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
Maggie Gyllenhaal's in a good place right now, at least as far as work and family go. Her latest starring role is as a troubled teacher named Lisa Spinelli in The Kindergarten Teacher. It's an unsettling portrayal of, as Gyllenhaal tells Alec, the "f***ing dire" consequences of "starving a vibrant woman's mind." In the film, Lisa's mind-starvation manifests in an unhealthy, exploitative relationship with a kindergartner. It's not an easy thing to watch, and Gyllenhaal tells Alec, "I almost didn't do the movie because I thought, 'no movie is worth disturbing a child, even for a few minutes.'" But her concerns were addressed, she said yes, and the result is a performance Gyllenhaal feels really good about. In fact, she says she feels better and better about each role she takes on these days. It's from this career high that she and Alec talk about The Deuce, her college years, her alternate career in skating, and the happy joining of lives, careers, and vowels in her marriage to Peter Sarsgaard.
Steve Higgins has two jobs. At 4:30 every day, 4 days a week, Steve announces The Tonight Show, sticks around to play Jimmy Fallon’s straight man, and then runs back upstairs at 30 Rock to keep working on that week’s Saturday Night Live. At SNL, he's in charge of the writers' room and, alongside Lorne Michaels, makes all the big decisions about the shape of the show, and the cast. It’s a heady life for a kid who started a sketch comedy troupe with his brothers in Des Moines after high school. Alec and Steve are real friends, and their conversation shows it, going deep into Higgins' origins as a comic, and into the inner life of Saturday Night Live.
After his parents divorced, 10-year-old Flynn McGarry wanted to feel useful, and maybe to reassert some control over his environment, too. So he started cooking for his mom, Meg. A passion was born. Meg began homeschooling him, allowed him to turn his bedroom into a high-end kitchen, and hosted Flynn's pop-up restaurants at their suburban California home. Massive publicity followed, and, this being the internet age, cruel online backlash. Soon, documentary filmmaker Cameron Yates got interested, and embedded with Flynn as he rose and rose over six years, to the threshold of realizing his most lofty culinary dreams -- at age 19. Cameron and Flynn joined Alec for a live event at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and the three talk candidly about life under the microscope, about the mixed blessings of precocity, and, most importantly, about the complicated relationship between Flynn and a mother who sees herself as having given up dreams of success as a filmmaker and writer to nurture her family. Cameron's film, Chef Flynn, will be in theaters November 9.
Ron Delsener is a working-class kid from Queens who rode his charm and his hustle all the way to the top of the music industry. He basically created the genre of the massive outdoor concert with his epic series of free Concerts in the Park. He landed everyone: Pavarotti, Streisand, even post-breakup Simon and Garfunkel. And Delsener is still firing on all cylinders: James Bay and Hozier are among the artists he maintains relationships with today. In his wonderfully profane and discursive conversation with Alec, Delsener delivers a full dose of the old-school Queens personality that the New York Times says "radiates like a lighthouse beacon." Delsener's rockstar stories are great, his accent is great, and you'll leave the interview finally understanding what a concert promoter actually does. (Hint: it's so lucrative because it’s so high-risk.)
After watching an early copy of the forthcoming documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway, Alec became fascinated by the film's quietly hilarious hero, Steve Young. As part of his job as a writer for the David Letterman Show, Steve had to scour secondhand stores for kooky music Dave would play on-air. That's how he first came across recordings of industrial musicals, a genre of theater largely unknown to anyone who didn't attend a sales conference in the 60s or 70s. An "industrial" was a fully staged production commissioned by a large company and performed solely for its salesmen, executives, or distributors. Some starred top-flight Broadway talent and were written by legendary teams like Chicago's Kander and Ebb (Go Fly a Kite for GE, 1966) or Fiddler on the Roof's Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (Ford-i-fy Your Future, 1959). But many performers and composers made their living primarily doing industrials. Steve Young has dedicated his post-Letterman life to preserving what recordings remain, and to shining light and love on the artists behind these ephemeral creations. Alec and Steve dive into songs like "My Bathroom," and into the psychology of someone who would dedicate his life to saving them from obscurity. Plus they talk Letterman, and Young's own path from blue-collar New England, to Harvard, to the top of the comedy-writing heap.
