“To be a good journalist you have to be a bit of a chameleon,” says Kim Barker. “You have to be accepting of different cultures, different languages and different situations. I have always been the kind of person who feels like they can go into any situation and fit in.”
In real life, Barker is a journalist who worked at the Chicago Tribune as a reporter and volunteered to become a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In reel life, she’s played by Tina Fey in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot as an expatriate television journalist addicted to the rush of living and working in a war zone.
Whiskey Foxtrot Tango plays like Animal House with warlords, or maybe Fear and Loathing in Afghanistan, but Barker describes the reality of her time there in more poetic terms.
“In Afghanistan everything looks like a picture,” says Barker. “Everything is so beautiful. The people are beautiful. The landscape is beautiful. You are surrounded by mountains when you’re in Kabul. (The people) are very friendly, very direct with very good sense of humour. Also Afghanistan has men with long beards and pick up trucks and guns who hate the government. That is familiar to me. I grew up in Montana.”
At the beginning of her time abroad Barker was a fish out of water but soon learned to culturally adapt and love the country.
“I remember on my second trip there meeting a guy who asked if I wanted to go fishing with him. I grew up fishing but fishing in Afghanistan is a little bit different because it usually involved throwing a grenade into the lake and stunning the fish or blowing them out of the water or using generator wires to electrocute them. That just doesn’t seem very sporting to me.”
Barker’s book, The Taliban Shuffle came to Tina Fey shortly after a New York Times review mentioned Barker’s similarity to the comedic actress.
“Tina Fey saw it,” Barker says. “I think her people probably showed it to her or my people. I don’t really have people but my agent sent it over to her people. She read the book and within two weeks of that review coming out she pushed Paramount and Lorne Michaels (who produced the movie) to option the book and make it into a movie.
“(People) said, ‘Who’s going to play you?’ I said, ‘A smart funny woman in Hollywood,’ and everybody was like, ‘Tina Fey?’ It was everybody’s first answer.”
Barker describes having her life turned into a film as surreal.
“It’s hard to even think about,” she says, “people seeing this in a theatre. They are going to equate me with Kim Barker even though (that) Kim Barker is a version of me. It’s fictionalized.”
She says the film screenwriter Robert Carlock told her early on that they would have to “Hollywood this up.” Changes to the basic story were made, and when they sent her a final copy of the script in 2014 she couldn’t bring herself to read it. Finally her best friend read the script “to make sure it is not going to embarrass you.”
“She read it and said, ‘It’s fine. It’s good. It’s really good. You’re probably not going to like parts of it because it makes you seem more heroic than you think of yourself.’ She was absolutely right. I’m not that brave.”