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Flicks - Adapting to film

Tina Fey reveals her secret feminist agenda

When the alternative might have been akin to such other "Saturday Night Live"-inspired movie duds like The Ladies Man or A Night at the Roxbury (among countless others), let's hear it for Tina Fey for parlaying her small-screen success into a big-screen calling card that's something other than Weekend Update: The Movie.

For her first Hollywood project, Fey, 33, the "SNL" co-head writer who shares anchor duties with Jimmy Fallon on the television show's weekly newscast segment, turned her attentions to adapting Rosalind Wiseman's best-selling sociological survey Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence.

The result is Mean Girls (opening April 30), a fictionalized comedy about high-school hierarchy that exists somewhere between Heathers and Clueless. Lindsay Lohan plays the new kid in town, and Fey takes on the supporting role of her influential math teacher.

Creative Loafing: You have a lot of experience writing original material. What were the challenges in adapting someone else's work?

Tina Fey: The biggest challenge with this was that it really didn't dawn on me until late in the game that I was adapting a non-fiction, non-narrative book. There were all these ideas and character types, but there wasn't any storyline per se. That was probably the hardest thing. Other than that, I was basically responding to the book because it was something topical, and that's sort of the way I'm used to working on "SNL," anyway. The only trick was not to make a filthy, stupid teen comedy out of the book.

Why this book in particular?

I don't know. I'd been wanting to write a screenplay for a couple of years, so I'd been looking for a subject that felt juicy enough to me, something interesting and relevant, maybe even something with a few political layers to it. When I read Rosalind's book, it felt like it had some substance to it. I realize no one wants to hear the word, but deep down it appealed to me on an almost feminist level. Just please don't print that, or else Janeane Garofalo and I will be the only ones going to see this movie.

Is it fair to say you feel more comfortable as a writer than as a performer? I've always wondered why you don't appear in more of the "SNL" sketches outside of your Weekend Update gig.

Yeah, I am more comfortable as a writer, but that isn't to say I'm uncomfortable as a performer. It's just that all of the other women on our show are so much better at sketches than I am. It's like, there really isn't much need for me, and I don't like going where I'm not needed. I'm definitely a writer first.

Was it part of your movie deal that you also play a supporting role in Mean Girls?

That was always part of the pitch, but it was pretty clear from the beginning that the real story was with the younger girls, so I never had any delusions about carrying the movie or anything.

So why the math teacher, as opposed to any other role?

I knew I wanted to play a character who kind of served the same purpose that Rosalind does in her book, the positive role model type. I guess it sort of played into that super-secret feminist agenda of mine that we're not going to mention — right? — because I knew math was something girls are conditioned to believe they aren't very good at, so I wanted to try subtly debunking that.

How does comedy-writing in the Bush era compare to comedy-writing during the Clinton era?

Listen, the Clinton years were a golden heyday for comedians, because you had this enormous, sexy, victimless scandal — although I'm sure if you talked to the right conservatives they could probably extrapolate about how the Monica Lewinsky scandal led directly to 9/11. It just seemed like a much happier time, didn't it? I don't know. It's a little harder doing Bush comedy, because you're dealing with a war. You have to walk that proverbial line. You can joke about him, but any war is horrific and you never want to be too glib about that. It's all about using your own taste as a guide and taking it one joke at a time.

bert.osborne@creativeloafing.com