Character: Maura Ellis
Directed by: Jason Moore
Written by: Paula Pell
Release date: December 18, 2015
Genre: Comedy
Running time: 1h 58min

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reunite for Sisters, a new film from Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore about two disconnected sisters summoned home to clean out their childhood bedroom before their parents sell the family house. Looking to recapture their glory days, they throw one final high-school-style party for their classmates, which turns into the cathartic rager that a bunch of ground-down adults really need.

Cast & Characters

Amy Poehler (Maura Ellis), Tina Fey (Kate Ellis), Maya Rudolph (Brinda), Ike Barinholtz (James), James Brolin (Bucky Ellis), Dianne Wiest (Deana Ellis), John Cena (Pazuzu), John Leguizamo (Dave), Bobby Moynihan (Alex), Greta Lee (Hae-Won), Madison Davenport (Haley), Rachel Dratch (Kelly), Santino Fontana (Mr. Geernt), Britt Lower (Mrs. Geernt), Samantha Bee (Liz)

Production Photos


Production Notes

In comedy circles, Paula Pell, 20-year-plus Saturday Night Live veteran, longtime 30 Rock writer, Twitter wisecracker and frequent performer-notably, as Ron Swanson’s mom on Parks and Recreation and Pete Hornberger’s wife on 30 Rock)-is often named as the funniest person anyone knows. While Pell has collaborated with Judd Apatow on several of his films, such as This Is 40, she was pondering ideas for a feature script of her own when she revisited her 13-year-old diary from her Florida childhood.

Pell recounts: “I found it so funny that my sister’s journal and mine were wildly different, because she was very foxy and tall and all the boys loved her, while I was very short and matronly and looked like I was 50 at 13. Her journal was always like: ‘Oh my God, I made out with Bill.’ Mine was: ‘I changed the grit on my rock tumbler in my science kit!’ You could tell by reading them who was getting action and who wasn’t.”

Over the years, Pell has shared portions of the journals with those she is close to, including her agent, Michelle Bohan, and friends at SNL. Pell credits Bohan as the confidant who urged her to explore seeing the diary as source material: “I decided to try to do something with that journal down the road. I was thinking of doing a little Broadway show, and then Michelle-to whom I’ll always be grateful-looked at me in a meeting and said: ‘I think those two girls are your movie.'”

From there, Pell met with Tina Fey, a longtime friend and collaborator on both SNL and 30 Rock. Fey recalls laughing at the journals during their days together on set: “I met Paula in 1997, when I first started as a writer for Saturday Night Live, and she had been there since ’95. I had the pleasure of seeing her diaries years ago as a wonderful found object that she brought around the office. They are stunning. Paula’s very artistic. There are great drawings in them; and also, just where she was in eighth, ninth and 10th grade is so heartwarmingly nerdy and so sweet…as is her obsession with Sylvester Stallone and Rocky.”

Early in the film’s development, filmmaker Jason Moore was given a photocopy of the entire set of Pell’s journals. The director offers: “One day, I sat down to read them and was amazed. I thought ‘Ohhhh, right.’ One, they gave me tremendous insight into Paula. She was always funny and observant, but she had a poetic joy in the way she wrote them, which is adorable for a 13-year-old girl who is looking at life so optimistically. But, she also has keen observations about her insecurities and what’s wrong with the world. All that, and she’s clearly a caretaker.”

The director found himself taking a trip down a memory lane of his own. He continues: “The journals are the root of how the movie got started, because they are a literal reminder of how adolescence brings on so many different feelings, and your perceptions of the world are formed by your interactions in high school. They were the key to the movie when we began, and Kate and Maura take a trip down memory lane. they remain the core part of the movie now.”

For some time, Pell and Fey worked on the concept of using the journals as the basis for a movie pitch. During Sisters’ development, another real-life event influenced the story. Pell states: “My partner’s mom was selling the house that had been her childhood home, and it made me think, ‘What if my parents sold the home that we grew up in?’ and how adults can act like little kids when they think their past is being taken away from them. Even though parents are the ones that still have to mow the grass, and now they’re in their 60s or 70s and they’re like, ‘I don’t want this shit. I want to have freedom and go sit by a lake and drink a cocktail and be done with raising children.’ So that’s the premise we started with, and then we started talking about what would happen that weekend when they come to clean out their stuff.”

