Alec Baldwin Bids Goodbye To Jack Donaghy
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."
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. On "30 Rock," Alec Baldwin plays a ruthless, conservative, manipulative and endlessly ambitious NBC network executive named Jack Donaghy. As "30 Rock" approaches its final episode next week, Jack has gotten the promotion of his dreams and now runs the entire corporation for the parent company.
Baldwin won Emmy Awards in 2008 and 2009 for his role on "30 Rock," and he's one of the all-time best guest hosts on "Saturday Night Live." In addition to that and other TV work, Alec Baldwin also has a lengthy resume in films. FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies interviewed Alec Baldwin in 2012.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
In the '80s and '90s, you did so many dramatic roles that got a lot of attention, you know, "Working Girl," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Hunt for Red October." And I know that you started in TV, you know, you did a daytime soap and then "Knots Landing." Did you ever imagine that you'd be working in a TV sitcom?
ALEC BALDWIN: I didn't really think about it. I had put my toe in the water to do a television show, and most of it had to do with lifestyle. I was divorced and my daughter lived in Los Angeles, and I needed to have a regular schedule. And in the film business very often you have no idea where you're going to be six months from now, you know, you wake up one day and someone says we're going to go to Australia.
And there may be a creative opportunity there or even a commercial opportunity there, but I grew very weary of that, and television to me was - although it wasn't necessarily as creatively diverse as filmmaking can be, it was the lifestyle choice that I needed to make.
And then Lorne Michaels, who's been a friend of mine for years, came to me and said do you want to do this show. And I thought, well, it shoots in New York, Tina's the writer, and Tina's obviously an incredibly talented woman. And...
DAVIES: Tina Fey, yeah.
BALDWIN: Tina Fey. And the schedule was such where it really was easy for me to have time off to go see my daughter, who lives in Los Angeles. So I was commuting there a lot. I would go there every other weekend when she was much younger. And I did that show, and then the miracle was that it was creatively as successful as it was.
I mean, the ratings for "30 Rock" have never been big, but creatively it was a big, big bonanza. You know, there was a - like, after the second year, that second, third and fourth year, we won all these prizes again and again and again. And everybody was very gratified by that. And plus, there was the thing where we were up against Sorkin's show.
Sorkin wrote "Studio 60," and we thought, you know, they're going to win and we're going to lose, they're going to get rid of one of us. And we thought it was definitely going to be us because of Sorkin and Matthew Perry and Brad Whitford, and there was all these people who had these legacy relationships with NBC.
But we survived, and we were kind of blown away by that. So we did the show, and now this coming fall we have 13 episodes in a shortened seventh season, and then we're done, we're off the air, the show is over.
DAVIES: Let's listen to a clip. Your scene is Jack Donaghy, he's a, you know, a TV executive, and of course Tina Fey plays Liz Lemon, who I guess is the head writer of a show, kind of like herself. And the relationship between the two is fascinating. This is a scene from season six, where Jack Donaghy has seen Tina Fey kissing a man on the street and tries to find out who she's seeing.
And usually she confides a lot of her life to him. She suspects he won't approve of this new guy. Anyway, let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Lemon.
TINA FEY: (as Liz Lemon) I'm on top of the Tracy thing. I just spoke to him.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Actually, I want to talk to you about something else. Because of my unfortunate situation with Avery, I'm alone. And I know of course that you're not seeing anyone. Therefore, I've decided that you and I should become friends with benefits.
FEY: (as Liz) No, thank you, please.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) A-ha, the only reason you would reject that offer is if you had a secret boyfriend.
FEY: (as Liz) Right, that's the only reason.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) I saw you, Lemon, at the movies last night with your mouth on a man. Why would you keep this from me after all of our time together? This is hurtful, Elizabeth. What's his name?
FEY: (as Liz) I don't want to tell you.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Why? Is it a stupid name like Dakota or Barack?
FEY: (as Liz) His name is Criss, and I'm sorry, but for my own reasons...
BALDWIN: (as Jack) And Criss is spelled?
FEY: (as Liz) No H and two S's. That - right there, that's why I didn't want to tell you, because I knew you wouldn't approve of him.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Why? What does he do for a living?
FEY: (as Liz) Criss is trying to...
BALDWIN: (as Jack) You can stop right there.
FEY: (as Liz) He's an entrepreneur. He is currently meeting with investors in the hopes of starting an organic gourmet hotdog truck.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Lemon, I have said good God to you before, but I don't think I've ever meant it until now. Good God! Where does this person live?
FEY: (as Liz) Don't worry about it.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) How bad can it be, Jersey City? His parents' apartment? It's not a walkup, is it?
DAVIES: And that's our guest, Alec Baldwin, and Tina Fey on "30 Rock." You've known a lot of entertainment executives in your days. Did you draw on any of them in creating Jack Donaghy?
