“We’ve had like 20 years of rehearsals,” Amy Poehler explained by phone.
She’s surrounded by her longtime friends, comedic powerhouses who form a crew so tight that they can finish each other’s sentences while provoking snorting laughs as they chat about their new movie, Netflix’s “Wine Country.”
It’s an easygoing comedy, but Poehler’s directorial debut also taps into the inner lives of grown women and long-lasting adult friendships — themes that Hollywood, in its obsession with younger audiences, has given little attention.
"Wine Country,” available on Friday, follows a group of middle-aged friends traveling to Napa Valley to celebrate the 50th birthday of Rebecca (Rachel Dratch). But it found real-life inspiration in the actual vacations Poehler and her friends take.
“When we’re really together on our trips we laugh all the time, like, there’s just not that much conflict,” Poehler said. “We know the time is well spent laughing with each other, and we are constantly doing what you’re hearing right now, just bits and fun jokes — "
“Enjoying each other,” Paula Pell offered.
“And enjoying each other,” Poehler continued. “For the film, that might be nice to watch for 10 or 15 minutes, but we have to eventually create a story.”
Unfortunately for this reporter, listening in on speakerphone means not being able to catch all the rapid-fire jokes made by Poehler, Dratch, Pell, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and co-writer Liz Cackowski. But the women who spent years together in the trenches of “Saturday Night Live” are team players, so in the interview that follows, interjections heard in the background that couldn’t be attributed to a particular individual are still included. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Elahe Izadi (Washington Post): Amy, you’ve talked about how there just aren’t enough films taking advantage of what it’s like to be this age, to be around women you’ve known for a while and you’re not competing with each other. And given there just aren’t that many adult, especially adult women-oriented movies now, what do you wish the world knew about being a woman in her 40s and 50s, that you just don’t see represented in popular culture?
Amy Poehler: There’s not a singular experience. Everybody’s experience is very personal and different, and so that’s important, even just that, right? That there’s not the typical female 40-year-old or 50-year-old experience. But one thing that is just unmined territory is long friendships that go deep and the way that women of a certain age interact with each other, because I think sometimes we don’t show enough how we are each other’s kind of chosen family and also how we challenge each other, too. That’s why a lot of the work that I’ve done at Paper Kite [Productions] is built around female friendships, because I think female friendships are still — there’s so many stories still to tell. It’s showing the complications of them and also realizing there’s no one platonic version of any that.
Ana Gasteyer: From the standpoint of someone with opportunities as a performer, yes, the window does seem to close in terms of breadth and depth as you age, and one of the exciting opportunities behind this movie is that it’s a conversation that’s a little bit less about the ways that our culture in general still thinks of women aging as a depressing — I don’t what’s the word, how to say this properly —
Gasteyer: Yeah, a journey that just kind of reaches — wait, were you joking?
Background: No! [laughter]
Gasteyer: — reaches not an expansive experience. What actually ends up happening when you turn 50, and I’m 51 now, there’s so much cultural mythology about you sort of being at the end of the road. To think about Gloria Swanson actually only being in her early 60s in “Sunset Boulevard” [she was actually in her early 50s], and our cultural perception being that she’s at death’s doorstep. I think it’s actually the opposite as you start to get older and less confined by baby-making pressure and societal norms, you actually get to dive a little bit deeper into what you actually like and concern yourself less and less with what you should be doing or what people think of what you’re doing.
Paula Pell: I was just thinking of Betty White when you were saying that, how when she hosted [“Saturday Night Live”] we actually had meetings where we were like, “Are we really pushing her too hard?” And then we get to the after-party and it’s like, “Oh no, Betty’s not going to, she can’t, she’s not going to come,” and then she showed up an hour later, like in full regalia, and stayed for quite a long time, longer than me, I think. So I think comedy is, you can be a hand reaching out from the soil in the graveyard and still be doing your bits.
Maya Rudolph: When I think about this movie, I think about this age in our lives as being one of the elements of where we are in our lives right now, because it’s certainly not the thing I think about when I think about this group. And I think about our history. I think about the choice that we’ve made to be a family, in some way. I think about what we’ve learned together as a group. I think about the way in which everyone has naturally folded into these roles, where this idea that humans are meant to live in villages, and we live in a time and in a world where most of us don’t live in a small village. And yet we can have the choice to create our own, and the choice that we made to create these women and these women in this story who have all of these facets going on in their lives. Everyone’s got their story to tell and I really, truly agree with Amy’s idea, that this is one story, and that’s what’s so exciting about creating content right now: People are really thirsty for everyone’s story, and there is no right story.
Liz Cackowski: That’s the hope, that the doors are opening to have many more voices heard now. That’s what you want when you watch something, is not necessarily to see yourself reflected, but just to see somebody’s truth told and maybe a story you’ve never heard or seeing something either that you relate to or don’t relate to, but then learn from it. That’s the part that feels like it’s changing now, that there’s a discussion of, let’s hear more voices that we haven’t before.
Pell: If you allow someone that’s not been allowed to tell their story, that’s always got a closed door, and now they’re telling it, they’re also going to hire people that kind of understand their story. And then those people will tell the story. It’s got a cyclical, what’s the —
Rachel Dratch: Ripple?
Pell: Ripple effect!
Dratch: That was Rachel Dratch who said “ripple.”
