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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tina Fey exposed (scar and all)

If you have a problem with Tina Fey -- and if that's true, what the heck is wrong with you? -- Maureen Dowd's frighteningly exhaustive "Vanity Fair" profile on the "30 Rock" star will probably turn you around.

If you're in love with ol' Liz Lemon already, then the piece is only going to turn you into a full-fledged stalker.

It's a must read for anyone who needs a lesson in how to manage widespread fame and keep a sense of humor about it all. Fey comes off as incredibly grounded -- and not in a phony "for publication only" kind of way -- even as she's transformed into an unlikely sex symbol. Smart, gorgeous, funny, wickedly independent -- she seems like one of those naturally funny writers/performers who worked hard to get to the top, and now that's she there, still believes that "what you see is what you get" no matter how crowded her mantle gets with Emmys.

Some of the highlights for those who refuse to read four pages of Internet copy:

“I love to play strippers and to imitate them,” says Fey. “I love using that idea for comedy, but the idea of actually going there? I feel like we all need to be better than that. That industry needs to die, by all of us being a little bit better than that.”

“Tina is not clay,” says Lorne Michaels, the impresario of "Saturday Night Live," "Mean Girls," and "30 Rock," when I ask him how he helped shape her career. Steve Higgins, an S.N.L. producer, observes, “When she got here she was kind of goofy-looking, but everyone had a crush on her because she was so funny and bitingly mean. How did she go from ugly duckling into swan? It’s the Leni Riefenstahl in her. She has such a German work ethic even though she’s half Greek. It’s superhuman, the German thing of ‘This will happen and I am going to make this happen.’ It’s just sheer force of will.”

"She has her principles and she sticks to her principles more than anybody I’ve ever met in my life," says her husband Jeff Richmond. "Like that whole idea of, if you are in a relationship, there are deal breakers. There’s not a lot of gray area in being flirty with somebody. She’s very black-and-white: ‘We’re married—you can’t.’ ” He calls their marriage “borderline boring—in a good way.” And she concurs: “I don’t enjoy any kind of danger or volatility. I don’t have that kind of ‘I love the bad guys’ thing. No, no thank you. I like nice people.”

After weeks of appearing on S.N.L. as (Sarah) Palin, Fey opted to minimize the onstage interaction when the real Palin finally showed up, and despite reams of speculation the reason wasn’t fundamentally political. “Tina was agonizing about it, and I’m drawn to anybody who agonizes about things,” says her friend Conan O’Brien. “She told me, ‘When I fly, I don’t like to meet the pilot.’ On the one hand, she knew: It’s my job to sort of go after this person in a way, but at the same time I know when I meet her, she’s a human being and a mom. She’s not the Devil incarnate or Antichrist.”

And finally ... the scar

Liz Lemon favors her right side. That’s because a faint scar runs across Tina Fey’s left cheek, the result of a violent cutting attack by a stranger when Fey was five. Her husband says, “It was in, like, the front yard of her house, and somebody who just came up, and she just thought somebody marked her with a pen.” You can hardly see the scar in person.

“It’s impossible to talk about it without somehow seemingly exploiting it and glorifying it,” Fey says. Did she feel less attractive growing up because of it? “I don’t think so,” she says. “Because I proceeded unaware of it. I was a very confident little kid. It’s really almost like I’m kind of able to forget about it, until I was on-camera, and it became a thing of ‘Oh, I guess we should use this side’ or whatever. Everybody’s got a better side.”

Top photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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