it the same way.
STRIPLV: What time of mindset did you prepare yourself for when doing those very intense and frightening scenes? 
FEY: In the back of your mind, when you’re shooting a scene like that—you’re working hard to forget it, but you know in the back of your mind that you are safe and that this is not real. And so, to try to even imagine to be in an environment that could take a turn one way or another, and it’s real—I can’t claim to, in my pretending to do it, have experienced what Kim has experienced.
BARKER: And I also didn’t have explosions going off in front of me like that… 
FEY: …that close to you, yeah.
BARKER: I mean, they were like three blocks away or something like that. And you would hear them, as opposed to having a big ball of flame in front of you. And you’d hear them, and obviously, as a journalist, you’ve got to go towards them.
FEY: …walk through carnage.
BARKER: Yeah, you just have to sort of put all that emotion aside, because you’re there to do a job. People always ask me: “What was the scariest time—were you ever scared?” And I think, in the very beginning—sure—because you’re not used to it. But then the longer you’re there, the more it’s just like you see all your friends doing these things and you feel like, “Oh, I don’t want to seem like I’m a coward, or a chick, even though I kind of am.” And so you push yourself to do these things and I write the line in the book and they used it as dialogue: “The whole idea that we we’re all just frogs in boiling water—didn’t know the water was boiling.” I like the way you guys did that, by the way.
FEY: Oh, yeah.
STRIPLV: Tell us about the relationships in the movie.
FEY: The story of the movie is about a woman blowing up her life in the state that she’s a bit stuck in, and taking this risk to go to Afghanistan and start anew. It’s about her adventure, for lack of a better word, and it’s about her relationships over there. I think my favorite relationship in the movie is the relationship between Kim and Fahim, because it’s one I don’t feel you see a lot. You don’t see two adults having a friendship that is in no way romantic and is crossing a deep cultural divide like that.
BARKER: Yes, I’ve never seen it before.
FEY: And I think Chris Abbott is so lovely in the movie, too. And it’s about that sort of impossible friendship. It’s about people being addicted to an adrenaline-driven lifestyle, you know. It’s about Kim seeing Tanya and Ian, and at first being so in awe of them and charmed by them and wanting to be them—and by the time she’s been there for a while realizing: “Oh, this is a dangerous lifestyle that I have to jump off of or I’m just going to be here forever. I’m just gonna be an old, hardened adrenaline-chasing lunatic,” thinking that I’m, you know, living my life, but I’m just chasing this next story.
STRIPLV: And how is this very serious lifestyle somehow turned into comedy?
FEY: The movie is very funny at times because the book is so funny. I think people in those extreme situations, any intelligent or living person, is gonna to cope through humor, at some point, or is going to see the humor and the absurdity in where they are. And so there are definitely funny moments in the movie. I feel like, as an actor, you just try to play the scenes as honestly as possible and then hope that if it comes out funny, it’s funny. For example, the scene with Fred Molina. I go, I’m hungover, I’m trying to interview the man who’s probably going to be the next Attorney General, and he won’t speak to me—he will only look at my male translator. And so you just try to go in there and you just try to play the thing straight, and play the tension of that scene, and hopefully it’s funny. But yeah, you don’t go in there like: “Today’s a comedy day.”
BARKER: It’s more situationally funny, like it is in the book. It’s just like the sort of absurd things that happen and you reacting to them. You know it’s funny, because when I talked about writing a dark comedy about being in Pakistan and Afghanistan, people here would be like: “Are you serious? I don’t get the humor.” And then anybody who was over there was like: “Oh, I totally understand what you mean,” whether you’re a soldier, you’re a police officer, a journalist who has to deal with horrible things, an Afghan or a Pakistani has to deal with horrible things. You use dark humor as a coping mechanism. It’s very common.
STRIPLV: How do you think people will be able to relate to this character?
FEY: It’s about being a little fearless in your life and being bolder with your life choices, so maybe that’s something to take away from it.
BARKER: I think the movie has just a lot of humanity. I think that people might expect they’re going to go see a comedy, and it’s just laugh-out-loud all the time. But there was a time in the movie where I know I teared up. And I know I watched it with a bunch of foreign correspondents, including people who had been kidnapped by the Taliban, and there were a lot of people who were tearing up at the end of that.


