“I think she was the nail in her own coffin, ultimately,” she said. “We went into it wanting to make sure that we were very fair, that we weren’t just swinging, throwing punches.”
Fey also downplayed the comedy sketch show’s general impact on political discourse. “I don’t think that show can really sway people,” she said. “I think you can shine a light. You can help them articulate something they’re already feeling about a given person.”
Despite her convictions about the lack of substantial impact her role had on politics, one thing is undeniable: It left a mark on pop culture. Her impression is now generally regarded as one of the most famous portrayals in SNL history, and excited people before she had even accepted the gig.
Fey, who left SNL in 2006, told Tennant the part was basically assigned to her by the masses. Show creator Lorne Michaels approached Fey with the proposal to take on the character after it seemed everyone, from Michaels’s doorman to Robert De Niro, was floating Fey for the job, she said. Fey’s husband even remarked on the similarities in their appearances.
Even though Fey was no longer part of the cast, what the people want, the people get: Two days before the premiere of the show’s 34th season, Fey officially signed on.
“That’s happened more and more since then, where the world has decided they want an outside person to play a political figure on SNL,” she told Tennant. (Case in point: the Twittersphere’s debate over whether Ben Stiller or Mario Cantone should have depicted Anthony Scaramucci, the then-incoming White House communications director. In the end, Bill Hader nabbed the short-lived role, though Stiller has made a few cameos as President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.)
Fey’s depiction has had a much longer life span — she’s revived the impression many times since her initial stint as the Alaskan governor, most recently in last year’s SNL season finale.