This affectionate, funny conversation was recorded in front of a live audience at the Tribeca Film Festival, and garnered articles in the Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, BET, and beyond. The headlines were varied: some reporters focused on Spike's 2 a.m. call from Brando, others the big reveal that De Niro turned down Do the Right Thing. Still others were captivated by the audience-inclusive Black Panther lovefest. Come for all that, but stay for Alec's one-man reenactment of a fight with his parents, and Alec and Spike's deep, passionate conversation about On the Waterfront. Regardless of which part you love most, BET got it right: "The iconic director held nothing back."
Having followed a steep path from his working-class immigrant family in Massachusetts to the pinnacle of American photography, Pete Souza ended up working for both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama -- the only Chief White House photographer to have documented two presidencies. "The odds of someone getting two calls to work at the White House are pretty slim," he tells Alec with true humility, saying both stints were "accidental." That's hard to believe: Souza's unique ability to capture the moment without sacrificing composition won him plaudits for his work on daily papers well before he joined Reagan in 1983. But even though he's an old-school news photographer, he has a decidedly new-school following, thanks to the millions around the world who followed @obamawhitehouse on Instagram, and who now follow Souza himself. As Souza found his post-White House footing as a social media star, his Instagram turned into the catharsis bruised Blue America didn't know it needed. When the travel ban was announced, Souza posted Obama with a smiling Muslim schoolgirl. And the day before this episode of Here's the Thing went live, when Trump made nice to Putin in Helsinki, Souza posted Obama sternly towering over his Russian counterpart. The Obama images, as he tells Alec, "appeal to people because of what we have now." It's an appeal he hopes to capitalize on in his new book of Trump-Obama juxtapositions, Shade. Special for Alec and WNYC, Souza gathered his favorite Obama photos that didn't make it into his book Obama, an Intimate Portrait. You can find them below if you're reading this on the web; if not, go to www.heresthething.org. President Barack Obama plays with his niece Savita during the family's vacation on Martha's Vineyard in August, 2012 (Pete Souza, the White House) Sasha Obama leans over her father as Malia touches his head ca. 2009 (Pete Souza, the White House) Daniel Day-Lewis at the White House: 'Lincoln' Star reads the Gettysburg Address with Obama in November 2012 (Pete Souza, the White House) President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Norman Manley International Airport prior to departure from Kingston, Jamaica en route to Panama City, Panama in April 2015 (Pete Souza, the White House) Obama crawls around in the Oval Office with Communications Director Jen Psaki’s daughter, Vivi, in April 2016 (Pete Souza, the White House) Obama looks on as comedian Will Ferrell reads "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" to first-term cabinet-members. (Pete Souza, the White House)
The vast ambition of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's PBS documentary The Vietnam War has precedents, but most of them are other Burns and Novick documentaries. The two directors' collaborations -- including 1994's Baseball and 2007's The War, about WW2 -- use their titles as entry-points to the full scope of American history. Novick refers to Vietnam as "the childhood trauma that America never dealt with," and Burns blames our inability to overcome the war on a failure of empathy. "When Americans talk about Vietnam," he says, "we just talk about ourselves. [We] need to triangulate with all the other perspectives, and not just 'the enemy.' It’s finding out what the civilians felt, the Vietcong felt, but then also our allies and the civilians and the protesters all the way out to deserters and draft-dodgers. And if you do that, then the political dialectic loses its force, because you realize that more than one truth could obtain at any given moment." This drive to create a common, American, sense of purpose and identity motivates Burns's work -- a theme that runs through this lively exploration of the two artists' pasts and creative processes.
Note: this interview was recorded before Roseanne's tweet and the subsequent cancellation of the show. Alec says he has never enjoyed being on-stage with a fellow actor more than when he performed with Laurie Metcalf in Arthur Miller's All My Sons. Her genius is on full display in the new production of Albee's Three Tall Women, currently on Broadway, for which she just won a Tony. On Here's the Thing, Metcalf and Alec discuss her evolution into an accomplished actor from her days as an aspiring German-English translator who'd never considered a career in the arts. She recounts the early days of Steppenwolf, the legendary Chicago theater company she founded with John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, whom she met while she was still in college. We learn what it was like working with Greta Gerwig on Lady Bird -- and toiling through the grueling "publicity circus train you have to get on for three months" when you're in a hit movie. And finally, Metcalf shares stories from both sets of Roseanne: her insecurity about the show's staying-power in 1989, and the political dynamic on set for the reboot alongside her Trump-supporting friend.
