Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch talk gay wine buddies, LGBTQ fans and Amy’s ‘soft butch’ style
By Chris Azzopardi
Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch are as thrilled as I am over Netflix’s meta itinerary for journalists like myself who have landed in Napa Valley, California to cover their new heavy-on-the-imbibing dramedy, “Wine Country”. Appropriately, the itinerary is: first, wine; second, wine; fifth, wine.
On an outdoor rooftop deck overlooking the idyllic, rolling views of Artesa Vineyards and Winery, one of their first interviews of the day and where they shot part of the film, Dratch, amused, told Poehler she didn’t realize Netflix was actually flying journalists to wine country for the occasion “and” hooking them up with a private tasting.
“And then they have to go write the thing,” enthused Dratch, rightfully beloved for her hilariously dry “Debbie Downer” skit on “SNL”. A laugh. “We’re golden!”
An impromptu in-the-moment sketch is born, as Poehler whoops a booming laugh herself and looks ahead to a day full of blitzed on-the-job reporters essentially reliving their movie, impersonating a juiced journalist who maybe enjoyed too much of Artesa’s very drinkable Rosado before assessing “Wine Country”: “I LOVED IT! What’s not to love?! Life is short!”
Dratch cracked up at the thought of Netflix’s wine-soaked vision. Buzzed writers! Buzzed TV reporters! The laughs kept coming and they weren’t even drinking yet (and, oh hey boss, full disclosure: neither was I).
“It’s genius, it’s genius!” Dratch raved in a conspiratorial tone.
But it’s no stretch: “Wine Country” is marinated in wine and women. Based on a girls getaway they took to Napa for Dratch’s 50th birthday with a tight posse of fellow “SNL” besties, including Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey (who all star in the film), the boozy but heartfelt friends-gone-wild romp is Poehler’s feature-film directorial debut, after already checking multiple career boxes: producer (“Difficult People”, “Russian Doll”), Golden Globes host, author (“Yes Please”) and actress (“Parks and Recreation”; “Mean Girls”, as the “cool mom”).
Like the Pinot being generously poured inside the winery, our gay morning conversation flowed freely. Poehler’s “soft butch” aesthetic (during our sit-down: orange slacks, a white button-up and a textured gray suit coat), living like the Golden Girls and how “Wine Country” passes the “Jeffdel test” (no two cis straight men converse!) were discussed, and Poehler, all smiles and hearty laughs, was so pleased she extolled, “We have nowhere to go but down after this interview. This is gonna be the interview of the day.”
Dratch beamed back: “Let’s just go to the wine tasting now.”
Have you been known to enjoy a glass of wine with a gay friend or two?
Amy Poehler: Are you kidding me?
Rachel Dratch: I have a standing rosé Tuesday with my gay bestie. Ha! We’ve been doing it for a couple of years now ’cause he’s always in the neighborhood on Tuesdays at my apartment. Among many other gay pals who I imbibe with!
Amy, do you partake in these wine nights?
Poehler: Sometimes! Rachel and I live in different cities, but when we do see each other we joke, “Shall we head to the Pinot Grigio Islands?” We do that! We sail to the Grigios! Ha!
Do you party with the gays when you go on your girls trips?
Poehler: Oh yeah! I mean, we had an amazing dinner in Palm Springs for Ana Gasteyer’s 50th.
Dratch: At Sparrows.
Poehler: We stumbled across an amazing group of middle-aged gentlemen who were big fans of our work and knew one of Ana’s characters, specifically. Remember those guys we met? We had an awesome night with them. It was a really fun night. And you know, I would say Rachel borders on gay icon status. I’m sorry, but…
Dratch: Ha! Oh, I’ll take it!
Speaking of gay icons, let’s talk Fran Drescher.
Poehler: Yes! Fran Drescher!
If she wasn’t already a gay icon, “Wine Country” makes her one.
Poehler: Emily Spivey and Liz Cackowski, who wrote the script, were so funny because they were like, “We have to do a scene where these millennials are obsessed with Fran Drescher,” and, to be honest, because I’m a Gen-Xer, I didn’t quite get it. I was like, “You know, are they? OK! Oh, sure!”
Did you not watch “The Nanny”?
Poehler: I didn’t watch “The Nanny” because I was a little older than you.
Dratch: Me too! Ha!
Poehler: And so every young female in my office was like, “Oh my god, it’s so true: I love Fran Drescher!”
The film honors Fran through a queer lens. There’s a real LGBTQ presence at that Fran Drescher art show.
