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Tina Fey: One Hot 'Mama'

It's a script only she could write: An ''SNL'' scribe morphs into an award-winning TV actress (''30 Rock'') and now a leading lady on the silver screen in new comedy ''Baby Mama''

Tina Fey | TINA FEY The SAG award winner won't admit to having more than ''four moves'' as an actress: ''Eye-rolling; the ability to eat food on camera…
Image credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN STEPHENS
TINA FEY The SAG award winner won't admit to having more than ''four moves'' as an actress: ''Eye-rolling; the ability to eat food on camera in real time; I think I'm a decent straight man. Do I have a fourth move? Um, unpleasant dancing.''

Tina Fey is putting words in her own mouth. In a dark studio in midtown Manhattan, she is standing at a microphone in front of a large screen rerecording some lines from her new movie, Baby Mama, in which Fey stars as a type A career woman who hires a comically crass surrogate (Amy Poehler) to have her baby. The dialogue do-over is a standard part of the moviemaking process, but the work is painstaking, requiring Fey to improvise precisely timed interjections and match her lip movements exactly. Which she will do, but not before pausing to reflect on the massive quantity of junk food she ate while shooting her NBC sitcom 30 Rock the night before (''I was playing a game with the camera guys: Guess What's Inside Me. 'Yes, there is Cheez Whiz inside me. Toll House cookies? Yes. Salami? Yes.'''). Then she recounts her near run-in with director M. Night Shyamalan at the studio; Fey chose not to introduce herself, because she wasn't sure it was him until after he left (''I thought it'd be racist to go up to the wrong Indian guy and ask if he was M. Night Shyamalan'').

Time for another take. Fey bounces in place like a fighter readying to land a punch, and then produces a perfectly modulated ''Ugh!'' as requested. Perhaps she's so at ease because she's done ADR (automated dialogue replacement) before on 30 Rock. Or perhaps it's because this is a woman who knows precisely what she is — and isn't — capable of as an actress. ''Irene, our postproduction producer at 30 Rock, said to me, 'You're so good at ADR,''' recalls Fey. ''I'm like, 'Yeah, because I have one line reading. I can remember how I did it. I'm not Daniel Day-Lewis.'''

No, but this year Tina Fey became an award-winning actress — and it might not be long before Hollywood anoints her as a movie star, too. After taking home a SAG award and a Golden Globe for her role as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, Fey, the geek nation's reigning queen of comedy, is about to infiltrate the masses with her patented brand of hyperintelligent hilarity. Baby Mama (which opens April 25) is Fey's first attempt at carrying a big-screen comedy, and her biggest shot at a mainstream audience to date. At least some of the 6.6 million fans devoted to 30 Rock — which is back on NBC with new post-strike episodes — can be counted on to line up, but can Fey break through to the uninitiated? Poehler, for one, has no doubts: ''I think Tina is a proven level-smasher.'' It's a concept that makes the 37-year-old Fey nervous, as evidenced by a recent encounter in a Manhattan electronics store. ''This woman came up to me — I should have known she was odd because she was carrying a broken Discman, and it is 2008. She was like, 'You're a great actress.' And I was like, 'Oh, I don't think so, but thank you.' And she said, 'No, I'm asking you, you're an actress, right?' I said, 'Oh, don't worry about it.' All I could think of to say was 'Don't worry about it.'''

NEXT PAGE: ''I liked the topicality of the fertility issues that affect so many people. And Amy liked that it did not have anything to do with a goddamn wedding.''

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