STRIPLV: We haven’t yet heard the history behind the real-life character of Kim Barker.
FEY: I play a woman named Kim who is working as a cable news producer and gets the opportunity to go and become an on-camera reporter in Afghanistan at a time when her network is very short-handed abroad. And she goes, thinking she’s gonna be there for three months, and ends up staying there for three years—three insane hard-partying years. (laughter)
STRIPLV: And Margot, tell us about your character.
ROBBIE: I play Tanya, who’s also a war correspondent already in Afghanistan, when Kim comes over and she kind of takes Kim under her wing and then they become friends and she’s pretty impressed with Kim, and you know, they have a bit of healthy rivalry, and by the end it’s starting to look a little unhealthy.  
FEY: It becomes less healthy as it goes on. (chuckles)
ROBBIE: (laughing) Yeah, yeah. And then she’s kind of like: “I don’t want to be like you.”
STRIPLV: What did it feel like to play such a strong character, someone who seemed to make such brave yet dangerous choices in life?
FEY: I have so much admiration for Kim—because we pretended to do things that Kim really did—you know go into a dangerous area and interview a warlord, put on a full burqa to make her way safely into the streets of Kandahar and to get stories that she wouldn’t have had access to. So it was pretty cool to just even get to meet her, and to have her book as the source for this movie. She’s pretty badass. 
STRIPLV: After playing the roles as reporters, could you have ever seen yourself doing that occupation? 
FEY: (joking) I think I would be a real good domestic reporter covering like…
ROBBIE: I think I’ve got the partying side of it down. (chuckles) I can do that real well. I can’t even imagine what it would be like.  

“ It’s easy to sit on the side of things and be like: ‘Sure, I’d give it a shot.’ But who knows how it’d actually be in reality. Yeah, it’s not something I think we can fathom. ”

STRIPLV: Do you have some favorite scenes in the movie?
FEY: I have a lot of favorite scenes in the movie. One of my favorites is a scene I have with Chris Abbott, where Chris is really doing all the work in the scene, where he quits. He works with me as a translator, a fixer. And he feels that my character is starting to get reckless and put him in situations that are too dangerous and he gives this beautiful speech about the nature of war reporting and people getting addicted to adrenaline and he’s just so, so good in that scene.
ROBBIE: It’s funny you say that, because my favorite scene is with Chris Abbott in it, as well. It’s when he takes you to the airport at the end. And it’s just a really beautifully genuine moment, where it’s so rare that you just see an actual genuine male and female friendship on-screen where there are no ulterior motives. It comes across as really, really honest and beautiful to me. I really got a little teary-eyed at that moment. And my favorite scene to shoot would have been when we were in the karaoke bar and Martin had to be… (laughter) Oh, actually no! When we were all doing the karaoke, do you remember? When we were all in the other room, and we were all like meant to be like sloppy drunk, like wasted, but it’s 10:00am and we’re sober, (placing her hands as if holding a microphone) trying to do karaoke badly—which it sounded bad anyway. But it was just so ridiculous to be like pretending to be that drunk.
FEY: Yeah, at 10:00 in the morning.
STRIPLV: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
FEY: I hope they will laugh and think the movie is funny. I hope they will be moved by the beauty of the location—even though we faked it.
ROBBIE: (cracking up)
FEY: …and kind of the humanness of the story that, in spite of its extreme location, that it’s a relatable story hopefully of someone wanting to take a risk in their life and change their life. Also that every character in the story is kind of… I mean, I keep thinking of Billy Bob’s character—in terms of the politics of the movie. Billy Bob plays a colonel, who, by the end of the movie, is a general, and has just the best intentions of trying to be helpful in Afghanistan and that it’s just an untamable, kind of unknowable place that changes all these people’s lives.

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