Amy Poehler says yes to acting, writing, producing and directing. And given the chance, everyone says yes to working with her.
Most celebrities keep you waiting.
It’s frustrating, but understandable: they’re busy people. Amy Poehler — actress, comedian, writer, producer, director and author — is exceedingly busy. But she’s ready for this interview a half-hour early. A prior photo shoot ran extra smoothly, because she’s just that good at giving the people what they want.
Maybe that’s why she and Tina Fey have been tapped to cohost the 2021 Golden Globes (it will be their fourth go-round). “Those Hollywood Foreign Press, they get it right every time!” says Poehler, a Golden Globe winner.
After changing from her last photo-ready outfit into black leggings and a white sweatshirt with the word TROUBLE written across it, she curls up on a sofa in the corner of the photo studio and proceeds to be no trouble at all. She has such a generous nature — laughing easily, considering questions thoughtfully — that if she’s in a hurry to get to one of her myriad other obligations, she makes no show of it.
That could also be because she has lost track of exactly how many obligations she has. Asked to list her current projects on air, in post and in development at her production company, Paper Kite, she makes a game effort, then gives up, saying, “You probably have a better list than I do.”
This year saw the series finale of Comedy Central’s Broad City, which she executive-produced (she also directed an episode in 2014). She made her feature directorial debut last year with Netflix’s Wine Country, starring such friends as Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph, based on an actual trip they took.
“These days, the talented women I call my friends are working all the time,” she says. “So the only time I get to see them is when I’m actually working with them.”
She’s about to start editing her second film, Moxie, based on the YA book of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu. “It’s about a young girl who, inspired by her mother’s kind of riot-grrrl past, decides to start a ‘zine in her high school, and it starts off a chain of events,” Poehler explains. “The idea is that through this one young girl’s eyes, you watch what it’s like to participate.
“The levels and versions of activism and how to stay plugged in are especially interesting to me right now, when everyone is really numbing out.”
Her reality competition show, Making It, is heartening, à la The Great British Baking Show. “We were like, ‘Let’s try to make something as good and pure and funny and interesting as that.'” She and buddy Nick Offerman, her Parks and Recreation costar, are the sweet, supportive hosts for a barnful of craftspeople. Invariably, during the course of an episode, one or the other of the hosts starts to cry.
“Nick and I are real softies,” she admits. “And these people are introverts, so they’re not used to being on TV. They’re often very nervous. When you’re around people who are nervous like that, you really want to make them feel better.”
The show’s second season ran on consecutive nights in under two weeks on NBC near the end of last year. “The idea was to make it very bingeable on network, because it does really well when it gets to Hulu or Peacock or wherever it’s going to go.”
Then there’s Russian Doll, the acclaimed Netflix series co-created by Poehler, Leslye Headland and star Natasha Lyonne. “Russian Doll is the first show I’ve ever worked on that’s been a hit in real time,” she notes. The series’ first season earned 13 Emmy nominations and three wins. “That was a new experience.” They’re at work on season two.
Her latest project — at least at press time — is the gleefully silly animated sitcom Duncanville, premiering February 16 on Fox. She co-created and executive-produces the series with Mike Scully and Julie Thacker Scully (The Simpsons), and voices two roles: callow teenager Duncan and his indefatigable mother, Annie.
Mike first met Poehler when he wrote for Parks and Recreation. “We had such a great time working together, we kept in touch after the show ended, trying to find a way to do it again,” he relates. One day, “I was bluffing my way through a development meeting,” when she texted him with the idea of making an animated series together.
Julie adds, “I had not personally worked with Amy before, but I was won over by her long camaraderie with coworkers, her obvious support of women and her insane work ethic. Plus, her façade of being very humble and nice hasn’t cracked yet.” The couple was immediately on board.
Poehler told them that she had always wanted to do the voice of a young boy. “I’d just get so excited about trying that kind of character,” she says, especially after her run of strong female characters, like Joy in Pixar’s Inside Out. “I was like, ‘It’d be so fun to play someone who’s disaffected.’ It started with that. Then it was, ‘What could we make based around a boy and his family?'”
Watching the shows airing at the time, they noticed that none focused on a teenager, “even though teens are huge fans of animation,” Mike says. “So that felt like a fun road to go down. We liked the age of 15, because you can taste the freedom of adulthood, but you can only drive with your parents, and you still have to watch your little sister, stuff like that.” Together, they created the Harrises.
“We wanted a very typical American family,” Poehler says. “Duncan has a sister Kimberly [voiced by Riki Lindhome], who’s a few years younger than him, who just rolls her eyes at everything and is over all of it and feels very middle child. They have an adopted younger little sister, Jing [Joy Osmanski], who is in love with Duncan, obsessed with him, and wants to marry him.”
The show has a mix of grounded emotion and wild action. One episode features an evil refrigerator that knows too much, and only Annie realizes it, which eventually leads the family to a villain’s mountain lair. It’s not that far from reality, in Poehler’s eyes. “I, 100 percent, have a fear of robots,” she says. “All I do is listen to podcasts about people predicting AI as how we’re going to go,” as in, die.
“Have you seen the video at MIT, speaking of weird videos of robot cheetahs? It’s terrifying. The sound of them, the way they move. They’re going to figure out how to kill us, tomorrow.”
But until then, she and her colleagues are having a blast. “The table reads with Amy playing a mother and son are just virtuosic,” says Rashida Jones, who voices Duncan’s crush, Mia.
Jones and Poehler have been best friends since long before they played best friends on Parks and Rec, so Jones said yes to Duncanville before she’d even looked at it.
“Any excuse or professional reason to spend more time with Amy vastly improves the quality of my life on every level, so I’m happy to be asked,” she says. “We will forever be work wives, so here we go again.” Poehler adds that it’s easy to play Duncan voicing his love for Mia, because she loves Jones so much. Wiz Khalifa voices Mr. Mitch, a cool teacher/coach/nurse/guidance counselor at Duncan’s school, and Ty Burrell voices dad Jack Harris.
Burrell hadn’t worked with Poehler previously, “But she handed me an Emmy, which I just think is incredibly sweet of her,” he quips, referring to the 2014 Emmy Awards, when she gave him his second Outstanding Supporting Actor trophy for Modern Family.
He’s long admired her work from afar, he says, “But then when you actually get the chance to work with her, and be around her, she somehow even surpasses all of that. She’s such a sweet, deeply, deeply funny person. It’s almost intimidating how many things she’s good at.”