Amy Poehler on Wine Country: Working with friends who are this talented is kind of the dream
New Netflix comedy Wine Country, which follows a group of women taking a boozy trip to Napa Valley, is all about friendship. Star and director Amy Poehler talks to Georgia Humphreys about what it was like making the female-led film, plus her thoughts on Hollywood's attitude towards older women
When you discover Amy Poehler has made a comedy for Netflix, you can safely bet one thing - it's going to have you laughing out loud.
The Massachusetts-born star - arguably best known for NBC sitcom Parks And Recreation - kick-started her career working on late-night variety show Saturday Night Live and it's there that she met many of the stellar cast mates she assembled for Wine Country.
Alongside Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey portray a group of longtime friends who, after meeting up in California's Napa Valley for a birthday getaway, end up having a very messy weekend.
It's inspired by a trip the actresses - plus Tina Fey, who also stars in the film, and co-writer Liz Cackowski (Spivey also penned the script) - took to the wine country in real life.
"I mean, working with friends who are this talented is kind of the dream," gushes 47-year-old Poehler, who has two sons with her ex-husband, actor Will Arnett.
"From a director's standpoint, you're working with such professionals who can really come and deliver. You don't have to tell them how to be funny or how to have chemistry. And those are two huge things that can make or break a comedy.
"I've done enough of these films where, if you don't have a connection with your fellow actor, it doesn't matter how funny you both are. You can be super funny without figuring out how to work together."
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For each of the women in the film, the boozy weekend - planned by Poehler's character Abby to celebrate the 50th birthday of Rebecca (Dratch) - is an opportunity for chilling out and reconnecting with old friends. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for starters, they all lead very different lives now: you've got workaholic Catherine (Gasteyer), post-op Val (Pell), homebody Jenny (Spivey) and weary mum Naomi (Rudolph).
"It's a comedy about women who know each other well, who dive into the deep end very often with each other emotionally, who are all going through things separately, and discover they're not really connecting in the way they used to," notes Poehler.
Napa Valley isn't the only holiday Poehler and the gang of awesome actresses have had together (they've also visited Palm Springs), and it won't be the last (coming up is either New Orleans or Albuquerque).
But while the director confirms the film includes "stuff that's pulled from real life", she stresses that her co-stars "are not playing themselves in the movie".
"We're playing versions of ourselves because we contain multitudes. We are complicated," she says. "Everybody saw that they were gonna be able to slip into these role easily and we were excited about the idea of spending time together."
Working with other women certainly makes for a different atmosphere on set, confides Poehler, who's starred in a number of funny films, often alongside pal Fey (such as Sisters, Mean Girls and Baby Mama).
"It's a really refreshing vibe for me," she elaborates. "Whether it be behind the camera or in front of the camera, whether it be actors or production, there's so many stories to tell about women and women that are working on stories about women feel very connected to it.
"So it feels like there's a connected energy and enthusiasm and that's great to be around."
It's certainly a film that women will want to watch with their friends.
As for whether men will feel the same, she quips: "I'm okay if men don't feel that way or don't want to watch it. That's okay. Not everything has to be for everyone."
Moving on to the topic of Hollywood, and whether older women in the industry are treated differently from men, the actress responds with a resounding "yes".
"We live in a patriarchal society where age is shamed and, especially in America, we're obsessed with youth and the beginnings of things because we're a very juvenile country," she says.
"And there's a lot of wisdom that's applied to men and their ageing and it's not applied to women.
"There's a lot of discarding of women after a certain age because of societal pressures.
"All that stuff is very systemic but slowly changing as more women represent different ages and more women of colour represent their story. So, it's slowly changing but there's a way to go."
What steps does she think need to be taken to help speed it up?
"Here's a simple fix: if you're a director, a male director or a male actor, and you have a spouse in your movie, make them the same age as you.
"That's my challenge to them. If you're 50 have your wife be 50, see how that feels."
This was Poehler's first time directing a feature (she's directed episodes of TV before) and working with people who she knew so well was helpful in many ways - including knowing how far people could be pushed.
"The goal of this film, for me, was to show a range of emotion and acting that these women don't always get to play. I think everyone in the film is just a terrific actor.
"We were really excited about letting them go there and play deep, grounded people who exist in the real world and aren't caricatures."
The film is a seriously fun story about friendship - the chemistry between the cast really comes across.
As for how the stars have stayed friends in real life for such a long time, Poehler points out that working in live TV together helps form strong bonds.
"Memories stick in your brain where you turned to your scene partner backstage and you knew you had an ally for life," she recalls.
"In comedy, you have to earn people's trust. And when you have that, you feel like you can do anything together."
- Wine Country is on Netflix now