Tina Fey remembers when she first heard about Kim Barker’s “The Taliban Shuffle,” the non-fiction book that became the film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” It was in the review in The New York Times.
“It said, ‘This is like a Tina Fey character.’ And because I’m an egomaniac and a moron, that really spoke to me,” Fey says at a press conference for her new movie.
In the film Fey plays a slightly fictionalized version of Barker, who spent the mid-aughts as a war correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (In order to keep things simple, it only covers Barker’s Afghanistan gig.) It’s not a full-on drama, but it’s not a full-on comedy either, even as it gives Fey plenty of chances to mine her specific brand of self-effacing humor. It’s not even, Fey maintains, a satire a la “M*A*S*H.”
“There are so many great war comedies,” says Fey. This one, she argues, is different. “This movie, at its core, is a human story. It’s not about relationships. It’s not political. It’s not ‘Dr. Strangelove.’ It’s about a woman who’s made the choice to blow up her existing life and go on this adventure.”
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” still points out a lot of absurdities of war, including what it’s like to be a western women trying to work in this part of the world. “You’re just doing your job and someone will full-tilt grab your ass,” Fey explains.
Of course, Fey is only going off what she read in Barker’s book. She and the film crew never had to experience Afghanistan firsthand, given that they shot the film in New Mexico. In a sense that’s a shame: co-star Margot Robbie — who plays a fellow correspondent — is an avid world traveler, who won’t let her sudden fame post-“Wolf of Wall Street” keep her from staying in hostels, not hotels.
“I really like investing myself in a different culture,” Robbie says. “I feel you get to do that more when you stay in hostels. When you’re in a hotel you can be anywhere in the world. They all look the same, to an extent.”
Both Fey and Robbie said making the film made them appreciate how being born in the United States and Australia, respectively, have kept them from more severe forms of sexism. Robbie says she doesn’t feel like she’s been reduced to her looks.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got a really good team around me. I haven’t been exploited, I don’t feel,” she explains. “I’m more concerned with being labeled as a sex symbol. That makes me feel more uncomfortable than any day-to-day interactions I have.”
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is still a hard sell to audiences these days, particularly in our superhero movie-heavy multiplex landscape. She said it didn’t seem like a hard sell to audiences until they had to tell people to go see it. “Maybe we should say that the vehicles transform into robots, and then they fight each other,” jokes Fey. “You’re going to be halfway through before you realize that doesn’t actually happen.”