June 5th is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. It was one of the formative events in Alec's childhood, and in the life of his father. The release of Dawn Porter's brilliant new Netflix documentary series, Bobby Kennedy for President, was timed to coincide with this difficult milestone. The movie is about his life and legacy, but its origins are in the killing and subsequent trial: lawyers for Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of the killing tried to interest Porter in a doc proclaiming his innocence. She hired an investigator to review every shred of remaining evidence, and she herself (she's a Georgetown-trained lawyer) dug deep into the serious problems with his trial. RFK, she says, would have been horrified at the witness-tampering, destruction of evidence, and abysmal defense. But (despite Alec's lively, VERY informed questioning), Porter has no conclusion about his ultimate guilt or innocence. The balance of the film, then, shows how the man lived, and what he might have accomplished. It features never-before seen footage of Kennedy, and new interviews with civil rights heroes and Kennedy-friends Marian Wright Edelman, Harry Belafonte, Dolores Huerta, and John Lewis. Together, Alec and Porter plumb RFK's rich family life and his political evolution, and mourn the historical and personal loss of his killing. But first they trace Porter's own life from early years in her father's photography studio, to corporate power, to documentarian shining a light on one social-justice issue after another.
Tony Zierra’s documentary Filmworker, opening May 11, highlights the best of movie-making. It sings an unsung hero, and through him, all the unsung heroes of Hollywood. Actor Leon Vitali got his break playing the antagonist in Kubrick’s period masterpiece Barry Lyndon. For a few years afterwards his star was rising -- until suddenly his face disappeared from stage and screen. But his name didn't disappear from the credits of Kubrick's films; it merely moved down. From costar of Barry Lyndon to, in subsequent films, “Casting,” “costumes,” and “personal assistant to Mr. Kubrick." Vitali turned his life over fully to realizing the creative vision of his visionary boss. Zierra encountered him while making a documentary about Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut, and immediately pivoted to focus on him. At the Hamptons Film Festival, Alec sat down with both men for a riveting discussion about the film; about the intense, mercurial Kubrick -- and about the sacrifices necessary to make great art.
Schneiderman sat down with Alec last Thursday, just before news broke in the New Yorker that four women have accused him of, in the magazine's words, "non-consensual physical violence." In the context of these women's allegations, it is undeniably jarring to hear the former Attorney General talk about his childhood and his Trump-resistance work -- not to mention his women's-rights activism and the #metoo movement. But we felt we should put this episode out, and put it out early, so that people have access to as much of his recent thinking as possible. We hope it is a useful resource. The introduction to this story has been updated.
Some combination of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young played together for 50 years until 2016. The group survived even Crosby's near-total dissolution under the influence of cocaine and heroin. That was a brush with death that left him in need of a liver transplant and a new approach to life. His newfound joy is clear in this exuberant conversation with Alec. It's also behind a recent and remarkable burst of creativity: three solo albums over the past four years. Crosby's childlike gratitude for his sixty years in music is palpable, but he is candid about the struggles, too: from wrestling with Roger McGuinn over control of The Byrds, to the terrifying culmination of the 2016 breakup of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Plus, BONUS! This is the first episode of Here's the Thing's question-crowdsourcing experiment. Your questions provided moving insight into the impact David's music and story have made on fans over the years. We couldn't include all the questions, but we used a lot, and David was really into it. Stay tuned for another call for submissions soon.
Jeffrey Toobin is such a TV institution as a legal commentator that it can be hard to imagine him in casual clothes, outside a news studio. But it was the real, flesh-and-blood Jeff that showed up to his interview with Alec, talking about life before CNN and the New Yorker. There's lots to discuss about what made him the man he is, both personally (his mom was Marlene Sanders, the first big female TV news star) and professionally (when he went to publish his first book, he was threatened with criminal prosecution, accused of disclosing secrets of the Iran Contra investigation). And of course Alec and his guest got into lively discussions about the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the OJ Simpson murder case. Toobin wrote the definitive books on both. Ever wonder what each of OJ's lawyers thought about his guilt or innocence? Listen and learn.
Alec is a BIG fan of Justin Hayward -- vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for The Moody Blues, pioneers of complex orchestral arrangements in rock. As he tells it, their songs were the only thing that could mellow out his rough crowd in high school. Interspersed with Alec's observations on some of his favorite musical passages, this intimate conversation ranges from the technical details of how the group created its signature orchestral sound (a mechanical wonder called the Mellotron) to Hayward's sense of alienation from his younger self. Hayward muses, "Here we are now talking about the Justin that was, from 17 years old to 30 years old, and this ghost is always with me." More revelations abound -- some melancholy, some very funny -- on this episode of Here's the Thing.