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
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.
Daughter of a science professor and an IRS agent, a double-graduate of Columbia herself, Janice Min turned her talents in the early 2000s to the glossy magazine Us Weekly. Celebrity journalism has never been the same. In its pages, she revolutionized pop culture as well as publishing, slaking a thirst Americans didn't know they had for J-Lo, the Kardashians, and The Bachelor. Min paid legions of paparazzi and helped create the fun, intimate, gossipy tone that characterizes web content today. Then she moved to the moribund Hollywood Reporter and worked the same magic but in a different key, making it the go-to magazine for serious coverage of show business. Once Alec and she cover all that history, they turn to #metoo, Woody Allen, and how to create lasting change in Hollywood. Min's take is fascinating and genuinely surprising: think Frances McDormand with a dash of Deneuve.
Cameron Crowe's teenage years are familiar to anyone who's seen his autobiographical Almost Famous: 16-year-old writing prodigy convinces Jan Wenner and Rolling Stone to let him tour with and profile the greatest rock musicians of his generation. But what came after is just as interesting: going undercover as a high-school student to write Fast Times at Ridgemont High; falling into the Say Anything director's chair after the two first choices turned it down; hanging out with Led Zeppelin to get their blessing of the songs in Almost Famous. Crowe and Alec are friends, and it comes through in their affectionate back-and-forth about movies, writing, family, and the bands they love. And throughout this extended interview are interspersed some great tunes that demonstrate how Crowe is a master of the "needle-drop," using music to further the story, character development, and dramatic tension of his films.
Michael Wolff’s Trumpland tell-all, Fire and Fury, has set Washington ablaze with its terrifying (and controversial) depiction of a White House in chaos. But all the focus has been on the White House intrigue and the downfall of Steve Bannon. The man behind the book has gotten surprisingly little attention, even though it was partly Wolff's position at the top of New York media's social heap that won him Trump's trust, and access to the White House. Alec set out to do a different Michael Wolff interview. At a live event at Manhattan's Town Hall, audience-members learned about the Jewish kid from Jersey with a shoeleather reporter for a mom, who gave up on being a novelist to do big-money media deals – even as he wielded his poison pen against peers in the New York media elite. And Wolff lives up to his reputation as one of New York's best conversationalists, giving answers by turns open, cantankerous, and very, very funny.
There was no such thing as serious rock journalism when Jann Wenner borrowed money to ink the first issue of Rolling Stone onto cheap newsprint in 1967. His creation changed the landscape of both music and magazines. It also put Wenner, a suburban middle-class kid, into the heart of the counterculture. He tells Alec about his complicated relationships with the greatest stars of their generation, from Dylan to Jagger to Lennon -- and about the brilliant writers like Hunter S. Thompson whom Wenner found to document their lives and times. In the 1980s, Wenner became a media mogul, too, acquiring titles like Us Weekly that brought unprecedented wealth and thrust him even further into the public eye. That exposure was a mixed blessing as he dealt with coming out of the closet and, this time with his new husband, becoming a father to young children again in his 60s.
"The feeling of power" that comes from playing a dark, diabolical role? Kyle MacLachlan tells Alec, "I get it." "It’s not something you want to abuse, or let exist other than when that camera is rolling." The wholesome, square-jawed actor's dark side can be jarring. As Alec puts it to him, "You're the guy that could be Andie MacDowell’s boyfriend bringing a basket of puppies, and then you’re like this nightmare." David Lynch recognized the two sides of Kyle MacLachlan from the day they met in 1983, but that wasn't how MacLachlan saw himself: he tried to break out as a Hollywood romantic lead, but always found himself drawn back into the Lynchian orbit. Join MacLachlan and Alec as they stroll through Kyle's life story, from his conservative stockbroker father, through his glamorous girlfriends, to the joys of fatherhood and winemaking -- all to figure out why he's the perfect vessel for Lynch's uncanny characters.
New York City generates 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater every day. 16 million pounds of trash. Eight million pounds of recyclables. Think of the awesome engineering and effort behind making all of that "go away" without our thinking about it. Alec wanted to nerd out on those secret systems, and the conversations that resulted are fascinating and fun: you don't get into this line of work unless you have a passion for it. Pam Elardo is the Deputy Commissioner of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, leading the city's Bureau of Wastewater Treatment. Ron Gonen was New York City's first "Recycling Czar" and now thinks about the problems of waste-management from the perspective of a businessman: he's the CEO of a major investment fund looking for the Next Big Idea in recycling. Pam and Ron walk Alec through what happens from the moment people flush the toilet or toss out their coffee-cup -- and they talk about the big-picture environmental impact of our choices. And since this is Here's the Thing, Alec also learns the incredible life stories each one brings to the job -- from Pam's persistence in the face of the sexism that discouraged women engineers of her generation, to Ron's luck stumbling into the home of a prominent environmentalist while doing housework to make ends meet for his family as a kid.
From the humane wisdom of Farmer Hoggett in Babe to the simmering evil of Captain Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential, James Cromwell realizes his roles with unmatched emotional honesty. He brings that same openness to a wonderful, sprawling conversation with Alec: Cromwell is a natural storyteller who’s had a remarkable life in theater, TV, and the movies. The two actors swap stories about shared teachers, loves, and frustrations – and political protest. Cromwell might be the most committed activist in Hollywood: his civil disobedience has led to multiple arrests and even a stint in state prison. And throughout the interview, you can hear the explicit and implicit influences of Cromwell’s father, a major Hollywood director who split from the family when James was six.