Here's The Thing with Alec Baldwin
Summary: From WNYC Studios, award-winning actor Alec Baldwin takes listeners into the lives of artists, policy makers and performers. Alec sidesteps the predictable by going inside the dressing rooms, apartments, and offices of people we want to understand better: Ira Glass, Lena Dunham, David Brooks, Roz Chast, Chris Rock and others. Hear what happens when an inveterate guest becomes a host. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, On the Media, Death, Sex & Money, Nancy and many others. © WNYC Studios
Alec wanted to know a few more things about Errol Morris's work -- so he set up a call!
Errol Morris’s documentaries are visually unmistakable, whether they’re about pet cemeteries or the morally bankrupt "great men" of American history. Thanks to his optical invention, the "Interrotron," Morris's subjects’ are looking straight at those of us in the movie theater and, sometimes, lying. He’s one of cinema’s most distinctive storytellers. In conversation with Alec, Morris recounts his meandering path to the top, involving deep debt, a master's degree in Philosophy, and a stint as a private investigator. "Film-making saved me," he says. Morris also responds to the heated controversy surrounding his new documentary, American Dharma, about Trump strategist Stephen Bannon, rejecting the argument that it was wrong to provide Bannon a platform for his ideas.
Edward Norton gets into every aspect of filmmaking, even when he comes to the set as an actor. He's helped rewrite scripts, and sometimes gets intimately involved in editing, as was the case with American History X. That has led to tension with directors, but Norton tells Alec that the Hollywood press has grossly mischaracterized many of those relationships. Norton himself directed Alec recently in his new film, Motherless Brooklyn. Norton stars alongside Alec's Robert Moses character, who tries to bend New York City to his will. Their shared experience on set sparks a conversation about directing, and all the great directors Norton has worked with, including Spike Lee, David Fincher, Tony Kaye, and Miloš Forman. A "cheat sheet" of all the movies and directors Edward and Alec discussed, in order, is available at https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/heresthething/edwardandalec.
Judith Light has an unequaled emotional and tonal range as an actor. She also has a shape-shifting physicality that made her entirely convincing both as the shuffling yenta Shelly Pfefferman in Transparent and as the lithe, aristocratic Hedda Gabler. But she only got to exercise those talents by saying "yes" to a lot of less intricate roles -- most famously the housewife-prostitute Karen Wolek on One Life to Live and Type-A divorcée Angela Bower on Who's the Boss. Her manager (a former Psychology professor) helped her arrive at that place of openness. After a few bad auditions, he sat her down and said, "You have an expectation that people should just be giving you stuff, and it's untenable. People feel it. You walk into a room and nobody wants to be around you." "And so," Light tells Alec, "when I walked into the audition for Who's the Boss, I was in a very different place."
Peter Bergman is the dean of soap opera actors. His portrayal of Dr. Cliff Warner on All My Children from 1979 to 1989 overlapped precisely with the era when soap operas were America's great guilty pleasure. Liz Taylor made cameos alongside Bergman, mainstream publications covered Dr. Warner's many marriages, and the soaps sometimes rivaled prime time in total viewers. Madison Avenue noticed, and Bergman entered the pitchman pantheon with his cough syrup ad in 1986, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV." Since 1989, the soaps have been less central to popular culture, but Bergman has played a much richer character than the debonair doctor: his last 30 years have been spent playing Jack Abbott on The Young and the Restless. Jack is the mercurial head of Jabot Cosmetics, trying to triumph in love and industry over his rival Victor Newman. Alec and Bergman bond over their shared past as high school athletes who found themselves attracted to the stage, and over the joys and difficulties of daytime television.
Dubbed “the hottest artist on the classical music planet” by The New York Times, pianist Lang Lang has reached a level of stardom rare for classical musicians. But his prominence is hard-won. Alec, who adores Lang Lang's charisma and talent, elicits from his guest stories of hardship during his childhood in northeastern China, and of his slow climb to the top, via Philadelphia. That's where fish-out-of-water Lang Lang showed up at the age of 15 and enrolled in public high school as well as conservatory. Throughout the interview, Lang Lang plays pieces from his latest album, Piano Book, a collection of pieces normally reserved for young learners, reinterpreted with brilliance and respect by the great master. And we at WNYC add more of our favorites from Piano Book and beyond.
At the end of the 1950s, James Caan, son of a German-Jewish butcher, had been kicked out of ROTC and was too poor to finish college on his own. He started a job for his godfather unpacking meat along the docks of the Hudson River. Less than a decade later, he was starring alongside John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in El Dorado, just a few years from Coppola's giving him a lead in The Godfather. In his unmistakable Queens patois, Caan tells Alec the wonderful, unlikely story of his rise to stardom. That story includes his many marriages, even more fistfights, and heretofore untold details from the sometimes-violent set of The Godfather. Plus what sort of roles Caan wanted but didn't get because of typecasting.
