"I still feel like this is an enjoyable and long-sustaining prank I'm playing on the American people," Tina Fey says, referring to her movie star status.
Opening on Friday (April 9), "Date Night" finds Fey's co-star Steve Carell on familiar action-comedy ground after scoring a big hit with "Get Smart," but it certainly mines new territory for the "30 Rock" Emmy winner, who relished the opportunity to expand her movie persona.
"I watched the movie and I was like, 'Yeah! And then I smashed that window,'" Fey tells reporters at the "Date Night" press day. "And I thought, 'Wait. I didn't smash that window. The stunt lady smashed that window.' But I thought I smashed that window."
Fey and Carell seem like a natural pairing, especially since they've shared NBC's 9 p.m. comedy block for several years. But both stars relished the opportunity to topline a big screen vehicle together.
"We were both offered, or our interest was weighed, initially and we spoke on the phone and kinda sussed each other out to see what the other was thinking and Tina said the funniest thing," Carell recalls. "She said, 'Wouldn't it be fun to be hanging off a car bopping through New York City?' And I said, 'Yeah. I'm in. Sounds great.'"
Adds Fey, "For me, I really wanted to do something with Steve and the idea that it was a married couple who are grown people appealed to me, because I felt like 'Yeah, that's what we are in real life.' And at a certainty point, you can't be making a movie about your G-D wedding. At a certain point, you're getting up there. I felt like this is a movie that if my husband and I got out, we'd actually want to see a movie with this topic."
Director Shawn Levy was then able to fill "Date Night" with a supporting cast of big names, including Mark Wahlberg, James Franco and Mila Kunis, as well as a number of other familiar faces who make only brief cameos.
"It's something I had done on the 'Night at the Museum' movies, where you sit there and you picture and you go 'Well what if you got so-and-so for this small supporting role?' and I learned on those movies that you've gotta just ask," Levy says. "You ask and, frankly if you have Steve and Tina, talent likes being with talent. Great actors and funny actors like working with other great and funny actors."
In "Date Night," Fey and Carell play a married couple. They're still very much in love, but their relationship lacks a certain spontaneity. When they decide to mix things up by going into New York City for an evening out, they become embroiled in the sort of ever-escalating chaos that will be familiar to fans of '80s movies like "Into the Night" and "After Hours."
Neither star wanted that chaos to usurp the core relationship and before shooting, they spent a long time working with Josh Klausner's script to get that relationship to feel real.
"We wanted the movie to feel like it was at the top of its intelligence in dealing with this couple and marriage and we wanted this couple to feel truthful and realistic to us and they they weren't a couple who hate each other and are fighting all the time," Fey explains. "They were just a real couple who were kind of worn down by their everyday lives and were, in a way, struggling to come together and this night sparks that for them."
Even with all of that work on the script, it's obvious that many of the punchlines came courtesy of ad-libbing by the two stars, which isn't surprising when you have a movie in which both leads are also award-winning writers. Of course, Carell sticks to that most familiar of party lines when it comes to discussing exactly how much latitude he and Fey had on set.
"We'd always do the script as written, because it was very strong," Carell says. "The script didn't need to be changed. But then once we had it to our satisfaction, we'd open it up and play around, so it's hard to determine what necessarily was ad-libbed and what wasn't."
Levy acknowledges, "I would bet that if this room called out their favorite 10 jokes, I'd wager  at least five of them were something that someone came up with on the shooting day."
And how do the film's stars keep the spark in their own respective marriages?
"It's like I knew we would get questions like this at the press junket and I thought that I'd prepared, but clearly I haven't. Because then you feel like you're giving relationship advice and I think every relationship is so different that I don't think there's any blanket advice," Carell says. For us? For Nancy and myself? There's a lot of laughter, there's an open line of communication and we just have fun with one another and we never forget to make fun of ourselves and and to not take it too seriously. At least for us, that's what helps. And amazing lovemaking."
"Date Night" opens on Friday, April 9.