NEW YORK — Several things impressed Tina Fey when she got to know Kim Barker, the inspiration for the character she plays in “Whisky Tango Foxtrot” (opening Friday).
“First of all, I was impressed with how bold she is and what a great talker and overall conversationist she is. She’s super intelligent, which didn’t come as any surprise, but I was impressed by how she can par-tay!” said the actress with a huge laugh.
While there is plenty of overseas partying showcased in the movie, in it Fey’s character Kim Baker has been changed from Barker’s real-life persona, as the former Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent explained. The movie was inspired by Barker’s largely humorous memoir, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and she noted its translation to the big screen was something of a fluke.
“First of all,” said Barker, “Tina plays a TV journalist in the movie. I was a print reporter working for the Chicago Tribune when I wrote the book and was over in Afghanistan.
“Also, in the film Tina tends to run toward explosions. In real life I definitely did not. In the movie, my boyfriend cheats on me and that’s why we break up. In real life that did not happen. He was a good boyfriend. Things just didn’t work out.
“But all that’s fine. It’s their movie and they do stick to the truthfulness of my experiences overall — and what’s at the core of the book.”
Fey’s involvement came about when Barker’s book was reviewed by the New York Times and the critic Michiko Kakutani noted “I had created a sort of Tina Fey character as me in the book,” said Barker. “Within two weeks, Tina found out about the book from that review. She loved it and Paramount optioned the book for her. I found out about that the night of my book party. Everybody sort of laughed about it, and I didn’t really think it would happen, because I’m not that sort of person. I’m realistic and I know books get optioned a lot where the movie never gets made. But this actually happened!”
For Fey, known for strictly comedic roles, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” allowed her to also layer in dramatic moments on top of all of the humor. The actress also liked the fact that the film, while not overtly political, does showcase the cultural conflicts between native Afghans and the U.S. military’s attempts to modernize their country.
“Billy Bob Thornton plays a Marine colonel in the film,” said Fey. “He plays it so perfectly as this U.S. military guy who comes in with the best intentions. He’s trying to improve things to make the situation better, but he butts up against the incredible complexity of the mores and relationships and history of the Afghan people. I really believe that in many ways, those things are impenetrable for people from the West to understand completely.
“Even though we filmed this in New Mexico, we couldn’t help but get a sense of what life is like for people over there, thanks to talking to a lot of good advisers and most importantly Kim Barker.”
Both Fey and co-star Margot Robbie, who portrays an ambitious, battle-hardened TV correspondent in the film, liked the challenge of playing women working in the male-dominated environment of overseas journalism.
Robbie not only loved the “outspoken and opinionated” aspects of her Tanya character, “but I also really loved doing all those party scenes! It felt like we were actually at a big all-night party. I got so caught up in those, I’d forget that — Wait! No! This is a movie! I’m not really drunk at all!”
Fey nodded vigorously. “Yeah. You’d be having such a great time, then you’d catch the cameras out of the corner of your eye and remember you are totally sober — and it’s 10 o’clock in the morning!”