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
Fred Armisen’s career has followed an unpredictable trajectory. Armisen spent nearly a decade drumming with Trenchmouth, a punk rock band remembered for its spirited cacophony. When he got tired of carrying his own equipment, Armisen picked up a video camera and began creating improvised characters. Fred relates stories from his years in the Los Angeles comedy club scene, drumming for the Blue Man Group, and working on SNL, where he met his idol, Steve Martin. And it’s true: Armisen really does love Portland. Paula Pell was having the time of her life singing and dancing at a Florida theme park when she got a phone call from SNL creator Lorne Michaels. She moved to New York, and two decades later, Pell was the show’s head writer. She says she’s still baffled by her charmed life. Pell calls herself “Nanny SNL,” because of her lengthy tenure on the show, but she says having a good night at SNL makes you feel 20 again.
Chris Columbus has brought to the screen some of the biggest American family films in the last 20 years: Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire. He also produced and directed the first two Harry Potter films and produced the third as well. Despite this success, Columbus admits that he “always, to this day, [feels] like [he’s] gonna walk on a movie and get fired.” He reveals to Alec what it was like working with brilliant improvisers like John Candy and Robin Williams—and casting Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. The first time acclaimed director Stephen Daldry was expected to shout “Action!” he thought it was a joke. Alec met with Stephen Daldry in 2011, weeks before his intimate, post-9/11 drama, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, opened. Daldry’s work is precise and intimate, but in conversation with Alec he was passionate about a wide variety of topics, including communal living, the virtues of mass transit, and the Olympics.
Judd Apatow’s films—The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People—feature emotionally immature men forced to grow up after confronting sex, responsibility, and death. Of all Apatow’s movies, This is 40 may be his most personal; it stars his wife, Leslie Mann, their two daughters, and one of his long-time heroes, Albert Brooks. Apatow thinks of each movie he makes as a letter, telling him something he needs to know about how better to live life. Eric Fischl became known in the 1980s art scene for work that explores issues of sexuality and power and what it means to become a man. Alec talks to Fischl about his memoir, Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas, where the painter writes candidly about his youth, the art world, his own struggles with depression and substance abuse, and his thoughts about the creative process. Fischl started as an abstract painter, but as he explains to Alec, once he began to work with figures, he realized he was “doing the work that [he] was supposed to do, that [he] was built for.”
Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco, studied brain tumors in children and began to see a connection between sugar and childhood medical problems, addiction, and lethargy. According to Lustig, sugar is as addictive as cocaine, heroin and crack, and is producing the fattest, least-healthy Americans yet. Former New York City Commissioner of Correction and Probation, Martin Horn has held every job imaginable in corrections: from debating the fairness of a state’s sentencing guidelines to fixing leaky water pipes in aging facilities. Horn tells Alec that his opinion toward inmates was formed from his early years as a parole officer: “every one of them was just a normal, ordinary guy … who had made bad judgments.” Though, nowadays Martin Horn has moved on: "It was a fascinating career. I am absolutely glad I’m done."
Rosie’s childhood dream of performing on Broadway alongside Bette Midler never materialized. Instead, at 16 she delivered her first stand-up routine to an appreciative Long Island crowd. She tells Alec that she stole most of her jokes that night. A decade later, the comedian broke into television as an unbeatable Star Search contestant. A multi-talented actress, author, activist and television personality, “The Queen of Nice,” has embraced motherhood, adopting five children. Whether advocating the rights of gay parents or speaking out on political issues, Rosie O’Donnell has never been afraid to speak her mind.
In 2012, Andrew Luck was in his final year at Stanford University when he learned he was the top NFL draft pick. Luck, a self-proclaimed nerd, talks with Alec about going from being an unknown high school football hero to replacing his childhood idol, Peyton Manning. Off the field, Luck is passionate about travel, architecture and movies. Former MLB pitcher Dwight Gooden earned the Rookie of the Year Award in 1984. He was 19 years old with a blistering fastball and a notoriously deceptive curve ball. His outstanding first three years in Major League Baseball were soon replaced by very public battles with alcohol and cocaine which continued for much of his professional career. At 40, Gooden served ten months in a state prison for drug-related charges. That was a decade ago. More recently he published a book, Doc: A Memoir. Gooden watches football now and hasn't touched a baseball or a drink in years.
Patti LuPone was only four years old when she realized she belonged on stage, and she started by entertaining family members in her Long Island living room. LuPone won her second Tony Award for Evita, which she initially described as merely “noise from Britain.” Although she has enjoyed tremendous, long-term success, she talks candidly to Alec about blows to her career and ego. Jon Robin Baitz is a playwright who admits that writing plays is tricky. He’s a snob for Broadway, where the cachet and laughs are bigger. But deep down, this award-winning playwright considers it a privilege to be working in American theater at all. Alec speaks to Baitz about his Broadway debut play, Other Desert Cities, that came from a place of despair and loss—and his own personal experience writing for television in Hollywood. Stacy Keach’s dad was an actor, director and a producer. He had hoped his son would be a lawyer. Keach eventually wore down his parents, abandoned his major of political science and economics to pursue acting. Keach started with Shakespeare, which took him from a festival in Oregon to studying classical theater in England. Today, Keach teaches acting via Skype and his only true regret is not experiencing more of the great outdoors.
