It seems like forever ago that Amy Poehler was on “Saturday Night Live,” where she spent seven memorable seasons. Since then, the Burlington native and Boston College grad starred on NBC’s dearly-departed sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” appeared in several films, created a digital series aimed at young women called “Smart Girls at the Party,” and produced some high-quality, female-centric television, including “Broad City” and “Russian Doll.”
Now, Poehler, 47, has directed “Wine Country,” a feature film debuting May 10 on Netflix. The comedy tells the story of a group of friends who take a trip together to the Napa Valley to celebrate a 50th birthday, and learn a lot about themselves and each other along the way. The cast includes many of the director’s real-life friends: Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, and Emily Spivey.
The other day, we reached Poehler by phone to chat about the movie and much else.
A. Hello. I can’t believe I’m talking to someone named Mark Shanahan from Boston. That’s such a great Boston name. “I’m Mark Shanahan [laughs].”
Q. OK. My daughter’s a big fan of yours. She discovered you on “Saturday Night Live,” enjoyed the “Smart Girls” website, and read your book “Yes Please” (2014). Now she’s a freshman at Sarah Lawrence and wants to be a writer. Is being a role model for young women important to you?
A. I love when young women like what I do. I feel like young women know what’s up, so if they look at what I’m doing and like it, that’s a big confidence boost for me because I look to them to tell me how I can be a better performer/advocate. So, yes, I love it. It’s nice to hear. And good for you for raising a daughter who’s going to Sarah Lawrence, you did it!
Q. Sometimes you hear professional athletes say, “Listen, I’m doing my thing and I don’t need to be a role model.”
A. I’ll just be honest and say it’s really, really nice to hear and to get that validation from young women because I care about them. The people I liked as a young woman, I looked to them to provide some perspective, or I just wanted to follow in their footsteps, so I take that seriously.
Q. Who were those people?
A. Well, from a comedy perspective, they were women in sketch. Women like Catherine O’Hara or Gilda Radner or Carol Burnett, women who, I could tell, were not only the funniest, but also benevolent captains, and I liked that about them, and I liked their savvy. But for me growing up in the ’80s, there were also a lot of musicians, badass musicians like Annie Lennox and Chrissie Hynde, women who were making music and doing what they wanted.
Q. You use the Pretenders’ “Message of Love” to great effect in “Wine Country,” especially at the end when you all walk through the door like some sort of Marvel team-up.
A. Thank you. Yes, we have an “Avengers assemble!” moment.
Q. You are many things, and with this film you become a director. In the introduction to this Q&A, I’m going to have to call you something. How should I refer to you?
A. [Laughs] That’s your job, dude. I would say, right now, I’m more interested in directing, acting, and producing. I’ve been working for awhile and I love that I got to perform in this film with these ladies. The stuff that I’m creating right now is really exciting. So, I don’t know, you’re going to have to figure that out.
Q. Directing is new for you. Were there some challenges?
A. Yes. You have to be really patient with all the different stages. You have to enjoy where you are, which is a lifelong, hard lesson, and you have to prepare to then throw it all away. You have to surf a lot of the on-set stuff and then be very focused and decisive. It’s really, like, the transitions of the production, of the process, you have to survive. I’m excited about doing more.
Q. This is the rare directing job where you’re working with friends. You had to boss them around a little bit, didn’t you?
A. [Laughs] Which is kind of a natural state for me, I think. The women who know me well know my ideal social evening is a dinner party I’ve been able to curate and I can tell everybody when to go home. I think they’re all kind of used to that. In a very gentle way, I grind them down until I get what I want.
Q. That sounds like a lower-case version of the character you play in this movie.
A. That’s right. For sure, a lot of the stuff in the film is loosely based on versions of us. The hope is when you’re watching “Wine Country,” you turn to your friend and say, “Oh, my God, you’re so much like Abby” or “You’re so much like Val.” Our characters all sort of represent different types of women and also different ways people act when they’re on vacation. When you’re on a trip with somebody, a side of you can come out that is not your everyday self. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s really annoying.
Q. This movie was inspired by a real-life trip you all took together?
A. Yes, we went on a trip to wine country for Rachel Dratch’s 50th, so, yeah, there was a lot of overlap.
Q. I enjoy the eyerolls when anyone starts talking about wine in the movie.
A. We thought it was funny. These women are much more interested in hearing about each other than hearing about wine. Whenever a sommelier is describing wine, everyone gets a little bored.
Q. That’s not to say you don’t enjoy an occasional glass of wine, right?
A. I do. I teetotaled through this film, certainly, because I was working hard. And the real me loves to hear people describe something they’re good at in ways that I don’t understand.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about the movie you’re directing next, “Moxie,” which is based on a YA novel?
A. Yeah, it’s a coming-of-age story, or a coming-of-rage story, as I’ve been calling it.
Q. Good one.
A. Thank you. It’s about a 16-year-old girl who discovers her mom’s riot-grrrl past and is inspired to start a ’zine that changes the sexual politics of her school. So it’s a young female voice and a mother-and-daughter story. We’re going to start to shoot that in the fall.
Q. Do you find it difficult to be funny in the age of . . . the person who’s in the White House now? I’m glad I don’t have to put a smile on people’s face. How are you feeling these days?
A. I feel like most people, which is fighting constant anxiety and dread, because I don’t have the luxury of denial anymore, in any aspect of my life. Everything feels very adult and, you know, very tense and divided. I think you can look at it two ways: Wow, this is a really hard time to make people laugh or people are desperate to laugh, to feel connected, and to let off some steam. I’m just going to assume it’s the latter and fight my way through it.
Q. An editor asked me a very editor-like thing: Where’s all the protest music?
A. What I would say to that editor is they should dig a little deeper. I think their version of protest music is today’s, like, emo hip-hop or young black voices creating incredible music. It’s not that it’s not there anymore, it’s just that it is not there for older people anymore. That’s a hard lesson. Young people are engaged in ways that blow me away. To be honest, when I feel discouraged, I look at young people to see what they’re doing, to see what I’m missing, to see what I can do better. They’re fierce and connected and empathetic in a way we never were.
Q. They’re also on social media, which you aren’t. You’ve likened Twitter to having dinner with friends in the middle of an insane asylum. What’s that about?
A. Nope. Good for them. But it’s not for me.