It was as obvious as the face she looked at in the mirror every morning, but Tina Fey was the last to note the strong resemblance she bears to Gov. Sarah Palin. And when “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels called to ask her to play Palin on the show, Fey didn’t want to.
“I was really resistant at first,” Fey told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Thursday in New York. Even though she came to realize she really did look like Palin, the Emmy-winning writer, producer and actress had a number of reasons not to take Michaels up on his offer.
“One, I was not an impressionist,” she told Lauer. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll go on and people will say, “That stunk.” ’ Also, I was a little worried that it would seem partisan.”
From Palin to Fey-lin
Fey was on TODAY to plug Thursday night’s season premiere on NBC of “30 Rock,” the critically acclaimed sitcom that she created inspired by her years as the head writer and a performer on “SNL.” But nowadays she can’t go anywhere — even her home network — without talking about her spot-on impersonation of Palin.
Fey’s public profile was rising even before she realized she could see Russia from her house. In addition to multiple Emmys and a Golden Globe, she has been one of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People three times as well as one of TIME magazine’s “100 People Who Shape Our World.”
But playing Palin has raised the wattage of the public spotlight shining on her.
“It’s definitely been different just walking around,” Fey told Lauer. “Just going to the airport is different. People are like: ‘Sarah Palin!’ And people who think they’re really slick, they’ll be like, ‘Sarah Palin — Tina Fey-lin!’ ”
She wasn’t complaining. “So far it’s all been just fun stuff,” she said.
Not leaving Earth
Fey also cleared up a widely repeated comment she made to TV Guide: that if Palin and McCain win the election, she’s leaving Earth.
“That reporter is an old friend of mine from high school,” she said in explaining how she came to say it. “I was joking with him — ‘Oh, I’m leaving Earth.’ I was joking about people who say, ‘I’m going to move to Canada.’ In print it looks like a super-serious statement.”
But Fey’s fans need not worry: If the Republicans win next Tuesday, “I would not leave,” she said. “But I won’t be able to do ‘Saturday Night Live’ anymore.”
Fey revealed that she actually liked Palin when they finally met during the candidate’s guest appearance on “SNL.” Fey even thinks the V.P. hopeful has some comedy chops.
“It’s always surreal to meet the person you’ve done jokes about,” Fey said of the meeting. “But she’s very nice. She’s very game. I told her she could come back and host sometime, because I really think she could do it, and she said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ ”
During the TODAY interview Fey did manage to get in a few words about the “30 Rock” season premiere and Oprah Winfrey’s guest appearance on the show. When they met to film the segment, Fey got a hug from the famous talk-show host, an embrace she described elsewhere as being like “a week at a spa.”
Another “Rock” guest is “Will & Grace” alumna Megan Mullally, who guest-stars as an adoption agent who must determine whether Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, is qualified to adopt a child. Other guest stars past and future include Steve Martin, Edie Falco, Matthew Broderick, Carrie Fisher, Jennifer Aniston, Meredith Vieira, Al Roker, Jerry Seinfeld, David Schwimmer, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg and Al Gore.
“30 Rock” is starting its third season after a second that harvested a record seven Emmys, including Fey’s Best Actress in a Comedy Series trophy. She’s also starred in the movies “Baby Mama,” co-starring fellow “SNL” player Amy Poehler, and “Mean Girls,” which she co-wrote.
“It obviously feels great,” she said of the awards “30 Rock” won this year. “To make ‘30 Rock,’ it’s everybody working very hard like mice on a wheel all the time. So when we got to go to the Emmys it was a nice little treat — to come out into the sunlight and go to a party. It was great.”
The feeling, she joked, was, “OK, now I’ve got that — now I can fail for the rest of my life. I guess I’ve got a lifetime supply of achievement.”
Fey’s wildly popular Palin impressions on “SNL” have been just icing on the cake. After ending her run as a regular on “SNL” in 2004, going back, she said, is “like guys who go to rock ’n’ roll fantasy camp, or they go to like, Mets fantasy camp. That’s what it’s been like.”