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 Lion King" is now the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time. Julie Taymor hadn't seen the Disney film when she was approached to direct the project, but she had spent years studying the masks, mythology, and ancient ritual drama of indigenous peoples in Indonesia. She tells host Alec Baldwin how she incorporates theater's primal magic into her many stage and screen projects: from the Beatles-soundtracked cosmic narrative of "Across the Universe;" to the elemental brutality of "Titus;" to her recent hallucinatory production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
At 6'6" tall, Penn Jillette is a huge character. He's got a huge frame, a huge personality, and huge appetites. It's a trait that has occasionally gotten him into trouble; he weighed, until a recent diet change, more than 350 pounds. But his gregarious energy mostly expands to fill every moment of free time with professional success. He's an inventor, an entrepreneur, a podcast host, a TV show creator, a Twitter celebrity, a comedian. And for more than forty years, he's been the talking half of stage magic duo Penn & Teller. He talks to host Alec Baldwin about his lifelong atheism, what it's like to perform the same trick for four decades, and why he's committed to debunking nonsense.
Paul Simon is one of the great American entertainers—a mantle he's worn since he started singing harmony with grade-school friend Art Garfunkel in a duo called Tom & Jerry. In the following six decades, Simon has written dozens of classic songs. His partnership with Garfunkel produced numerous hits like "The Sound of Silence," "America," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." And Simon's solo career has been equally fruitful, as an engine of eclectic pop music (the gospel of "Loves Me Like a Rock," or the imported reggae of "Mother and Child Reunion"), and also as an ambassador of global sounds (the 1986 album Graceland, and 1990's The Rhythm of the Saints). He talks to host Alec Baldwin about how he has—and hasn't—changed after all these years.
David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker magazine. It's a title he's held since 1998, and one that requires a tireless attention to detail, and an endless awareness of current news, trends, and ideas. In short, he keeps himself busy. Under Remnick's leadership, the magazine has addressed national events like September 11 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; he has also transformed the publication into a nimble digital enterprise amidst a cratering media landscape. "We come out every week, and now we come out every second," he tells Alec Baldwin. Remnick has six books and numerous anthology credits to his name, and has worked with some of the leading literary lights of the last two decades. In this wide-ranging conversation, he talks about some of those relationships, about his early career — including four years in Perestroika-era Moscow — and about his lifelong love affair with the music and ideas of Bob Dylan.
Journalist Antonia Juhasz details the ongoing environmental disaster of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
A prestigious agent signed playwright John Guare before he had even graduated from Yale School of Drama, saying he showed promise. In the five decades since, Guare has been one of the most humane—and absurd—voices of American theater. He says "there's no such thing as a 'hit recipe,'" though if one existed, Guare would probably know about it; his acclaimed work includes The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation, and the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the film Atlantic City. Lisa Dwan began dancing ballet with Rudolf Nureyev when she was just 12, and she carried that poise and fluidity with her as she evolved into an actor. She says nowhere is that more evident than in her recent interpretations of fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett. Dwan gathered critical acclaim for a grueling one-woman show featuring three of Beckett's most intense works: Rockaby, Footfalls, and Not I. The last of these is a stream-of-consciousness monologue, with only Dwan's mouth visible hovering over a black stage.
The Graduate. Midnight Cowboy. Lenny. That's just the beginning of Dustin Hoffman's legendary Hollywood career. Over the last five decades, he's stretched and contorted himself into dozens of defining roles, earning recognition as one of the most talented actors in cinema history. Hoffman tells host Alec Baldwin that he savors each new opportunity like it's the first, and recalls his salad days when he was mis-cast, underestimated, and, on at least one notable occasion, sick on a co-star's shoe. Listen to a young Dustin Hoffman explain why he's scared of Hollywood in this WNYC interview from 1967.
When Gay Talese couldn't land an interview with Frank Sinatra, he wrote the profile instead by talking to Sinatra's tailor, stylist, valet, and other secondary characters in the pop star's world. The resulting piece for Esquire magazine, "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold," is a classic of New Journalism, which Talese helped pioneer. "I wanted to be a storyteller," he tells host Alec Baldwin. "I used my imagination to penetrate the personalities, the private lives, of other people." For more than six decades, those people have included mafia crime bosses, civil activists, literati, prizefighters—and innumerable "normal" characters, with their own secret desires, triumphs, and failings.