Poehler: Yes, everybody is dressed very neutral and everyone is very fluid, and we wanted to quickly show the stark representation between the options and fluidity of the younger generation compared to us, ’cause at the time we are out of touch with ourselves, personally, in the movie. Also, we come upon a hip scene that we get very defensive about. And I’m proud to say that this film not only passes the Bechdel test, it passes what we like to call the Jeffdel test, which is that no two straight men talk to each other. Ha!
Wow, it does.
Poehler: Oh, I combed through. There’s no two cis straight men who talk to each other.
Is this a standing rule for all future Amy Poehler projects?
Poehler: Hahaha! Well, it’s a fun thing to try to strive for!
OK, let’s talk “Spring Breakdown”.
(Poehler and Dratch gasp in unison while looking at each other gleefully with wide eyes.)
Memories, right? How would you compare the gayness of that film, which I think is –
Poehler: Quite high!
Ha! Yes! How would you compare its gayness to the gayness of “Wine Country”?
Poehler: I will say that the lovely (openly lesbian) Paula Pell ups our gay quotient pretty high in this film because the only real romantic element of the film is between two gay women, and so we were really excited about (that). I mean, even though – spoiler alert! – Rachel and I’s characters sleep with the same guy, we don’t even really discover it till the end and it’s not even part of the story. Haha! But I would say “Spring Breakdown” maybe had a higher gay quotient.
Dratch: Well, ’cause it was written and directed by Ryan Shiraki, who’s quite a gay man.
Poehler: A professional gay man!
You have both played gay before, so that’s something.
Poehler: Yes, that’s right. We were actually talking last night at dinner about our generation. There wasn’t any – there were certainly no LGBTQ organizations at my high school, but there was not one openly gay person at my high school.
Dratch: Or barely even in college.
How does this current time for the LGBTQ community compare to your high school experience?
Dratch: We have little kids and I just like that they’re like, “Oh, that person has two dads.” It’s not a big thing at all. It’s not like (teacher voice), “Let me sit you down and explain.” They’re just used to it, so that’s kind of refreshing and cool that they won’t have any prejudices – or whatever they are, they won’t have any fears. I don’t know if that’s because we live in big cities or what.
Poehler: Yeah, our kids know some kids who are figuring out their gender and if they wanna transition, and there’s all this discussion about that too. The young kids are just way ahead of us in terms of how they accept. So I feel like our generation of women who are now in their late 40s and 50s, we’re kind of the straddle technologically because we didn’t have the internet when we were in college, and from an LGBTQ perspective because we just didn’t have people coming out or living authentically, or feeling like they could. That’s something that’s been a huge change in our lifetime.
LGBTQ representation also seems to be an important part of what you do as a filmmaker, Amy. Obviously that is reflected in “Wine Country” as something that was necessary and important to you.
Poehler: Yes! Thank you. It was.
Dratch: I also like that Paula’s storyline is just so, “Oh yeah. She likes this person.” It’s not like, “Here’s the gay part of the movie!”
Poehler: Maya Erskine (who plays the character Paula Pell’s Val is interested in romantically), who’s also in a great TV show right now called “Pen15”, just says, like, “I’m mad at my girlfriend,” and she walks away and Paula turns to Maya (Rudolph) and she’s like, “Did you hear about her girlfriend?” Maya (Rudolph) just goes, “Jackpot!” Then they high-five and there’s not that real estate taken up with someone being like –
Dratch: “And I’m gay, first of all.”
Poehler: “I need to tell you something.”
Looking back at the beginning of your career, when did you know you had an LGBTQ audience?
Poehler: Remember when you did “The Girl With No Gaydar” (on “SNL”)? That was such a good sketch! Such a funny sketch!
Dratch: By the way, that came from a real party I was at! I was at my gay friend’s birthday party and there were literally like 80 gay men there and two women. I mean, it was like, What am I doing in terms of trying to find a date?
Dratch: I mean, that wasn’t my goal that night, but uh, I was just joking, like, “I’m gonna get lucky tonight! Look at the ratio!” So that’s how that scene was born. I love those things in life when something happens and you’re like, “Let’s go write this as sketch.” That’s my favorite way to come up with sketch, ’cause when you just sit there and you’re like, “Let me think of a sketch,” it just doesn’t work. You have to have the real-life situation. So that’s why that scene was really fun.
And was it when that sketch ran that you realized you had a gay following?
Dratch: I feel like the “SNL” ladies have this. Like, “SNL” ladies have a built-in gay following.
Poehler: Yeah – yes! I think so. It felt that way (for me), and because we were a little bit of a gang, like a little pack. I mean, well, let’s first just say that on a daily basis Rachel and I get mistaken for each other. So her success is my success.
Dratch: Sometimes people just go like, “Amy Poehler!” and I’m just like, “Yep.” Like, why correct them? I’ll be Amy Poehler.