Grammy-winning guitarist Peter Frampton says, “Sound is very inspirational to me." And it always has been—Frampton started playing guitar before he was 8 years old. He talks about his musical roots in England, playing in bands like The Preachers and The Herd. At age 14 he was playing at a recording session produced by Bill Wyman, who he says is “sort of like my mentor, my older brother.” Just eleven years later, Frampton was on stage in San Francisco, recording Frampton Comes Alive—one of the biggest-selling live albums of all times. Frampton also talks about the challenges of his extraordinary achievement: “I don’t think anybody can be ready for that kind of success.” Thom Yorke, Radiohead and Atoms for Peace frontman, admits that, even after over 25 years in the business, performing is “either wicked fun or really awful.” He talks with Alec about his pre-show ritual—"I stand on my head for a bit"—and how he and his bandmates have been able to stick together since they were teenagers.
Dunham, the creator of HBO’s GIRLS, says when she was younger, she thought she’d be a "Gender and Women’s Studies teacher who showed movies at the occasional film festival." Instead she's trying to figure out what to wear to shoot the cover of Rolling Stone. Dunham talks with Alec about getting a dog and her first date with her boyfriend Jack Antonoff. She’s not ready for children—yet—but they are on her mind: “I was raised to think that the two most important things you could do in your life were to have a passionate, generous relationship to your work and to raise children.” In 2013, Alec sat down with the late stage and screen veteran who, among many famous roles, played his mother Colleen Donaghy on 30 Rock. Stritch spoke to Alec about her transition from the Sacred Heart Convent and finishing school to finding herself in the New York theater classes sitting between Walter Matthau and Marlon Brando. She performed for nearly 70 years and throughout career, Stritch comments, "I was the funny kind of offbeat girl. I was never the romantic lead.”
David Letterman began his Late Night gig as a self-described “gap-toothed, unknown smart ass.” But thirty highly successful years later, Letterman’s comedy formula has evolved: he no longer attends all the meetings or makes all the decisions and stupid pet tricks are a thing of the past. Letterman began his television career as a weatherman, but moved rapidly up to anchorman and talk show host. He left for L.A. and, after only three years on the comedy scene there, he found himself guest-hosting the Tonight Show. He talks to Alec about how a quintuple by-pass and the birth of a child have dramatically shifted Letterman’s priorities. Michael Douglas has lived in the same apartment overlooking Central Park for decades. Alec joins him there for a compelling conversation about what makes a great director and why playing the villain is so wonderful. Douglas reveals how competition with his father, legendary actor Kirk Douglas, shaped both his career and his life as a parent. He says he’s much more honest with his young daughter than he ever thought he’d be. Douglas explains how his father’s early brush with death, and his own cancer diagnosis affected them each in different ways.
Lorne Michaels had nothing to lose on October 11, 1975, when Saturday Night Live first aired. He doesn't pull all-nighters any more in preparation for the week’s show, but Michaels tells Alec he is still anxious on Saturdays at 11:30 pm. Michaels believes in the power of live performance and gives SNL hosts the best bits. But aside from the funniest lines, the irreverent Michaels offers little protection. Alec is no exception. Alec sat down with Erica Jong, author of the 1970s best-seller, Fear Of Flying, and her daughter Molly Jong-Fast. Erica talks candidly about coping with three divorces, and tells Alec she is certain her current marriage will be her last. Meanwhile, daughter Molly had no idea her mom wrote so-called “dirty” books. She does recall her mom being consumed by work and travel, but concludes that her mother’s legacy is about being honest.
Chris Rock is one of the greatest comic talents in the world, but when he arrived on Broadway to perform his first play, The Motherf***ker in The Hat, he did not yet know how to properly cross a Broadway stage. Rock says that his life has mimicked each role in the play—both the heart-breaker and the heart-broken—and he tells Alec that performing in the show was the hardest thing he has ever done. When Herb Alpert started playing trumpet with his band Tijuana Brass, Woody Allen and George Carlin were the opening acts. In 1966, The Brass outsold The Beatles. Alpert went on to co-found A&M Records, where he identified and signed some of the industries greatest talent: The Carpenters, The Police, and Cat Stevens. He and his partner sold A&M in 1989 for half a billion dollars. He says he’s looking for the same thing as everybody else—a life of purpose and meaning.
Kristen was in college when an Acting 101 class prompted a move to L.A. She had little experience, but a tremendous gift for improv, and she soon found herself in a room auditioning for SNL. Hundreds of personas later, Wiig is regarded by SNL creator Lorne Michaels as one of the three or four greatest SNL talents ever. Kristen’s expertise translated well to film, and she eventually won an Oscar nomination for her Bridesmaids screenplay. She joins Alec to talk about the arc of her career and the steps she hopes to take next. Dick Cavett shares some of his memories with Alec: meeting Orson Welles in the lobby of the Plaza; talking with Marlon Brando by phone—““I was told he would [call] at a certain time and we talked with the sun about 15 degrees above the horizon until well after the moon had risen;” and interviewing Laurence Olivier in the Wyndham Hotel when, Cavett says, he was feeling so depressed “I just want[ed] to go home and get under the rug.” Dick Cavett is the master of talk, a television legend; in this conversation, he shows Alec why his career has spanned nearly five decades.
Billy Joel has sold more records than The Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna—though the “rock star thing” is something he can “take off.” Joel started playing piano when he was about four or five years old, but he admits that he doesn't remember how to read sheet music anymore. He says it’d be like reading Chinese. That doesn't stop the third best-selling solo artist of all time in the U.S. from plunking out a few tunes with Alec. READ | Interview Transcript
James Toback and Alec joined forces to make the documentary Seduced and Abandoned, which began as a story about raising money for a film. However, it soon became a study of the tension between art and commerce and how difficult it has become to secure financing for independent films.