Since 2004, 1300 towns across America have lost local newspaper coverage. 2004 was also the first full year David Rattray, the third generation of his family to own the East Hampton Star, served as the paper's editor. It's a job for which Rattray gave up a very different life and career in New York City. That was a good choice: thanks in part to his stewardship, the Star thrives. It covers East Hampton's seasonal transformation into the center of an elite New York social universe, but other than that, the venerable weekly operates much as it always has. Rattray makes sure Town Board meetings get covered and that the Fishing Report is up to date -- as did his parents, and his grandfather before them. Alec has been spending time in East Hampton for almost 40 years, so he and Rattray have much to discuss about the paper, and the changes they've witnessed in town. They also discuss the Star's long-term project to research and confront the Hamptons' slaveholding past -- a past in which Rattray's own ancestors played a part.
The Reverend Donna Schaper of New York's Judson Memorial Church leads her flock of 300 through life's sacraments like any pastor. But she has a national profile, too, appearing in print and on television to reject the idea that Christian values necessarily lead to conservative politics. She tells Alec her story of spiritual awakening, from an abusive working-class home, to parting ways from the Lutheran Church of her childhood, all the way to Judson Memorial Church, a Christian outpost in Greenwich Village that ministers to sex workers, doubters, LGBT folk, the undocumented, and Village gentry alike. Alec in return tells Donna about his own journey of faith.
Alec Baldwin and Matthew Landfield crossed paths one time before their Here's the Thing interview. In early 2001, Alec was shooting a movie in front of 31 Desbrosses Street in New York's Tribeca neighborhood. Matthew had grown up in the building in the 1980s, raised by a performance-artist mom and modernist-painter father. Matthew and Alec said hello as Matthew walked in to visit his parents. The bohemian scene on the block stuck with Alec over the years -- so much so that when in 2015 he was driving by and noticed that the building was gone, he researched what had happened. Online, Alec discovered Matthew's labor of love: perhaps the best, most deeply researched article ever written about a single address. The Lenape, the Dutch, the English, the factory workers, junkies, artists and bankers -- every stage of New York history had some brush with the land (or water) that is now 31 Desbrosses. Alec was transfixed, and this funny, fascinating conversation is the result.
Six years ago the Board of the Manhattan School of Music faced a daunting decision: who would guide the school into its second century? They turned to someone with a long history with the school, James Gandre. Gandre joined MSM as an administrative assistant in the mid-1980s and rose through the ranks. But before then, he'd been auditioning for gigs as a tenor with symphonies and choirs. He continued to do so even after he began in administration. He tells Alec about his journey from small-town Wisconsin, to being an out gay man in San Francisco in the early 80s, to his long rise through the ranks at MSM -- and he shares his thoughts on the future of his venerable institution.
Brian Lehrer is a unique figure in the public life of New York City. Beyond hosting the city's defining daily talk show, he's our conscience and our conciliator. When New Yorkers want a fair mayoral debate, they often call Brian. When WNYC needed someone to help us process our own #metoo moment, we called Brian. The Peabody Awards honored The Brian Lehrer Show for "reuniting the estranged terms 'civil' and 'discourse.'" Of course, civil doesn't mean soft: he can be unsparing in his interviews because, as he tells Alec, "there's plenty that pisses me off." Alec is fan of -- and a regular caller on -- Brian's show, so who better to turn the tables? Alec interviews Brian about his path to prominence, and the two discuss their shared love of radio, and of New York.
Alexander Acosta has resigned from his position as Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration. That's because of the sweetheart deal he cut politically connected financier Jeffrey Epstein back in 2008, when Acosta was a federal prosecutor. In the swirl of news following Epstein's re-arrest, but before the Acosta resignation, Julie Brown stepped out of Acosta's press conference to speak to Alec on the phone. We learn her reaction and that of Epstein's victims who called her up after the arrest. That conversation is at the end of an extended cut of their live conversation at the Greene Space this spring and a phone call from Alan Dershowitz addressing the accusations made against him.
Corey Johnson wants to be the next mayor of New York, and the press seems to think he will be. His plan to fix transit is the centerpiece of his platform. Tom Wright is the CEO of the powerful Regional Plan Association. That organization imagines the future and comes up with ideas for infrastructure and bureaucracy that could meet its needs. Nicole Gelinas, a reporter and a Manhattan Institute scholar of Urban Economics, also believes in big, innovative projects. But for the past 15 years, she's been reminding New Yorkers that we will not get a transit system worthy of our great city if we cannot get costs under control, and our financial house in order. Combine these three experts with Alec's curiosity and strong opinions about all things New York, and you get a great conversation about congestion pricing, organized labor, the MTA, and future of transportation everywhere.
California Congressman Adam Schiff weighs both sides of the impeachment debate and speaks out forcefully on Iran. Plus why his childhood in Massachusetts had an influence on his future career, why his his mother was so disappointed that he went to law school instead of medical school, and whether President Trump has done more to encourage or discourage aspiring progressive public servants.