Q&A: Will Forte, Amy Poehler on ‘SNL,’ Andy Samberg & Emmy Nominations

Amy Poehler Will Forte in Conversation
Courtesy of Fox/NBC

Amy Poehler and Will Forte go back a long way. But the former “Saturday Night Live” castmates hadn’t been in touch for a few months before getting on the phone with Variety to celebrate their multiple 2015 Emmy nominations. Poehler is up for four as star and producer of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and co-host and co-writer of the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, while Forte snagged two noms for starring in and writing the pilot of his first-year Fox hit “The Last Man on Earth.” They quickly fell back into a groove. Meaning they made each other laugh. A lot.

VARIETY: Will, you’re nominated for writing and acting in your show and Amy you’ve achieved the same feat in the past. When you write scenes for your own character, do you try to challenge yourself or are you more cautious about what you’ll have to do on screen?
You’re certainly aware of your strengths and limitations, but I’d say I probably err on the side of trying to go too far and then get disappointed with myself and how it turns out.
AMY POEHLER: This is a little “Saturday Night Live” tidbit — Will and I used to sit next to each other at the read-through table. You’d read all these different sketches and every week Will would have this piece that was always so uniquely his voice and couldn’t be done by anyone else. Will is one of the best people I know at writing for himself, knowing what he can do and his specific voice. It’s why his show is so successful and everybody loves it, it’s a great example of how specific is universal. The show is so much Will’s point of view, but because it’s so detailed it resonates. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Will during many, many read-throughs and both of us hearing the quiet crickets of no one laughing.
Forte: I always felt so guilty because I think I yelled every single table-read. You must have partial deafness in one of your ears from sitting next to me.
Poehler: Before that was Chris Kattan. When he left I thought, “OK, Chris is gone. And this gentleman seems very mild and quiet, very sweet in person. This is gonna be a very nice, pleasant experience.” And then Will spent the next four years screaming, “Ahhhhhhh!!!”
Forte: That read-through table is such a bundle of stress to be sitting at, and Amy is the most giving performer and listener. She doesn’t take a moment off from paying attention to other people’s stuff, she’s selfless. That’s why she’s such a great performer too. She’s always watching and truly does care about everything.
Poehler: Thanks, Will. Will and I, like any good lovers, like to give and receive. That’s on our Tinder profile, people should check it out.
Forte: We have made love on every part of that table-read table.

Amy, do you have a favorite scene you wrote for Leslie on “Parks”?
Well, oh God, it’s silly to talk about something I wrote as if it’s my favorite scene. To be honest, it feels a little gross. But when you have an ensemble that’s so talented and cast members who have really specific games that they play in very deep characters — by the end of the show to write a script was just the best because you can play upon everybody’s strengths. And also, come season seven, when we had done over 100 episodes, we could start showing sides of characters we hadn’t seen, which is also fun to do. But that show was written from the great mind of Mike Schur. I wrote a couple episodes on my own and with him, but all credit goes to him for what those characters really did say every day out of their mouth.
Forte: I was just on a plane a couple weeks ago to New York and found myself sitting right next to Mike Schur. We took turns playing Candy Crush the entire flight. Whoever didn’t get one level would pass it over. All we did was play Candy Crush and we kept having to buy additional lives. I spent so much money on that flight and it was all worth it. But Amy, you were such a gifted writer (on “SNL”) and had something that took me a long time to figure out: How to perform other people’s sketches. I knew I could go 100% on mine because I knew exactly what I wanted. But when it came to other people’s sketches I got all in my head. All I could remember is what I was like when I was in a writers’ room and somebody wasn’t doing the sketch the way I thought they should do it. But Amy had both those sides. She could write for herself perfectly, but also take what someone else would write for her and make it her own. I learned so much from watching Amy bring these characters to life. It was a master class in acting. Your last name is Poehler, right?
Poehler: It is Poehler. Pronounced like the bear. Thank you for getting it right. The first time you ever said it right.

