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Tina Fey on creating Mean Girls: 'There were real Mean Girls back in my high-school days'

The Mean Girls creator and actress shares how she updated the cult classic

Tina Fey at the Mean Girls (2024) premiere
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When Tina Fey's film Mean Girls arrived in cinemas 20 years ago, it became a cult hit overnight. The comedy about teenage high-school cliques governed by the cruel rules of popularity made a star of its lead, Lindsay Lohan, and catapulted its creator into the spotlight.

WATCH: Mean Girls – trailer

Now, the comedienne and actress, who played maths teacher Ms Norbury, has resumed her role and written a reboot of the movie, which was partly based on her own experience. 

"I was a total nerd. A theatre nerd. I was all big hair and turtleneck sweaters," says Tina, who also wrote and starred in American comedy series 30 Rock. "I had no luck with boys whatsoever, but I was a pretty good student." 

Tina Fey at a Mean Girls photocall. © Getty
Tina Fey's own high school experience influenced Mean Girls

As a result, the gossiping and backstabbing of adolescent girls became a familiar battleground for the younger Tina. 

"There were real Mean Girls back in my high-school days, for sure. With hindsight, I was maybe a Mean Girl to some degree for a while," she says.

"I remember being a freshman [in the first year of high school] and an older girl coming up to me. She told me I was pretty and when I thanked her, she was like: 'Oh, so you think you're pretty?' It was a trap.

"I'm 53 now, but I still think about it. I think all women have a Mean Girl moment. You've either been mean, been a victim of meanness or both." 

The star, who has two daughters – Alice, 18, and Penelope, 12 – with composer and producer husband Jeff Richmond, was also inspired by 'Queen Bees and Wannabes', a book about relational aggression in teenage girls. 

"It had no story, of course, but it made me want to write one," says Tina, who believes that girls still have to deal with catty behaviour.  "I have daughters; I know they do. And with social media, it's all the time." It's not just girls and teenagers; it's everywhere. I actually think women are doing better now, but Mean Girls behaviour has spread to everyone. That kind of relational aggression is everywhere."

Jeff Richmond, Alice Zenobia Richmond, Tina Fey, Kerry Butler and Penelope Athena Richmond pose backstage at the hit musical based on the film "Beetlejuice" on Broadway at The Winter Garden Theatre on June 8, 2019 in New York City.© Getty Images
Tina is a proud mom to daughters Alice and Penelope

Back in 2004, the former Saturday Night Live writer had no idea that the film, which was also remade as a Broadway musical, would resonate. 

"I just wanted to write a high-school comedy," she says. "I didn't think it would even get made, let alone that people would watch it and be quoting lines back to me years later."

Avantika, Bebe Wood, Jaquel Spivey, Christopher Briney, Angourie Rice, Reneé Rapp, Tina Fey, and Auli'i Cravalho attend a "Mean Girls" photocall at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on December 04, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.© Getty Images
Tina with the cast of Mean Girls

This latest version is also based on the musical, which has run on Broadway since 2017 and starred Renée Rapp, who will reprise her role as Regina George on screen. Joining her are co-stars Angourie Rice, playing Cady Heron, as well as Lindsay – the original Cady – in a cameo appearance.

Bebe Wood plays Gretchen, Renee Rapp plays Regina and Avantika plays Karen in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures© Jojo Whilden/Paramount Pictures
Bebe Wood, Renee Rapp and Avantika as Gretchen, Regina and Karen

Making it a family affair, Tina relied on her husband for the musical element of the film, which includes half of the stage version's songs. 

"He has a long history in musical theatre," she says. "We worked on 30 Rock together and we have continued to work together over the years. He knows just about everything there is to know about using music to tell a story and how to make songs funny. I'm lucky."

But it was examining why the original was still relevant that most inspired her. "We started going back to the first movie to remind ourselves why it was such a big hit and why the relationships between the characters worked," Tina says. "That's when you realise that Mean Girls is about grievances and the mistakes we all make when we're that age. 

Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond attend the "Mean Girls" premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on January 08, 2024 in New York City© Getty Images
Tina collaborated with her husband Jeff Richmond on the movie

"It was about working out which elements of the film and the Broadway show to keep and what to change, to keep it feeling new and fun, but also meaningful and surprising."

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Tina is regarded as one of the funniest people in Hollywood, so do her own family find her amusing? "Oh, hilarious. Mostly not in a good way," she says with a laugh. Her daughters are fans of her work, however. "They've seen the movie a bunch of times and they like it, which is a big deal for me," she says.

Interview and reporting by Katie Ellis

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