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
This week, in honor of the upcoming Academy awards, Here's the Thing brings you a collection of conversations with Oscar-winners -- including one new interview coming Friday with the creative team of 2020 Best Documentary-nominee For Sama. We begin, however, with a reprise of one of the HTT team's all-time favorite episodes, in which Alec enjoys a little miso soup at the home of Barbra Streisand in Malibu. Streisand has won two Oscars: first in 1969 for her turn as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, and then again in 1977 for her Best Original Song “Evergreen” from A Star Is Born.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are the New York Times reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story. For five months -- perpetually in danger of losing the scoop -- they cultivated and cajoled sources ranging from the Weinsteins’ accountant to Ashley Judd. The article that emerged on October 5th, 2017, was a level-headed and impeccably sourced exposé, whose effects continue to be felt around the world. Their conversation with Alec covers their reporting process, and moves on to a joint wrestling with Alec’s own early knowledge of one of the Weinstein allegations, and his ongoing friendship with accused harasser James Toback. The guests ask Alec questions about the movie industry’s ethics about sex and “the casting couch.” Over a respectful and surprising half-hour, host and guests together talk through the many dilemmas posed by the #MeToo movement that Kantor and Twohey did so much to unleash.
Wynton Marsalis was on the cover of Time as the avatar of the "New Jazz Age." His central role in reviving the genre is thanks partly to his gorgeous, virtuosic trumpet-playing, and partly to his founding of Jazz at Lincoln Center. JALC established jazz at the heart of American high culture. That "officialness" turned off some jazz musicians: wasn't their music supposed to be looser, smaller? But Marsalis tells Alec that the desire to relegate jazz to small underground clubs is "ghettoizing." In front of a live audience at JALC's Rose Hall, Marsalis also goes deep with Alec about his father's influence -- and his racially fraught interactions with professors and conductors at Juilliard when he showed up from Louisiana in 1979.
We often think of Julie Andrews as the prim nanny from Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, but her personal path may have the greatest resemblance to one of her Broadway roles: Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Andrews grew up in a family strapped for cash during the Second World War, and her initial training as an actor was in the less-than-prestigious field of vaudeville. But right before opening night of her breakout role in The Boy Friend, it was producer Cy Feuer’s advice that we have to thank, in large part, for the level of excellence Andrews has brought to musical film and theater for generations. “Forget camp,” he told her. “Get real.”
Director Noah Baumbach is known for messy and realistic family dramas. The Squid and The Whale chronicles divorce within a family; Margot at the Wedding explores the relationship between two sisters; The Meyerowitz Stories tells the story of 3 adult siblings – different mothers, same father – negotiating resentment and love. And there have been plenty of comparisons between Baumbach’s own life and his movies – especially so with his most recent film, Marriage Story. Baumbach and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh divorced soon after they had a child. But Baumbach is quick to say his films are not autobiographical. They are personal, he says, and as he tells Alec, the process of turning real life into films is part of how Baumbach makes sense of things around him.
The last Democrat elected to the Senate seat Cristina Tzintzun has her sights on was Lyndon Johnson. Republican takeovers are just a fact of life in the South. And yet in some places, there's light at the end of the tunnel for beleaguered Dems. It's in the Lone Star State that they hope to reverse the trend. Texas is urbanizing, and it's getting more educated and more diverse. Tzintzun -- a political organizer who's the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and an Anglo-Texan -- tells Alec that by activating those Democratic base constituencies, she can win where others have failed. It's a trail begun by Beto O’Rourke, who almost won the state’s other Senate seat back for the Democrats in 2018, but it's a perilous strategy, too, in a state as conservative as Texas. Much of Beto's team has come over to help Tzintzun, and full disclosure: Alec, too, is a supporter, and hosted a fundraiser for her in October.
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.