Gasteyer: She’s on the top bunk, so she can’t hear a lot!
[More laughter and jokes that can’t be deciphered through the crosstalk, but “San Jose Airport” is mentioned.]
Pell: But it really does, it does have a ripple effect of creative people around it, of people shooting it or people casting it, it just starts to feel more inclusive in a really, really great way.
Ana, you mentioned how popular culture has often depicted growing older as a woman as a negative thing, but women in my real life have told me that life just continues to get better with each decade. What do you all wish you had heard at 25 or 35? What would you tell your 25-year-old or 35-year-old selves?
Dratch: Enjoy that bod is what I would say.
Gasteyer: If we’re going to be very surface about it, it’s true that if you knew how great you felt about every picture you were going to look at retroactively, in the moment, you would have taken far more Polaroids.
Poehler: Can I ask how old you are?
Poehler: How do you feel, because I think that in every generation you learn something about the generation before. How are you feeling different about your 30s than your 20s?
Oh, I love it and I’m looking forward to my 40s and my 50s.
Poehler: Right? Yeah!
Gasteyer: I remember being like 12 or something, thinking I just want to be 30 because I will be allowed to be more entitled. If I have something embarrassing happen, I don’t have to feel embarrassed about it. I remembered seeing this woman on the bus who got her period and it was all over the back of her skirt and she just stood up, literally like, oh whatever, it happens. And I remember thinking, when I’m that lady’s age, I can march through life with more confidence. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be confident in your 20s and your 30s, but I wish I knew that a lot of the stuff that you worry about, I don’t know . . . It’s a hard thing to answer except to say that it does get, I hate to say it, but it gets easier. You start to care more about your own value system and less about the value systems being foisted upon you, I would argue.
Poehler: Well said.
Cackowski: This is Liz Cackowski of Woodbridge, Virginia, close to The Washington Post. [Laughter] Hometown shout out!
Gasteyer: It’s not a competition, but Ana Gasteyer grew up on Capitol Hill.
Cackowski: Oh yeah? Ana’s way more Washington Post. I’m suburb Washington Post.
Gasteyer: You still got it at your doorstep.
Cackowski: Here’s my “suburb” perspective. [Laughter] When I was in elementary school, I had to do a project where I had asked a bunch of people what’s your favorite age, and a lot of people were saying teenage years or 20s. And then my mom’s hairdresser, Nancy, she said 40, “because it’s how old I am right now. I love this age because I know myself and I like myself and I’m not stressing about it anymore.” And I was in elementary school, and now that was my favorite answer and I kept thinking I can’t wait to be 40.
Cackowski: And you’re right, I wasn’t seeing that on television, I heard it from the hairdresser. But maybe this movie will make a younger generation go, “Oh, I can’t wait to turn 50, look how awesome this is!”
Working on this film set, how did it compare to other experiences you’ve all had in your careers?
Dratch: We’ve worked together for so long at SNL and we kind of know each other’s comedy language, but then we’re also always surprised and delighted by the stuff that each other does. It’s like a combo of fun and new surprises, but also knowing you can rely on every single person in the cast to play with and have your back.
Gasteyer: You never really know what you’re getting in other projects. You’re being thrown into a room with someone who was cast by somebody else. This is obviously a community that inherently trusts each other, so you’re not working extra hard to manufacture chemistry or any of the other obstacles that you face in other comedic situations.
I also read about the stuntwomen and how they hadn’t even had that experience of all working one movie together. What are the implications when you do have a movie centered on several comedic actors, who happen to have women, and how it ripples out?
Background: Get it, ripple.
Poehler: We had an amazing group of stuntwomen who don’t always get a chance to work together and they went on a wine country weekend after they were done with this job.
Dratch: And we often mistook them for the actual cast members.
Gasteyer: It was uncanny.
Dratch: You’d be like, Amy! Oh, wait, that’s not Amy.
Rudolph: Every once in a while you have those moments where you realize they’re all appreciating that this is the first time that they all get to work together. Within their community, they are usually one of the only stuntwomen on set, and that was just a cool moment to witness, because I think they all kind of knew who each other were because they were always up for the same part, or getting the same gig because most likely you just need one female stuntperson in a movie, and they all got to be in the movie together.
Gasteyer: Adjacent to that idea is this idea of community that certainly seems resonant around the movie. The minute we announced it, for example, on my social media feed, it was insane. Every single person that replied was tagging a group of women and saying “Oh my God, wine and watch, wine country girls, join me!” Everyone sort of began to identify their own wine country gang.
Pell: I was going to make a joke, but we also want to remind all of the ladies to do it at home where they’re all sleeping there that night.
Background: That’s true, they shouldn’t be drinking and driving.
Rudolph: Netflix and swill, amirite, guys?
Dratch: Netflix and swill is good!
Background: That was Maya!
Dratch: We knocked ripple off first place. I’m sad.
Rudolph: It is not a competish, guys.
How will the experience of making this film shape how you approach future projects?
Pell: I think we all said that we would love to always work with friends. There’s something beautiful about that, and safe and wonderful.
Dratch: Over the years we’ve gotten to work together, like on “Parks and Rec” or “30 Rock,” so this was another level of that because we’re all together and we were on this beautiful location but Amy, if I may say, did a great job at directing, so I believe she has more directing ahead.
Pell: And if all of us aren’t in it every time, I’m going to break something.