Poehler: Haha! Absolutely the same people are like, “Rachel Dratch!” Someone will come up to me and go, “Debbie Downer!” Ha! I’m like, “That’s right! That was me!” And so that didn’t really answer your question.
Dratch and Poehler: Hahahahahaha!
Poehler: But I’m gonna speak for Rachel because –
Dratch: Because you are me.
Poehler: Ha! But because Rachel has such a cadre of good, good friends and amazing gay men in her life, I have to say.
Dratch: That’s true.
Poehler: You really do have an army of besties who love and support you, and you right back to them.
Poehler: And I surround myself with young gay women! Ha! Because they’re very good at how they dress.
This might explain your recent Vanity Fair shoot with Maya Rudolph.
Poehler: Hahaha! Soft butch?
Dratch: Soft butch?!
And Maya, high femme.
Dratch: Maya is high femme? That is awesome!
Poehler: That’s right: Maya’s high femme, yeah.
I’m gonna reference a tweet I read recently about those VF photos.
Poehler: Oh dear, is it a bad one? I’m not on Twitter.
Dratch: No, it’s complimentary!
“What in the gay heaven are these photos?”
Dratch and Poehler: Hahahahahaha!
Dratch: High compliment!
Poehler: Well, I would take any of these women as my wife if they allowed me to, and Maya loves dresses and dressing up and I had a revelation a few years ago. You know, it’s nice to get to a point – it doesn’t even have to be in your career, but in your life – where you do start dressing the way you want or having always wanted. But I had a moment recently with Maya: When Maya puts on a gown for an award show, I see her relax. She loves fashion. And when she puts a dress on her body, she loves it. When I put on a dress on, I just stare at everybody else dressed in jeans and t-shirts and I just wanna be back over there. It took me a long time to really come to terms with that because we have a job where we have to dress up a lot and I just thought it was my awkwardness about dressing up, but the older I get the more I realize I feel much more comfortable in menswear. I like the feel of it. I feel much more myself.
Are you conscious of challenging gender norms when dressing in men’s clothes?
Poehler: I don’t know if I would say I’m that conscious of it.
Dratch: You’re sort of letting yourself embrace what you actually like.
Poehler: I had a moment where I was in heels and a stupid-ass dress walking down the carpet of a premiere with all the women I worked with and I literally couldn’t walk, and I remember thinking, I can’t do this again. It just didn’t feel like what –
Dratch: What a powerful executive!
Poehler: Haha! But I’ll tell you: I’ve met some powerful executives who do heels like nobody’s business. So to answer your question, yes, we were aware we were doing a soft butch/high femme situation.
Dratch: You were?! I didn’t realize that.
Poehler: Yeah! I asked for it.
Dratch: That’s so cool.
Poehler: Because it made me feel really comfortable, and I think Maya really liked it. And whatever my beautiful wife wants, she gets. Haha!
Has this same group given any consideration to remaking “The Golden Girls”?
Poehler: Oh my god, it’s funny you say that!
Dratch: We talked about living like that! We talked about later on just having a house “Golden Girls”-style, and I think we each claimed which character we were gonna be. Someone said they were gonna be the Rue McClanahan; our other friend just said, “I’m gonna get laid all the time!” I don’t know which one I would be, but we talked about living like that. In terms of actually (remaking the show), I’m so old-fashioned. Like, don’t touch the classics.
Dratch: Don’t remake them! But then there’s plenty of successful things like that.
Poehler: Also, what is shocking is, if you go back and look at the ages of the Golden Girls, they were in their late 50s, early 60s. They were not that old!
Let’s really narrow this down: If this were to happen, which Golden Girl would you be?
Dratch: I feel like we would both be Sophia, the mom, acting-wise.
Poehler: We “would” both be cast as her.
Dratch: Like we play that kind of part.
Poehler: Dratch and I always joke that if there was an upstairs/downstairs kind of film like “Downton Abbey” we would definitely be downstairs. We would be scrubbing potatoes. We would “never” make it upstairs.
Dratch: Because we come from peasant stock. And we have the ankles to prove it.
Poehler: Haha! We do! We have the shtetl ankles to prove it.
Dratch: We have the “CANKLES” to prove it. She of the Irish potato family. I, of Russian peasant descent.
Poehler: I’m supposed to live in a cave. It “is” amazing that if you put a babushka over either one of us we immediately look like Russian peasants. There is nothing high society about us. But someone like Ana or even, say, Tina, they have an elegance that makes them, I would say, upstairs. And, you know, we’re fine with that. Ha!
Dratch: We’re cool with that.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.