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Reporter’s war experiences fodder for ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’

There is a question everyone is asking New York Times reporter Kim Barker: What’s it like to have Tina Fey play you in a movie?

The Montana native, who spent 1995-98 as a reporter for The Spokesman-Review, just rolls with it. After all, that’s a question she would ask. “It’s really weird,” she says. “It’s surreal. It’s kind of awesome.”

Barker wrote about her time as a Chicago Tribune war correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan in her 2011 memoir “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The book is the basis for the new Fey movie, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” opening Friday. The story has been fictionalized. Kim Barker, print reporter, became Kim Baker, TV journalist, among the most obvious changes. Overall, though, Barker is OK with the changes made.

“I like to refer to it as a very truthy movie, and I was really happy with that,” she said. “It is my narrative arc. I’m comfortable with the narrative arc it has. I feel like it accurately reflects the absurdity of the ‘Kabubble’ we lived in.” (“Kabubble” being her term for her life in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.)

Still, there were a few things that gave her pause, even though she gets why the filmmakers did what they did. Like when Kim Baker rides a public bus outside of Kabul to do a story. “You’d be more careful than that,” Barker said. And unlike Fey’s character, she had no role in rescuing a colleague from the Taliban.

“I certainly would not have run toward an explosion,” she said. “I’m a chicken war correspondent.”

The filmmakers talked to a lot of people – her, her friends and colleagues – to create this story from her memoir. “It may not be exactly true, but it’s not a documentary,” she said. “It’s Hollywood.”

She didn’t read the script in advance, but she did spend a couple of days on the set in New Mexico. “It was interesting, then it was tedious,” she said, adding she left half a day early. “It’s a real craft that I, with the short attention span that journalists have, don’t have the patience for.”

For Barker, this experience has been interesting and strange. She looks back at being on stage with Tina Fey and co-star Margot Robbie, along with the filmmakers, all answering questions from entertainment journalists. But “this is just a blip,” she said. She’s going back to her job as an investigative reporter on the Times’ Metro desk.

“I am a print reporter, a very, very proud print reporter,” she said. “As a reporter, you want to experience it because it is another story; you’re going to take notes on it, and it’s a good story.”

Ultimately, she likes “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” and hopes others do, too.

“I think it’s Tina Fey’s best acting job. She comes off as serious at points. She goes back and forth between doing comedy and being more serious in a way that I think really works.”

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