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Actress looks forward to playing a flawed but funny character

Amy Poehler Amy Poehler stars as Leslie Knope, the deputy director of parks and recreation in Pawnee, Ind., on NBC's "Parks and Recreation." (NBC Photo)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / April 9, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - "If anyone can relate to long public projects it's the people of Boston," says Amy Poehler with a laugh.

The Burlington native, in the midst of a day of press to promote her new sitcom, "Parks and Recreation," says memories of the enormity of the Big Dig give her hope for the project at the heart of her NBC series, which premieres tonight at 8:30.

The former "Saturday Night Live" player stars as Leslie Knope, the deputy director of parks and recreation in Pawnee, Ind., who hopes to begin climbing the political ladder by taking on an unpopular public park project.

"She's an optimist on the wrong track," says Poehler.

The show was conceived by Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, the producers behind the American version of "The Office" and costars former "Office" worker Rashida Jones. It also employs the same faux-documentary style, chronicling Knope's hearty embrace of public service and all of the bureaucratic red tape that accompanies it.

"My character really believes that the town would be better with this new park," Poehler says. "And the comedy comes from the neighbors saying 'No, there'll be too many kids around and I don't want that!' Just that thing about how lackluster and unenthused most people are about any kind of change."

After eight seasons of portraying dozens of characters on "SNL" - from Barbara Walters to hyperactive tween Caitlin - Poehler says she was definitely ready for a change and the opportunity to "follow one person's journey."

"My favorite shows have always been [about] these flawed characters who are unaware of where they're supposed to be, where they're coming from, where they're going," says Poehler. "What I always appreciate about Greg and Michael's work is there's a certain pathos in it that I think can be important. It's not just cartoon characters and we're making fun of them. These people are real and I think there's a certain amount of quiet dignity in the small ways that people try to change."

One big way things are different for Poehler is she's now a mom. She and husband Will Arnett ("Arrested Development") welcomed son Archie last October.

Her face lights up when she explains how he's hitting his milestones, from starting to smile to making eye contact. Poehler considers herself lucky that many of her friends, including former "SNL" castmates Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph, are around to offer advice about juggling career and kids.

"You just end up drawing from people the things you want and the other things you just have to let go," she says. "Having a kid is like getting a beautifully wrapped present and when you open it up, it's just filled with things to worry about."

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.