Marc: I have one person who has made me cry multiple times, and I have one person who has made me laugh multiple times…
Amy: Well I’m going to make you cry this time, and Pete’s going to make you laugh.
Pete: During this interview.
This is going to be a very emotionally confusing interview. Pete, do you set out to make people cry when you make movies?
P: I feel like if you cry that means you’re into the movie, and that’s the whole point. To reach out, to connect, to say something to you. Even if it’s about monsters or bugs or cars or whatever, it about you in some way. That’s the hope.
A: It seems like you’re easy to cry though. Seems like you’re always on the verge of tears.
Yes, that’s true. There’s an interesting story about how you got into this film. You came in at quite a challenging period where they didn’t know quite what to do with your character, Joy.
A: I didn’t know that at the name.
P: Our crying to you wasn’t a tip off? “Amy, help us, please!”
M: I’ll just assume that’s how all contract negotiations go.
A: I came in last and had the benefit of them having recorded some stuff. A lot of the art was cemented, and the story was really there, and they were just trying to figure out how to create a character that doesn’t drive everybody crazy, because she’s kind of intense.
Poehler! Poehler doesn’t drive anyone crazy!
A: Or she drives them so crazy that they’re used to it.
P: Around the bend, the whole way.
The first day we worked together, we said, let’s not even record, we just wrote. We’d read through all the scenes and add to it, so the next day we already had some of Amy’s brain infused into it. But a lot of the time we’d record as it was written three or four times and she would just start going. This is what you want, because you want the character to feel real and spontaneous. Not ‘I am reading a script’, but ‘it came out of my mouth because that’s what I’m feeling right now!’
There is this interesting history you have personally with taking moments of crisis and turning them into fun. There’s a great story I read with you and a set of handcuffs and your best friend.
A: When I was a little kid, and I was in fourth grade, somebody brought handcuffs to school, which is already its own story. It was an older brother thing, I think? And me and my friend handcuffed ourselves together and then threw the key away, and we couldn’t find it. It was my first taste of being a celebrity. I was walking around and we were handcuffed together, and we were excited, and we were going to have to go to the police station together.
I remember the very distinct moment when my friend started to cry, saying ‘we’re never going to get out’, and I was thinking, ‘this is amazing! Think of the stories we’ll have forever! We’ll always be the handcuffed girls! We have this whole thing now!’
I grew up in a very sleepy town with very loving parents so I had to create my own danger, and ever since then it’s just been about being a celebrity.
So much of this film is about happiness and sadness being two sides of the same coin. When did you land on that? Was it an overarching idea to make a point about mental and emotional health?
Was there a starting point? Because I know you tell a story about how you were observing your 11 year old daughter at the time.
P: Ellie was 11, and as a little kid she was a rambunctious, goofy; a running around and talking to everyone kind of kid. And then when she got a little older her teachers would say, ‘Ellie’s a quiet child.’ We’d say, ‘who?’
That change reminded me of my own childhood which was difficult. I think that’s what the film talks about. Everyone’s been a kid or has a kid, and it really speaks to the difficulty of growing up.
Has the process of making the movie, and thinking about going on inside people’s heads – has it changed the way you look at your kids?
It’s changed the way I talk to them. It’s a tool to talk to them because when you have young boys especially, but kids in general, you can’t sit them down and say, ‘what are you feeling?’ They just don’t answer.
What I love about this film is that it doesn’t underestimate the emotional intelligence of children. As a culture, we’re really okay with showing violent images really early and just assuming that our kids will just catch up and be okay with that. But we don’t assume they’re ready emotionally for things. And they are. All parents want to know is, ‘what is my kid thinking? How are they feeling? How can I make them happy?’
My boys are six and four and you think to yourself, I have plenty of time before they start feeling all these feelings. And that’s not true. They’re feeling them now, just in different ways.
Of the many characters that you’ve played the one that will stick in many people’s minds is the Hilary Clinton impression you did on Saturday Night Live. Hilary’s running for President right now; has she asked you to campaign with her yet?
No, but it was so fun to do those scenes, because it was a time when everybody was paying attention to the race. Any time you’re on a weekly political sketch variety show, a live one, it’s really nice when people know what’s happening. It was a really exciting time to be on that show.
I was pregnant with my first kid, and my wonderful old Italian obstetrician died the day before my baby was born. I was at SNL when I got the news. And there’s nothing scarier than a really big pregnant woman bursting in to tears. Jon Hamm was the host then and he came over and asked, ‘what’s wrong?’ I said ‘my OBGYN just died, and I’m due tomorrow’. And he just said, ‘I’m really going to need to you get your shit together.’ Going from crying to laughing that quickly, sharp turns like that; they add years to your life.