Why Tina Fey of ’30 Rock’ Says ‘I’m Very Limited As an Actor’

On Conan O’Brien’s interview podcast, Tina Fey shared with Conan O’Brien her thoughts on the career (and craft) of acting. The two former Saturday Night Live writers talked about Fey’s series 30 Rock, her movie-turned-Broadway-musical Mean Girls, and her time as head writer on SNL. As an actor, Fey has appeared in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Wine Country, and the Amazon series Modern Love. However, Fey admitted to O’Brien that she finds herself “limited” in aspects of acting.

Tina Fey tells Conan O’Brien on his podcast that acting is ’embarrassing’

Tina Fey
Tina Fey at the 72nd Writers Guild Awards | Dominik Bindl/WireImage

When Fey joined O’Brien on his podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend in October, the 30 Rock creator revealed that acting is quite humbling for her. Fey explained that her long-time friend, comedian and actor Amy Poehler, originally “wanted to call her book Movies Are Boring and Acting Is Embarrassing or something like that.” And Fey felt the same way.

“It is, it’s just so embarrassing,” the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writer said of the craft. Fey also admitted this feeling could stem from her own constraints.

“I’m very limited as an actor,” she said on the podcast. However, Fey told her fellow SNL alum that she can be invested in a scene.

“I don’t mind trying,” Fey shared. “And some comedy people do.”

The ‘30 Rock’ writer and star draws the line with sex scenes in movies

However, Fey does have one limit to what she’ll do on set.

“For me the boundary … the one thing I can’t do,” Fey admitted, “I won’t do a sex scene.”

While she joked that “no one’s asking,” she still sees it as a hard “no.” Her reasoning behind this self-imposed rule comes from her early does of improv comedy.

Tina Fey on 30 Rock
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock | NBC Photo: Jessica Miglio via Getty Images

“The comedy person part of me can remember an early enough time in improv,” Fey remembered, “where people would sometimes try to pimp you into something like that on stage just to be a jerk.” Fey said this is why she draws the line at sex scenes.

“That’s the boundary,” she said. “I’m not going to simulate intercourse in a movie.” Fey poked fun at herself once more: “No matter how many people call!”

O’Brien agreed with his fellow improv alum completely.

“If my wife and I are watching a movie and there’s a very explicit sex scene,” O’Brien told Fey, “I always say out loud, ‘being an actor is so embarrassing.’ I say that out loud.”

Tina Fey talks about dramatic acting with her fellow ‘Saturday Night Live’ alum

Fey also discussed on O’Brien’s podcast how “corny” it can feel to do dramatic acting. The Modern Love actor joked that she “secretly” has a “degree in drama,” which is only a secret because “no one cares.”

However, Fey says that degree, as well as her improv comedy training from Second City in Chicago, made her able to do the “embarrassing” work of acting in front of others.

Fey explained that in “old school improv training,” there was “so much of sitting and doing machines and mirror work, [that] you push past how deeply corny and embarrassing it is.” However, she was uncomfortable with all the “eye contact.”

“There’s just so much eye contact,” Fey remembered. “It’s horrible.”

To Fey, acting is all about “pushing past how incredibly corny it is to allow yourself to try to care, to be vulnerable.” And considering her acting resume, it seems like she’s figured that part out.