The new comedy "Date Night" stars Tina Fey and Steve Carell as Claire and Phil Foster, a tired, overworked, married couple with kids. In one of the film's many painfully funny-because-it's-true scenes, they go on a routine date at a no-frills family restaurant -- the kind that serves potato skins -- and afterward Phil suggests that maybe the evening could end with some intimacy. Getting ready for bed, Claire removes her mouth guard as she considers the proposition.
"The discussion about having sex on a weeknight? It's like the polite dance," said Fey, explaining that her character is open to the idea in theory "but still wants to sleep."
It's likely a relatable scene for both actors. In their real lives, Fey and Carell juggle kids and spouses in the middle of their sky-rocketing comedy careers. Separately, they rule over the best of the brainy, uncomfortable comedies of network TV. Fey created and stars in the Emmy Award-winning "30 Rock," in which she regularly mocks her corporate bosses at NBC, and Carell plays socially inept manager Michael Scott in the U.S. remake of "The Office," a closely observed study in 9-to-5 workplace banality.
"Date Night" finds its suburban couple trying to escape their hamster-wheel lives with one wild night of rekindled romance, but a case of mistaken identity puts them at the wrong end of a gun barrel and running from some very bad characters. It's an action romp that takes a smart and, yes, sometimes uncomfortable look at married life well after the honeymoon. Having honed the script with the two actors for a year, director Shawn Levy said: "This was made with their specific voices."
Fey and Carell recently sat down together to talk about how "Date Night" will make some couples cringe and why neither believes that their names can sell movie tickets:
In the film, Claire explains to Phil that what she dreams about most is alone time. The movie's director credits Tina for molding that moment.
Tina: I just have the one kid, but it's something I wanted to get across. I have friends who have several kids and when you have lots, there's a personal space thing that happens. "There's always someone touching me! Someone is always touching me, and their boogers are on me and their food is on me. . . ."
Steve: I love that. I actually love that moment.
Tina: Moms fantasize about it. I don't know what moms fantasize about sexually. But yeah, more than like Gerard Butler, they just want to have a little condo to themselves.
Steve: When my wife and I went to see the movie, she really picked up on that scene. It rang very true to her. That to me is important because if you can see these people as real then when everything goes crazy and ridiculous, you want to stick with them.
Tina: I liked the idea that it was a movie about grown people who are married because that's what we are. At a certain point, we can't be saying, like, "Hey! Let's be each other's wing man!" Sooner or later, you have to be your age.
And yet in this movie, your characters find themselves pole dancing for their lives.
Tina: Yes, there is action, and we had someone on hand in case we got hurt. We didn't choreograph ahead of time. We both felt it would be best not to. It's exactly what Meryl Streep talks about when she shot the end of "Sophie's Choice." She read the page once and she just never looked back and shot it.
Steve: That's a really good comparison.
Tina: It's the "Sophie's Choice" of comedy. Really, I thought it could go way wrong. The dance goes on for a long time.
You both are on hit TV shows.
Tina: I guess if just half the people who watch "The Office" would go opening weekend. . . .
Steve: (laughs) Right. You know what? If our shows combined . . .
Tina: Or, if just four times the number of people who watch "30 Rock" would just go?
Steve: Wouldn't that be great? If you like either of us, you should go. If you watch either of our shows. . . .
Tina: Just come.
Steve: Yeah, please come . . . (Fey reaches over and picks something off of Carell's eyebrow.)
Tina: It's like we're really married.
Steve: I thought you were going to do this (he licks his thumb and pretends to wipe off her cheek.)
Tina: I have done that to my kid. I swore I never would.
Steve: And they think it's as gross as it is.
Tina: "Mom! Dad! Your spit is on my face!"
How do you keep your own marriages fresh? Do either of you do date nights?
Steve: My date night is on Fridays. We get an enormous pizza and get into our pajamas and sit and just watch all our guilty pleasure shows from the week on TiVo, right after the kids have gone to bed. It's a low-key kind of date night, but it's great.
Tina: We try to get out. We don't call it "date night" though. We call it "hunt or be hunted." We call it "Awe- sometown, USA." . . . So often, the word "rally" comes up. Like, my husband will go, "Can you rally?" And I'll say, "We can rally," because we're so exhausted. I always want to wait until my daughter has gone to bed but kids just psychically know that you're trying to go to a movie or something so on that night they won't go to bed until like 9:40 p.m.
A lot of people are talking about you guys as a comedic dream team.
Tina: There's some pressure in that.
Steve: Yeah, we don't want to disappoint.
The director said he loved all the improvising on set. Is there any one joke that you are proud to have gotten in the movie?
Steve: Oh! When you come out in your disguise. . . .
Tina: In my sexy outfit, yes. Because I kept thinking that the stripper outfit I wore is the kind you put on a woman that you can't put a bikini top on, so clearly it's covering everything. I wanted to justify why it was so not revealing. So I said, "It's the only thing long enough in there to cover my C-section scar." I don't know why. It makes me happy.
Steve: I asked him to leave in me licking the [stripper] pole.
Tina: I asked him to please leave in that your fantasy woman was Cyndi Lauper.
Is she really?
Steve: I'll leave that as a big, big mystery.
Tina: Like "You're So Vain." A showbiz mystery for the ages.