This interview was originally broadcast on June 25, 2012.
For seven seasons, Alec Baldwin has starred as the TV executive Jack Donaghy on the NBC hit sitcom 30 Rock, which will have its final episode on January 31. Jack Donaghy is a far cry from Baldwin’s more dramatic roles in the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s, when he starred in movies like The Hunt for Red October, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Departed and The Cooler.
He tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies that he decided to make the switch from movies to TV a decade ago, mainly because it better suited his schedule as a father.
“Often in films, you have no idea where you’re going to be six months from now,” he says. “And I grew very weary of that. And television, although it wasn’t necessarily as creatively diverse as filmmaking can be, it was the lifestyle choice that I needed to make.”
Playing Jack Donaghy in the series has established Baldwin as a tour de force in the comedy world. He based the character, he says, on several already-existing GE and NBC executives — and SNL creator Lorne Michaels.
“Professionally, he’s a prototype of several GE executives, but in his personal life, he’s [SNL creator] Lorne Michaels. As I always say, ‘Lorne is someone who has a tuxedo in the glove compartment of his car.’ And Lorne is a friend, and I adore Lorne. But we do stick it to Lorne a lot,” says Baldwin.
He says he also thinks of Donaghy as a guy who’s always in a hurry — a guy who likes to get things done.
“I never think, ‘Oh, how can I make this guy more arrogant or bombastic?’ ” he says. “I think to myself, ‘There’s something he wants, and he wants to get it done.’ You have to think, ‘What does he want? And how does he go about getting it?’ “
On public scrutiny
“I’ve had these difficulties lately with the press. This guy almost hit me in the face with a camera in New York the other day. And I find that it’s very, very difficult now to navigate those waters. Everybody I’ve ever worked with — 99.9 percent of the time, I’ve had a successful or very agreeable experience with. And there are these legit press opportunities that you do, and then there’s what I call the illegitimate press, and in the age of the Internet, they’re very strong and they’re very omnipresent, and dealing with them becomes — and what I’m learning in this last go-round is that my desire to live a normal life — to have an apartment in New York and to walk out the door like any other New Yorker does, and just live my life — it sometimes, it’s not possible. I know some people who live this much more insulated life in Los Angeles, where their feet never touch public ground. They walk out of their bathroom, their living room, they get into their garage, their car, and the next thing you know, they’re at the valet parking of the restaurant or the store or the office. They’re in a bubble the whole time. It’s very hermetic. And I never wanted to live that kind of life. I hated that idea. But I’m beginning to see now it really does become necessary. It’s sad. It makes me sad.”
On working with Woody Allen
“You don’t really need [a backstory] with Woody. With Woody, it’s all there. There’s a lot of times, if the film is not as well-written, you end up hungering for things that aren’t there. As an actor, you get very proppy. I’ve done films where it’s been like, ‘Let’s talk about my character’s luggage.’ You go crazy because you’re struggling to fill in these holes because there’s not enough on the page for you to play. I think if it’s well written and you have a clear understanding of what everybody wants, you just say the words to the best of your ability and it pretty much takes care of itself.”
On location-based shoots
“There are some times when you make films and you travel places, and the take that people in the business have is that the worst way to see a city is to shoot there, because you work these long 12-, 13- and 14-hour days, and you go home to the hotel, you eat and you pass out. And you don’t have a chance to explore, unless you have a lot of days off. But Woody shoots very civil days. You work 10 or 11 hours, and they’re never long, long days. He likes to work at a very moderate pace. He wants to work hard and he wants everyone to know their lines and get to a better take. We can’t luxuriate. But this was an opportunity to relax and see Rome. Every night my girlfriend and I would walk around Rome. And I just love Rome. It really does cast a spell on you.”
On his musical interests
“I turned popular music on the radio, and I never listened to it again after that, in about 1985. That’s when I switched over to classical music, and I pretty much stayed with that since then. There’s almost no popular music I listen to now. I’ll hear it because it’s everywhere. … Music is ubiquitous now.”