Fey agrees that there is often an overly emotional connection to the home in which you were raised: “There’s nothing as comforting as your parents’ house. If you had a pleasant childhood, as I was blessed enough to have, and as Amy and Paula had, you feel safe and comfortable in your family home, and you want that place to exist forever. Even now, as soon as I get to my parents’ house, I leave my shoes everywhere. I eat everything, nonstop, and take a nap on the living room floor.”

Fey was on board as a producer and collaborator with Pell long before she considered acting in the comedy; but when she did decide she might take on the role of one of the sisters, Fey knew which one she wanted to be…and it was the one who lives out loud. She says: “I’d been planning to produce this screenplay Paula wrote for a long time, not knowing if I would be in it at all. Once the script started taking shape, I said I’d love to play Kate because I never get to play characters like her: a wild child who’s trying to get on the straight and narrow. It’s like playing someone who was the world’s greatest ice skater…but is now in a wheelchair.”

With Fey agreeing to tackle one of the signature parts, the search for the overly apologetic Maura began. Fortunately, it didn’t take very long to find the yin to Kate’s yang. Fey shares: “Once I was into the role of Kate, we thought it would be fun to have Amy play the sister who’s more dutiful. Over the course of the film, Maura starts to cut loose. You get to see her finally go wild, which is, of course, what you want to see Amy do and what she’s so great at.”

For her part, Poehler says the decision to play the overly worrisome owner of a one-eyed bulldog was easy: “Tina had been working on the script with Paula for a long time, and then Jason came aboard. I met Jason and talked to the three of them about it. I jumped at the chance to play Tina’s sister on film, because we serve as chosen sisters for each other. We don’t have sisters in real life, but I’ve known Tina 20 years, and she’s the closest thing I have to one. It was exciting to get the chance to play that on screen.”

Lest things become too sentimental, however, Poehler reassures that despite certain “expectations about female-driven comedies…that they can’t be as physical,” she is quite excited that in Sisters, “there’s a lot of punching, slapping, throwing, lifting, cheering, crying, screaming, fire, water, air, earth and mud.”

Having Fey and Poehler lined up to play siblings Prep time for one final Ellis Island blowout was a dream for Moore, who says of the pair, “Tina and Amy are the two funniest women in America. They work so wonderfully independently, but they have something special together that most people recognize. They made me laugh before I ever met them; I was already a huge fan.”

Because Pell is so close with Fey and Poehler, as well as a number of the supporting cast, her writing process was made easier. She notes: “The strong love and enmeshment is something that Tina and Amy have captured so well, because they’ve known each other for so many years. What was beautiful was that it wasn’t like I was introducing two people to play Kate and Maura. There would be lines they had memorized from the script, but then they also had this flavor of two real sisters. Because Tina and Amy are such old friends, and have such a past from when they were very young comedy ladies in Chicago, they were able to get into an intimate way of performing.”

Moore agrees, noting that his leads’ generosity of spirit made the production that much more entertaining. He states: “Tina and Amy are infinitely creative and hilarious, but what I love most is that they arrived on set already sisters. They finish each other’s sentences and make each other laugh. It’s obvious that from a comedic perspective they bring all of that to the movie. What I love most is that they bring all of this love, heart and connection. I’m grateful for that and for the fact that they’ve allowed me to play in the circle with them.”

Producer Jay Roach cites Fey and Poehler as one of the main reasons he was interested in joining the project: “I’m always eager to get involved in good comedies. I love Tina and Amy, and I’ve wanted to work with them for a long time. The idea of having them play sisters is inspired. They seem like they’ve known each other since childhood and share total love and trust as characters, but they also share that they are on to each other’s dysfunction in such a hilarious way.”

Roach, himself a veteran director of hit comedies from the Austin Powers trilogy to Meet the Fockers, was likewise impressed by what Moore brought: “I hadn’t met Jason, but I had seen Pitch Perfect. It was very funny, and the way he staged the a cappella scenes was impressive. We met when I was thinking about coming onto this film, and I was moved by his layers of storytelling…and that he was committed to a deepening of the characters. Even though they had to be hilarious, it was a chance for the two actresses to go into a deeper zone than they were used to playing. Jason’s incredibly calm, organized and decisive. He was completely on top of it, and the actors adore him.”