This Thursday, Alan Alda will be appearing in the holiday episode of NBC’s 30 Rock, reprising his role as Jack Donaghy’s father, Milton Greene. The episode, titled “Christmas Attack Zone,” airs tonight and is the last 30 Rock episode until the show returns January 20th, 2011.
In tonight’s episode, Alda is back to pay a visit to the Donaghy residence for Christmas. Jack (Alec Baldwin) is persuaded by Liz (Tina Fey) and Avery (Elizabeth Banks) to come clean about issues he’s keeping from his mother (Elaine Stritch) when she visits for Christmas. Jack’s parents don’t exactly get along, and the verbal jabs are expected to come fast and furious. Expect some great zingers from Alda, who is no stranger to the hilarious one-liner.
Alda’s career in television spans all the way back to 1958, where he appeared on the Phil Silvers Show. He is best known for his work on MASH, but has had memorable roles on the silver screen as well in The Four Seasons, Same Time Next Year, and several Woody Allen films such as Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Alda took the time to speak to the media in a conference call today, where the talented actor, writer and director discussed topics including his thoughts on the cast of 30 Rock, his near-death experience, his secret to being creative in today’s modern world, and some reminiscing about MASH… including his thoughts on a possible series reboot.
Although he admits to not watching a lot of television, I asked him which character currently on TV today does he most enjoy watching?
Alan Alda: “I love the guy on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David. He’s really created a Moliere character that’s so risky, it’s amazing you can enjoy watching that schmuck week after week. It’s delicious to see the mistakes he makes. It’s a little bit like Archie Bunker was, where he gave voice to attitudes and a temperament that you never saw before on television, but an even slier version of that.”
The topic of improvisation came up (Curb is known to be mostly improv), and Alda explained his thoughts on the unconventional acting method.
“I would love to improvise, and started out that way. I was always suggesting on the MASH set that we do some. We didn’t improvise a smidgen, every word was written. We did one show that was improvised; it was the black and white interview show. We improvised most of the speeches that were reorganized and punched up and written by Larry Gelbart. Many moments were done on the spot where the interviewer would have questions we’ve never heard before and we would answer in character.”
Throughout the interview, Alda was always gracious and at times very funny, delivering some one-liners with the trademark wit he’s known for.
Here are the highlights from the Q&A:
On comparing the MASH experience with 30 Rock:
“When I first went on 30 Rock, I had the same feeling about the group there then when we were doing MASH. Everyone knows where they’re going and what they’re doing… they’re unique personalities. They’re very tuned into one another, just like we were. It’s a different kind of comedy, but like us, they’re taking chances. They’re expanding to another kind of comedy, and the people who love it recognize how interesting and funny it is and I’m one of those people.”
On his near death experience:
“It was Oct. 19, seven years ago. It was the last interview I was doing on the top of the mountain in Chile. A yard of my intestine had to be removed and I came within a few hours of dying. I was glad to be alive in a way I had never been before. No matter how tough things get, that’s not so bad, because I was supposed to be dead by now. I’ve had seven wonderful years. When I get a chance to do something new, like write a couple of books and be on 30 Rock, it’s very exciting to me. I realize it’s something I wouldn’t have had. But that’s trivial compared to my grandchildren growing up, my daughters… I might not have seen that. I even enjoy complaining more.”
On what he’s learned about himself in playing these roles:
“It’s very possible I wouldn’t have learned to get in touch with my emotions because of my professional obligations. Another, I don’t think I would have gotten up so early in the morning.”
On doing another comedy series:
“I like coming in and out of 30 Rock too much.”
On wanting to direct again:
“I’m glad it’s not me who has to worry about it… it’s one of the extra pleasures in life. So many people want to be directors, but I did that already and the experience itself is something I don’t want to do anymore. It’s a wonderful feeling of power, especially on a movie more so than a TV show, but I don’t think I need that.”
On the changes in the TV making process since MASH:
“The process is more or less the same, but 30 Rock is unusual among modern shows in that it’s shot like a movie. We did the same on MASH. You can do things in this way of working that you can’t in front of an audience.”
On his favorite MASH episode:
“I always get asked [that]: no single favorite. I like the most the ones [where] we told stories in a different way like the dreams episode… those shows that were very different. We took a risk and shook up the format. The audience was generous, and let us play around with the format. One of the pleasures of watching the show was seeing what we were doing next.”
On the new life form NASA announced (Alda has a strong interest in science):
“I discovered it first in my shoe. I’m curious to read more about it. Interested in seeing where it goes from here. They may find more kinds of life on this planet, maybe even find intelligent life.”
On Four Seasons:
“One of the very happiest times in my memory. It was a script that came out of experiences in my life. Two of our daughters were in the movie and it probably turned out better than any other picture I wrote or directed.”
On Bill Hader’s SNL impression of him:
“He’s very talented, but when I hear my own voice, I can’t really recognize the way I speak and I can’t really give you an opinion. I lost some of my hearing from being in the army, and I don’t recognize my own voice. I actually sound like Laurence Olivier.”
On which TV show he would do if he could go back in time:
“Probably would have been really fun to be on The Honeymooners or Lucy, they were groundbreaking shows. Jackie Gleason would read the script from home, not show up for rehearsal, then go live and improv. Not showing up at rehearsal isn’t very nice, so, then again, I don’t think I want to be on the Honeymooners. If I ever get asked, I’m going to say no.”
On his secret to creativity in a multi-tasking world:
“Pressure comes at you sometimes, and the only way I could deal with it is to not think of anything but what you’re doing at the time. Whatever you’re doing deserves the attention you have. It drives me nuts when you’re with someone, usually a young person, and they’re texting when you’re having a conversation. You can’t do two things at once. I hope I said that right because I’m playing chess on the computer while we’re talking.”
On the impact he’s had on pop culture:
“I don’t think about it, just sort of semi-aware of it. When we were in the midst of doing MASH, we had no idea what we were doing. The night the show ended, we drove through the streets and they were empty. We didn’t quite understand the impact the show had until then.”
On doing a remake or reboot of MASH: “
“No. We did the best we could and our time has past and what we did should be left as it is. I’d hate to see it raked over again. Somebody said they wanted to do a remake of Wizard of Oz. That’s nuts!”
30 Rock airs Thursday night at 8:30 on NBC.