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"I'm 42," Tina Fey says. "It's over for me soon."
Never mind that she stars in the new film Admission, is in demand for any number of movie roles and, hot off wrapping her critically lauded Emmy juggernaut 30 Rock (2006-2013), has signed a deal to develop a new series for NBC. Fey insists that she's in decline.
"Did you know that, at this age, it takes 400 people to just get me ready for an event?," she jokes, speaking by telephone from her New York office. "As you age, you might want to pay someone to shoot lasers at your face. You can actually simulate the experience at home by having a friend hide your wallet while you sit close to a space heater. It works just as well."
If Fey were to decide to have laser surgery, though, she'd have trouble fitting it into a schedule which is as packed as any actress could hope for. Currently she's hard at work promoting Admission, which will open nationwide March 22.
The film, directed by Paul Weitz and co-starring Paul Rudd, casts her as Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University in New Jersey. Highly dedicated to her work, Paula is childless by choice, having given up a son for adoption in her youth. Now she discovers that one of this year's applicants may in fact be her long-lost son, and wrestles with the question of whether she should bend the rules to get the boy into Princeton.
"It was such a rich, moving story," Fey says. "It's a movie about chasing acceptance, which is something most of us do in life. I loved that the moral of the story is that outward acceptance shouldn't be valued as much. Just be who you are."
After forging a career for herself in the overwhelmingly male-dominated realms of standup comedy, television writing and television producing, Fey knows that topic firsthand.
"You can't fit yourself into a mold that's supposed to be the best," she says. "It has to be the best for you. The film also says that you can find happiness in the most unexpected places, too, when you just let go a little bit."
"Admission" is far from Fey's first foray onto the big screen — she scored a hit as the writer/co-star of "Mean Girls" (2004) and went on to star in "Baby Mama" (2008) and "Date Night" (2010) — but it's the most serious role she's undertaken, blending the comedy with some real drama.
"For me it's just trying to do a good job in what I felt was the dramatic arc," she says. "At first I thought that there were scenes that were more emotional than I could ever do."
As the mother of two girls, however, she found that she could relate to the story of a woman who has consciously passed on motherhood and now finds herself re-examining that decision.
"There are so many film and TV roles where women are chasing motherhood and desperate to experience it," Fey says. "I thought it was clever that this woman was very clear that she did not want to be a mother and she did not want to be married. She has to face the reality that this person she gave birth to a long time ago actually does exist. She has a child. She wonders, ‘How will this work within my life?' I haven't seen that story before.
"A lot of the film has to do with parenthood and the sacrifices people make as parents," she adds. "It's about coming around in that moment when you realize that you can't fight those changes. I know firsthand that being a parent will change your life in ways that you can't even imagine."
One perk of the film, Fey says, was the chance to work with a lifelong idol and role model, Lily Tomlin, who plays Portia's feminist mother.
"I was so starstruck meeting her," Fey says, bubbling. "Then I had to act opposite her. Lily was so warm and so into doing everything fully and doing it right. Every scene has a complicated, physical thing that she's doing. Lily is incredible. She's electric. If there is any slight change or variation in the take, you can feel her taking it in and being excited by it."
By now there's a whole new generation of female comics who have grown up venerating Fey, but she reports that she was still able to learn a few things from Tomlin on the set.
"She has an improviser's spirit, where she's constantly really genuinely listening to her scene partner," Fey says. "It's a good lesson for everyone."
As for playing an admissions director, that was something new for Fey, herself a graduate of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where she earned a bachelor's degree in drama.
"The film did remind me that I had applied to Princeton and was rejected," she says. "I was OK with it. I didn't get mad when I was shooting on the Princeton campus. I was fine about it."
Actually, Fey says, being an admissions director isn't unlike being the head writer on "Saturday Night Live," which she was for a number of years — the first woman to hold that important job.
"On the show there are boxes and boxes of writing submissions," she explains. "You look for something to accept, if anything. And the pressure is on."
Having spent the past seven years juggling "30 Rock," outside projects and her personal life, Fey is savoring the increased free time that she's enjoyed since wrapping the show. Which isn't to say that she's kicking back, watching soap operas and eating chocolates.
"I'm going to London in March to film the next Muppets movie," the actress says. "Hopefully I'm shooting a movie called ‘Mail-order Groom' with Steve Carell this summer. My partner and I have this overall deal with NBC to develop another TV show.
"Things are good."
As for her old show, she hopes that Liz Lemon will live on.
"I hope ‘30 Rock' has a long life in syndication," Fey says. "I look forward to another generation of nerds finding and loving it."