Amy Poehler has made drinking wine a professional requirement. Kind of. Her latest project, Wine Country, sees the comedian joining her close friends and former SNL colleagues Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, and Tina Fey, among others, in Napa, California, to celebrate a friend’s fiftieth birthday. She both stars in and directs the film, out May 10 on Netflix. It’s the first time she’s helmed a full-length feature, thus she barely had a sip herself: “I was teetotaling because I wanted to be a proper captain of the ship.” On the day the Oscar nominations were announced, she spoke to ELLE in New York, where she’d recently opened a wine shop with friends in Brooklyn.
ELLE: Let’s start with the Oscars. There were no female nominees for best director.
Amy Poehler: I was just reading about the USC Annenberg study that came out. The statistics are a real bummer. There were so many great films made by women this year, and once again they’re not nominated. Not only is there such a small number of women directing, it’s especially small for women of color and Latina women.
The most jarring statistic I found was that less than 4 percent of studio film directors in the past year were women. What has to happen to change that?
The best way to decide that you’re ready for something is almost the opposite of what women are taught to do: to overprepare, to be the most qualified in the room, to have all the answers. Studies have shown that men do not take the same approach. There are young male directors who are fine with taking on a $60 million movie, even if they’ve never done anything before. So it’s not only about creating opportunities for women when you have the power but about taking the power, even if you don’t feel like you’re ready.
Power dynamics are obviously a huge issue. In your book Yes Please, you write, “My friend Louis CK likes to say that ‘guilt is an intersection.’ Getting out of it means making a choice and moving forward.” Where do you think he is in that intersection?
That’s such a big question to answer in this small interview.
We can talk about Chardonnay next, promise.
Yeah, but I’m not trying to dodge it. I can’t speak for any man and his past or present behavior, and I frankly don’t want to. But at a time when the world is so divided and everything is so ugly, it’s really rough to watch people decide they’re just gonna lean in to the ugliness of everything. It’s incredibly depressing.
How do you combat that?
The women in my life, and in the movie, have been the people who turn the crying into laughing, changing things on a dime. Female friendships have been key for me in the last couple of years, in terms of how to find true, deep, deep, deep laughter.
There’s a lot of that with this film.
I like to brag that we had zero rehearsal time. I wasn’t just working with my friends, but with premier comedy legends. I don’t think I’ll ever have this directing experience again, where I had to give people very little direction.
Do you feel like your career has always been headed toward directing?
Yeah, I’ve directed a lot of episodic television. There are a couple of things I like about directing. One is you get to wear your own clothes. But really, I tend to see things big picture, so it gets harder and harder sometimes to just show up on set and be an actor. I like the control that directing gives. On this film, I ended up sleeping with the director, and that really worked out for me.
Good move. In all seriousness, you’ve never shied away from feminism. Your Smart Girls initiative empowers young women to stay true to themselves. When did you first understand what it means to be a feminist?
My mother was involved in the women’s movement. In third or fourth grade, I remember one of the boys saying, “You’re such a feminist.” And I remember thinking, Oh, I guess I am.
You have two young sons. How do you raise them to also be feminists?
You have to keep adjusting their form, like a ballet dancer or a trainer. If they see a billboard with a bunch of ladies in underwear in the snow and they’re laughing, I have to say, “Why do you guys think that billboard is so funny? Do you know people who do that?” They pick up on gender-normative stuff just trying to figure out their place in the world. You have to constantly point out to them that what they see and hear is so manipulated and false. And then you have to lead by example, just do your thing as a grown woman and hope they’re watching.
That is, when they’re not watching a screen.
It’s a really wild time! Screens are taking over our kids’ lives. We have to fight against the screens before they destroy the world.
Yet Smart Girls uses Instagram really effectively.
I have a love-hate relationship with it. Reluctantly, I’ve realized that if we want to engage, we have to engage in certain ways, and while social media can be an incredible unifier and reach so many people, there’s a lack of nuance that can make it a very clumsy tool.
You supported Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and released short interviews with her on Instagram. How upsetting was her defeat?
Stacey’s loss was part of what felt like a broken system, like she was competing against corruption. But I’m excited about there being a field of more than one woman running in the primary. I don’t know if Stacey Abrams is running, but boy, I hope someday she does. What I find so amazing about politicians is that they’re really tenacious and don’t give up. It’s like being around the smartest kid in your class who’s also the easiest to talk to. It’s not like tech people, who are the smartest in your class and you sit in silence with them. With politicians, for the most part, they’re really good with people. People used to ask me, “Would you ever run for office?” I was like, “No way. You have to shake so many hands and remember so many names. The lighting is terrible. It’s not for me.”
So you don’t share Leslie Knope’s political ambitions. April marked 10 years since Parks and Recreation premiered. How do you think Leslie would handle the Trump presidency?
She would be smart enough to know that he needs to be the big cheese. She’d lavish him with praise, and then when she got close enough, she’d give him the business. She’d get her credentials taken away for sure.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of ELLE.