Amy Poehler is no stranger to humor on-screen, where she’s campaigned for Pawnee city council on Parks and Recreation, been a cool mom in the movie Mean Girls and co-hosted Weekend Update on NBC’s iconic Saturday Night Live. But her prowess doesn’t stop in front of the camera; Poehler’s also a talented writer, voice actor and producer. And, with her latest project, Wine Country, which premieres May 10 on Netflix, she’s making her feature-film directorial debut. The comedy was inspired by a tasting trip through the Napa Valley with real-life BFFs and fellow comedians Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph. Here, she talks about exploring wine country and the advantages of working in good company.
Were you familiar with California wine country prior to that initial trip?
No, I’m from the East Coast originally, and so wine country felt as far away and foreign as the Czech Republic. [While filming,] everyone had a place to recommend, a vista to check out and a wine to taste. Unfortunately, I was directing, so I didn’t get to imbibe in a way that I would have liked. I will have to wait for the sequel.
Would you consider yourself a wine lover?
I do enjoy the depth and complexity of winemaking. It’s filled with such deep history and knowledge of so many different things. I’ve also worked a lot in restaurants when I was starting out as a young actor, so I picked up a bit. But I would consider myself a novice in all ways when it comes to wine.
In what part of the region does the movie take place?
We spent a lot of time in Calistoga, including shooting in their downtown area and getting a chance to meet all the lovely small business owners in the region. We also shot all over Napa in many different wineries, including the fantastic Artesa Winery, which had killer views and super nice people.
Did you see any areas that had been affected by recent years’ natural disasters? Are they addressed at all in the film?
We were scouting locations right after the [October 2017] fires and talking to many people who had their businesses and their lives affected. We do not address it specifically in the film, but we were very aware and sensitive to the recent tragedies throughout the area.
We had so many people come up and thank us for shooting in Napa Valley and helping to bring business to the area. Napa is such an amazing place filled with artists and deep thinkers, and we hope they are happy with what they see on-screen.
Who had come along for the trip that set this all off? How much of the film would you say reflects true events?
The whole gang [Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Emily Spivey and Ana Gasteyer] came on a trip for Rachel Dratch’s 50th birthday, and I thought it would make a pretty fun movie to watch in real life. There are a lot of moments inspired by the trip, but writers Liz Cackowski and Emily Spivey definitely used it as a jumping-off point only—the movie is not a documentary. I think the investigation of longtime friendships [is] always an interesting place to explore in film. To watch smart and funny women in conversation is something I personally love.
You acted in, directed and produced this film. Was it challenging to take on so many roles as well as direct people you know so well?
Directing is easier when you can wear your own clothes. Acting is easier when you help write the script because you can remember your lines.
I was excited to get the chance to not only act with these women that I love, but also to hopefully make a film that celebrated the wonderful deep-end friendships that so many women my age depend on. It was a dream to work with a cast of such professional, hilarious people who just happen to be some of my nearest and dearest… At the end of the day, a good director wants to cast the right people. Our cast was so special and so perfect, and so much of your job is to assemble the right team.
Speaking of working with friends, you recently opened Zula, a bottle shop in Brooklyn, New York, with pals Amy Miles and Mike Robertson. Did your Wine Country experience influence this collaboration?
Amy and Mike and I have been discussing this venture for years, and a space finally came up in Brooklyn. Mike has been working in wine for a long time, and Amy is his wife and a musician who is one of my closest friends. There is no bigger joy than getting to do what you love with your friends. Hence, Wine Country.
What would you recommend drinking while we watch the movie?
I would recommend anything that pairs well with laughter and tears, because both will be served.