BALDWIN: When the show first started, GE owned NBC, or they had the controlling interest in NBC. And so we spent many years sending up the GE culture, but I mean in a very funny way, and the GE people would laugh. Jeff Immelt would come to the set like once or twice a year and say, you know, you guys are funny.
And the character was kind of a prototype of a GE executive, and in his personal life, in his personal ethic, he's Lorne Michaels. He's going to live a certain lifestyle in terms of comfort and creature comforts. And as I always say, Lorne is someone who has a tuxedo in the glove compartment of his car.
You know, he goes to events, and he's very much in the - he's very much a pillar of the social network and the power structure of New York media and so forth. And so - and Lorne is a friend, and I adore Lorne. But we do stick it to Lorne a lot.
And I just think of it as a guy who's in a hurry, and he has no apologies. You know, he's someone who - I mean there's a lot of people today who you go into rooms with people, and you're trying to convince people to do what you want them to do, you're trying to get permission from them to do what you want to do, and this guy is much more of a, you know, from the Patton school. You know, you don't ask, you tell.
You don't wait to see how people feel about it. You know, we don't sit down and hold hands in some human resources meeting to make sure everybody's OK with the orders I'm giving. This guy is very old-school in that you just tell people what to do and you're just much more direct.
And I never think of it, never do I think oh, how can I make this guy more arrogant, bombastic. I think to myself, there's something he wants, there's something he wants to get done and there's a way that he does it.
DAVIES: For him, life is simply more efficient if everyone recognizes that the way he sees things is the way they are.
BALDWIN: If everyone would just do what I tell them to do, when I tell them to do it, the way I tell them to do it, everything would be fine.
BALDWIN: And you would benefit, too. All of you would benefit from it, too, if you would just listen to me, everything would be great. That's kind of - he's from that school.
DAVIES: I want to play one more clip. This is a clip from the third season of "30 Rock," in which Liz Lemon, Tina Fey's character, has been dating a guy, Drew, who's played by Jon Hamm, who is very handsome. And she has come back from lunch with a doggie bag from this very exclusive restaurant called "Plunder," and she's just amazed at the way life is when you're with someone who is this attractive.
And your character, Jack Donaghy, explains about the bubble. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
BALDWIN: (as Jack) You went to Plunder for lunch? How did you get a table?
FEY: (as Liz) I don't know. It was packed, but they just gave Drew a table. It is ridiculous how people treat him. The chef sent over food. Ladies sent drinks. Mayor Bloomberg asked him to dance.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Well, beautiful people are treated differently from moderately pleasant-looking people.
FEY: (as Liz) It's true.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) They live in a bubble - a bubble of free drinks, kindness and outdoor sex.
FEY: (as Liz) How did Drew turn out as well as he did going through life like that?
BALDWIN: (as Jack) The bubble isn't always a bad thing. Look at me. I turned out OK, didn't I?
FEY: (as Liz) Jack, I want you to pay close attention to the following over-the-top eye roll: Oh, brother.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Lemon, I don't share this often but this is a photo of me when I was 25 years old.
FEY: (as Liz) What the what? You have a Superman chest.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) I know.
FEY: (as Liz) Oh my God. The lady will have two tickets to the gun show. And your eyes were so much bluer. What happened to your eyes?
BALDWIN: (as Jack) My point is, Lemon, the bubble doesn't last forever, so get in there with Drew and enjoy those perks while you can.
FEY: (as Liz) Can I keep that?
BALDWIN: (as Jack) No. It's my only copy.
DAVIES: Our guest Alec Baldwin with Tina Fey in a season three scene from "30 Rock." When you got that script, did you think about your days, I don't know, in a different kind of bubble when you were like that - in your 20s and a hunk of Hollywood?
BALDWIN: When I made films, I really didn't kind of understand what I had gotten myself into. You know, and that's another thing I love about Tom, when we did "Rock of Ages," was Tom was someone who - he had a better understanding of what he had gotten himself into, you know, like and how to ride that wave, and because moviemaking is a very unique thing, and making movies on that level is a very unique thing.
And I did that for a few years, and I realized that you really do need to make it the most important thing in your life, which I guess I wasn't willing to do. You know, starring in films for studios, in those kind of big-ticket films, you get a period of time, especially when you're younger, and when that doesn't work out, your career evolves into something else. You go do independent films, and there's less money at stake, and it's more - I think it's less risky, the investment for people, obviously.
And then you turn around, and you're 40, and then you turn around, and you're 50. I think the thing to try to do along the way is just to try to learn more about acting and how to do it better, you know, whatever that means, to economize and to commit and to be more honest and to try to vary it and not duplicate what you've done before.
That's the one thing about the TV show that is tough is that you do play in the same key all the time. And even though the writing itself is clever, when the show ends - I guess it is ending at a good time because I do find myself very, very ready to stop playing in that key because it has been seven years.
BIANCULLI: Alec Baldwin, speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies last year. "30 Rock" concludes its seven-year run on NBC next week. We'll continue our salute to "30 Rock" in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.