Ian Schrager is in the hospitality business. Hotels or nightclubs, uptown or downtown, Miami or Manhattan, Schrager defines luxury and leisure. When he and his late business partner Steve Rubell opened Studio 54 in 1977, the club quickly became the epitome of the disco era's cultural mores. It was Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Cher, and as Schrager recalls, "serious, sweaty dancing." Today, Schrager says nightclubs are a young person's business; he's long since reinvented himself as one of the inventors of the boutique hotel. The aim, he tells host Alec Baldwin, is essentially the same: make people comfortable, and change their expectations. At 68, Schrager shows no sign of slowing down; his heroes are Giorgio Armani and Clint Eastwood—passionate people who are inspired by work they love.
Edie Falco says she is nothing like Carmela Soprano. Nor does she have much in common with Nurse Jackie. But Falco made these characters two of the most identifiable and human women in television history. She has an armful of Emmys, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards—and a cadre of dedicated fans—to prove it. Along the way, she's battled cancer, raised two children on her own, and is a recovering alcoholic. But Falco doesn't want your sympathy; she tells host Alec Baldwin that her greatest professional accomplishment is creating a fun, respectful atmosphere on-set. She credits her multiple successes to good luck, great mentors, and says there's no predicting which way her career could have gone—or will go yet.
Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Most recently, filmmaker Alex Gibney directed an HBO documentary based on Wright's reporting in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Unbelief. Much of Wright's work is about how religious belief animates personal action and political conflict. He has documented the Jonestown massacre, explored allegations of Satan worship, profiled brimstone-tinged gospel preachers, and, of course, tracked the histories of al-Qaeda and the Church of Scientology. Regarding the latter, he isn't necessarily sympathetic to the Church's claims, but he understands its appeal. "People don't go into it because it's a cult, they go into it because they're looking for something," says Wright. "It's like going into therapy; people do benefit from it." "But it's one thing to get into it, it's another thing to get out of it."
David Blaine begins his visit to Here's The Thing by pushing an ice pick through his hand. He tells host Alec Baldwin that he began training his brain to overcome pain at a young age. Blaine grew up in Brooklyn, an only child with a single mother. He spent many afternoons at the local library and he channeled his isolation and loneliness into an early fascination with magic. Today, Blaine is an acclaimed street magician and sleight of hand artist, and also performs staggering feats of endurance: He has balanced on a 100-foot pillar for 35 hours; hung in a transparent box for 44 days; held his breath for more than 17 minutes at a time. He calls it magic, but says his work is mostly about mental toughness. "Anything I do, anybody could do... It's playing with that line of how far can you push yourself before you crack, live in front of an audience, that I'm intrigued by."
Roz Chast's cartoons exude warmth and whimsy, but often share more in common with the dark humor of cartoonists like Charles Addams or Gahan Wilson than they do with "Peanuts." When she broke into a regular gig as a cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine in the 1970s, she had already cultivated the eccentricities that became the hallmark of her work. As proof, an adult Chast drew a cartoon that shows a young girl with her head stuck in the "Big Book of Horrible Rare Diseases." It's labeled "Me, Age 9." Chast has illustrated more than 800 cartoons for The New Yorker, as well as a number of books. Most recently, she published Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, a sharply-observed memoir of her parents at the ends of their lives. In this episode of Here's The Thing, Roz Chast talks to Alec Baldwin about life with her parents, growing up in New York, and her neurotic pet birds.
George Stephanopoulos was only 35 when he left his post as a senior advisor to President Clinton, his rolodex full of contacts and his head full of political insights. He didn't know what he wanted to do next, but he knew he was wrung out from his time inside the D.C. bubble. "White House years are dog years, multiplied," he says. "I knew that in order to feel my age again, I had to start a different career." Today, Stephanopoulos is the chief anchor for ABC News, a co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America, as well as the host of ABC's political interview show This Week. In this episode of Here's The Thing, he talks to Alec Baldwin about another prominent TV host, Brian Williams; the prospect of a Bush-Clinton presidential race in 2016; and how he's learned to be himself on national television.
From 1877 to 1950, nearly 4,000 black people were lynched in the United States. Bryan Stevenson says these stories aren't part of the collective historical memory of most Americans, but they should be. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Institute, an Alabama-based non-profit that fights for retrials, death-sentence reversals, and exoneration in the face of racially-charged legal practices and policies. The Equal Justice Institute's report about lynching, recently detailed in The New York Times, is one piece of Stevenson's work focused on "confronting the legacy of racial terror"—a legacy that is directly observable today in the record numbers of incarcerated black men and boys. In this episode of Here's The Thing, Stevenson tells host Alec Baldwin that he believes the history of slavery and violence needs to be radically acknowledged and addressed if Americans are to achieve the promise of an equal society.