Michael McCullers knew Tina Fey and Amy Poehler from their time spent working together on Saturday Night Live. McCullers, who had co-written such comedies as Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Austin Powers in Goldmember, shared an office with Fey when they were both neophyte writers; they often partnered to create sketch-comedy pieces with Poehler for the show. In fact, the concept for the story was a group effort between McCullers and the two actors.
The three met several times over a period of a few months, discussing ideas for a film that would also mark McCullers' debut as a director. Remembers McCullers: “Somewhere in those meetings Tina said, `What about a sort of Baby Boom, the Diane Keaton movie?' And we hit on the idea of a surrogate mother. The simplest form of it was Amy having Tina's baby, and that made us laugh.” The comic writers felt that would result in a situation with great comedic potential.
McCullers believed that a surrogate situation was “a great reason to get two unlikely people together. There's often a big class difference between these women, and the process introduces a stranger into your life in the most intimate way. Someone's having your baby, and you can't get rid of them.”
“The whole topic is fraught with so much, especially when you get into the areas of adoption and surrogacy and fertility clinics,” adds Fey. “It's one of the ways of the future to making babies-and brings questions about the ethics and repercussions.”
Too, the chance to work with longtime friend and collaborator Poehler was welcome for the actor. “We're very excited to be doing something together that is a story about two women who are not somebody else's girlfriend in a story...they're really the center. To work with Amy is great, because we've known each other and worked together so long, I feel we have a very nice shorthand with each other-a nice give and take.”
Poehler responded to the project because of the “instant chemistry” she felt the three of them had. “Tina and I were very excited about the idea of doing a film together,” she comments. Of the surrogacy humor, the performer felt it was “very much like The Odd Couple,” with the biggest question being, “How are these two people going to get along? It's an unlikely marriage.”
McCullers crafted the story around his leading ladies. For their part, Fey and Poehler were more than happy McCullers was willing to write Baby Mama himself. “It's such a nice gift to have somebody else write something for you to be in,” Fey laughs. “At Saturday Night Live, you write your own stuff and come up with your own ideas. This just seemed like a giant Christmas present.”
“Michael knew our voices very well, and instantly, we knew he could write for the both of us,” adds Poehler. “I was very pleased by the idea of doing a two-handed female comedy.”
With a working draft, he would bring the project to his former SNL producer Lorne Michaels; fortunately, he found the filmmaker was impressed with more than the comedic potential of the story. A man who has launched countless careers in comedy through his legendary weekly television show, Michaels saw Baby Mama as a vehicle for Fey and Poehler to shine. At the time they met, Michaels was working with Poehler on SNL, where her wide range of memorable characters include a spot-on impersonation of Hillary Clinton and the one-legged reality-show contestant Amber. He was also helping to launch and executive produce Fey's acclaimed sitcom 30 Rock. Michaels continues to serve in both capacities today.
“It was a great chance for the two of them to work together,” he states. “They're comedy pros at the peak of their powers. They've worked together on SNL, and they've known each other a long time. There's a really good chemistry between the two.”
While their best-known partnership was co-anchoring “Weekend Update” on SNL, the two comedians' collaborations go further back-to when they met at an improv class in Chicago in the early '90s. Later, they were in the same Second City touring group, and more recently, appeared together in the 2004 film Mean Girls, produced by Michaels and written by Fey.
Michaels and his partner in Michaels/Goldwyn Productions, John Goldwyn, felt that the McCullers' script offered a strong story about two strangers brought together in a very intimate way. “To be thrown together by this device, by their need for each other, was a really good hook for a comedy,” he tells. “The story has to be solid, and Michael did a really good job on that.”
Michaels was confident that McCullers could handle the transition from writer to director on this project. “Michael came to me from Mike Myers, whom I obviously worked with at the show and in doing the Wayne's World pictures,” the producer says. “Mike just gave him the highest recommendation, and Michael came to work at SNL. He and Tina have a high regard for each other, and this seemed the perfect way for this group to work together.”
While films starring two female comedians are now relatively rare, there were more funny female partners starring in popular movies when Poehler and Fey were growing up. “Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler, Teri Garr, Shelley Long did these great movies,” Poehler says. “Tina and I have worked together for a long time, and we've always been the two women in the group of guys. It's nice and interesting to see female leads carrying a film.”
Poehler describes her character, Angie Ostrowiski-a free spirit with no regular job, but with a very creative streak-as Kate Holbrook's exact opposite. She states, “Angie is someone who never realized her full potential-a good-hearted person, but someone who is really good at lying and manipulating and charming people. What Angie is good at is getting pregnant, so she decides to let Kate buy her, and she'll have her baby for her.”
Fey knew that her former writing colleague had nailed the comedy for both parts, creating the female-driven comedy for which she was hoping. In McCullers' script, Angie unexpectedly shows up at Kate's door and moves into her home. The two women find they are not ideal roommates, let alone partners in caring for Kate's baby residing in Angie's womb. “Angie's messy, leaves her shoes everywhere and thinks Kate's food is weird, because it has vegetables in it,” says Fey. “She just wants to drink Dr. Pepper, and and I suspect that she's smoking the whole time she's pregnant. They eventually wear each other down.”
McCullers crafted Kate, on the other hand, to want Angie to have the perfect pregnancy. Fey continues, “Kate, being a real yuppie, wants to drag Angie through the entire upscale pregnancy: a lot of baby yoga, high-end shopping, Lamaze and birthing classes. And, Angie doesn't want to do any of it.”
After McCullers finished the script, Poehler and Fey fine-tuned their characters. Recalls producer Michaels, “What's so great about Amy and Tina is that they're writers as well, and have a lot to do with creating their own characters. They're unique, really fresh and not typical romantic-comedy women being funny.”
With the two main characters developed and the lead cast on board, it was time to find the rest of the players of the world of Baby Mama. That meant recruiting a number of seasoned comic talents to complete the rest of the cast.