Do you have a favorite “SNL” sketch you did together?
One of my favorites is when everybody played the Falconer, a character Forte used to play. Frankly, one could argue the Falconer was in some ways a precursor, at least beard-wise, to “Last Man on Earth.” There was one sketch where we all had to play him, I forget the premise …
Forte: It was a time machine. The Falconer gets shot and we kept going back in the time machine with more Falconers.
Poehler: I remember the delight that Will had when we were all dressed as Falconers, all various shapes and sizes and genders. It was like this dream of his, being surrounded by versions of his own character.
Forte: It’s still the No. 1 thing in my spank bank. Amy, do you remember when I wrote a Falconer where I killed myself and tried to make you the Falconer?
Poehler: You tried to pass it off to me. I feel like at this point in my life I know what I can do well and I remember saying, “Will, I can’t.” But I appreciated the confidence. Do you think you’ll do that with your show next season? Just hand it off to somebody else to play the lead?

Amy Poehler as the last man on Earth.
That would be a bizarre crossover episode, even though “Parks” is not on any more. Here’s my question though, because I’m a nerd and I prepared a question. As you approach season two with your great room of writers, many of whom are good friends of ours and mine, what are you doing different? Is there anything you learned in season one that you’re changing?
Forte: We learned a lot from season one. We tried to do little twists and turns here and there but we’re trying to change up the twists and turns. People started catching on, “Oh, they’re just gonna introduce more characters,” so we’re trying to find different ways to throw people off. It’s great because all these friends we have in common who are here on the show — people we’ve known since “SNL” and a lot of people I’ve known since the Groundlings, years and years of friendship in the room — we’re in the rhythm of the show, but you have to find new territory. We’re still figuring it out and we start on Monday. We better figure it out.
Poehler: I always sort of roll my eyes and laugh now that I’m producing some things in the cable structure and it’s eight to 10 episodes. If you’re a network show people like, you end up doing more, 22 or 25 episodes a season. … The people who get to spend a lot of time over their eight to 10 episodes and really be patient about it and rewrite it, you just don’t have that time in network. It’s a totally different thing.

Amy, what was the most challenging thing about keeping “Parks” on the air for seven seasons?
We never knew if we were gonna get another season, and it’s not that I would’ve asked for that uncertainty, but what it did do was help the writing. We kept writing these big things thinking, “OK, this might be our last season, let’s make big decisions.” In retrospect I think it helped move the show along.
Forte: In a weird way it keeps people looser, right? That uncertainty. You’d think it would tighten them up …
Poehler: I think so, too. There’s a little bit of, “Well, if this is gonna be the last season let’s let her run for office. Let’s let her get married.” Every season was a big thing. We didn’t have to stretch out this thing that was working season one for six or seven seasons and make sure we didn’t tinker with it. I think what I’m most proud of about the show, and Will would probably say this too, is that the people whose opinions I cared about and whose work I like really liked the show. That mattered to me. I wanted to make a show that I would’ve watched even if I hadn’t been on. Will’s show is that same way. It makes me just the right amount of wonderfully jealous. You want to be part of it, but you’re not. You look at it and think, “Man, look what they did, they managed to make this really interesting and super funny high-concept show” and proved to many network creatives that you can take these risks. You can put funny people in comedies and it works (laughs). I feel like Will is carrying the torch for a lot of people. No pressure, Will.
Forte: Let me ask you this. “Parks and Rec” is one of the best shows of all time — having that experience of a show that’s just perfect, do you feel pressure going into whatever you’re going to do next? Is it just a wonderful feeling to look back and be proud of the show or do you feel like “Oh s—, now I have to do one that’s just as good?”
Poehler: A television show is different than a film, it’s like a marriage. You get married to all these people and this idea of a character and you spend many years together. And then you’re not so eager to get married right away again, even though some people do. That’s why I’ve been excited about doing more writing and producing and directing. Right now the thought of doing another TV show is like “oof.” The grind is no joke. I can only imagine for you, not only having to write and star in your show but also constantly smash things and do so many stunts (laughs).

You’re both friends with Andy Samberg, this year’s Emmy host. How do you think he’ll do?
He’ll be so great. I’m so excited to sit back and he has to do all the work (laughs). I’ll just take nips out of a bottle from my purse and just enjoy the show cause it’s gonna be good.
Forte: Oh, I wanna sit near you, you’re gonna have a little bottle in your purse?
Poehler: Yeah, why not?
Forte: Ooh la la. Andy’s gonna do great. He’s so funny and I will admit that the part of me that’s sad Amy is not hosting — it’s so much fun to watch you and Tina host the Golden Globes — will be buoyed by watching another dear friend up there. The Emmys are in good hands with Andy Samberg. Disgusting, dirty hands.
Poehler: I agree. The Emmys are in good, funny, filthy, calloused hands.
Forte: With hair on the palms.