Alec Baldwin earned an Emmy for his recurring portrayal of President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” but on Tuesday the versatile actor and comedian revealed NBC’s long-running sketch comedy show actually thrives when he takes a week off.
As much as the audience enjoys his Trump impression, Alec believes his absence from the show’s opening sometimes affords its writers greater freedom to flex their creative muscles. “The show is better when I’m not on it because that cold opening, it forces them to get more muscular in the writing, and they’ve written some really great cold openings that don’t have Trump,” he told Howard on Tuesday.
“When Trump comes on it’s everybody’s disgust with Trump. It’s antagonizing Trump. It’s everybody wanting to vent their horrible feelings on Trump—and it’s very monochromatic in that way,” he explained, adding, “And sometimes it can be very funny.”
Alec said he broached the topic with Lorne Michaels over the phone before the current season began, telling “SNL’s” head honcho (and his longtime friend) he could no longer bear playing Trump on a weekly basis. “I said, ‘Lorne, I love you … Please don’t ask me to do it. I can’t fucking do this again. It makes me gag. I want to throw up every day thinking about it,” Alec told Howard. “And he goes, ‘You don’t understand … How much this means to people. How important this is. This is so important.’”
“And I took a breath and I go, ‘Okay. I’ll come in and do it once a month,” Alec recounted.
Considering how many projects Alec always has in the works, Howard marveled at how he finds time to appear on “SNL” in the first place. While the actor doesn’t always attend Friday rehearsals for just one sketch, he said he typically arrives to set early on Saturday to help polish his character’s script.
Some scripts, however, Alec has very little control over. In September, he agreed to get roasted by celebrities on Comedy Central to help raise money for Tony Bennett’s Exploring the Arts foundation. On Tuesday, he told Howard most of the zingers didn’t bother him, especially those made by the professional comedians who’d also prepared roast material for everyone else in attendance. “They spray the whole room. It’s like a hose,” he explained.
As it turned out, it was one of Alec’s own children who riffed on him the hardest that night. “The only one who said verbatim every horrible thing that was handed to them was my daughter Ireland. They handed her a script and you could just tell she put her golf shoes on and just tap danced on my face,” he explained with a laugh.
Howard was particularly impressed by the set delivered by comedian Nikki Glaser, who returned to the Stern Show a week later and shared some of her edgiest jokes which never made it on the air.
“I love Nikki Glaser. She was great,” Alec agreed.
Last September wasn’t Baldwin’s first time on the business end of pointed jokes. In 2017, he was roasted on Spike’s “One Night Only” by everyone from David Spade and Tracy Morgan to former President Bill Clinton. He told Howard he wasn’t initially eager to step back onto the dais and into the comedy crosshairs but ultimately he couldn’t say no to raising so much money for a good cause. “I’ll get the million bucks. I’ll work one day. I’ll give the money to Tony,” he recalled thinking at the time.
Several of the jokes about Alec involved the age discrepancy between he and his wife Hilaria, who is 25 years his junior. Eager to share her side of the story with Howard, Hilaria called into the studio on Tuesday morning for a video chat with Alec and Howard.
“When you have a husband like Alec Baldwin … how do you keep the romance alive?” Howard asked her.
“He said to me one time he said, ‘You’re my wife but you’re also my girlfriend,’” Hilaria said. “I feel like you and Beth are really good at this as well … you’re constantly together and you think of each other as your girlfriend and boyfriend.”
Howard wondered if the Baldwins, who have four kids together already, planned to make their family even bigger. “Are you going to have a fifth?” he asked Alec.
“Probably,” he replied. “You gotta have something to spend your money on, right?”
Howard and co-host Robin Quivers were impressed by their guest’s parental stamina, but Alec admitted fatherhood isn’t always a walk in the park. “It does catch up to you,” he said, explaining how his high-energy three-year-old can sometimes be quite the handful. “My son Leo is like Tarzan and he’s running around, and I’m sitting there going, ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to do?’”
At 62, the actor knows parenting will likely only get harder as his children grow older. “Like my friend said … when they graduate college, I’m gonna be like, ‘What? Did they call his name? Did they call Leo?’” Alec laughed.
When he’s not spending time with his family or scoring laughs on “Saturday Night Live,” Alec can be found starring in critically acclaimed projects like Ed Norton’s recent 1950s-set crime drama “Motherless Brooklyn.”
“Edward is a remarkably gifted man,” he told Howard. “He is a man who knows how to put together a movie and how to release a movie.”
The film also features the likes of Bobby Cannavale, Bruce Willis, Cherry Jones, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Willem Dafoe—who Alec considers to be one of the greatest actors alive. He encouraged Academy voters to give the film a shot before casting their votes. “The awards season is coming and the Oscar ballot ends tomorrow,” he explained on Tuesday, saying he hopes eligible voters listening to the Stern Show remember the likes of Jones, Norton, and Dafoe when casting their ballots.
As much as he hopes “Motherless Brooklyn” gets awards consideration, Alec wasn’t about to trash the film’s competition. He said he’s enjoyed a good many films this past year and raved about Robert Pattinson’s performance in “The Lighthouse,” Ted Levine’s commanding role in “The Report,” Scarlett Johansson performance in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” and Brad Pitt’s Golden Globe-winning turn in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
“When he won I was so happy,” Alec told Howard, explaining how Brad is an incredibly nice guy in real life and that his daughter Ireland once turned to mush when she met him backstage at an award show.
Alec also praised Martin Scorsese’s critically revered gangster epic “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino, among a bevy of other beloved stars. Though it’s currently available for everyone to stream on Netflix, Alec said he went out of his way to experience “The Irishman” in a movie theater. “I was very emotional. I had like a tear in my eye at the end,” he said. “I watched the film and I thought we’re never going to see these guys do this again. This is it.”
“It made you sad?” Howard asked.
“It made me sad, man. It made me sad. Think of all the pleasure. Think of all the moments,” Alec said, adding, “You just cry.”
The film meant so much to him, in fact, he dialed up Pesci to personally thank him for his moving performance. “I called Joe and I said, ‘I can’t tell you how beautiful you are in this movie.’ I said, ‘You are great in this movie.’ I said, ‘I hope it brings you everything you can possibly hope for,’” Alec recalled. “And he said, ‘Yeah, thanks Alex.’”
Baldwin has a much closer relationship with De Niro, who attended Alec’s recent Comedy Central roast, and Pacino, who improbably helped Alec complete his New York University degree about 14 years after last attending classes there.
The latter happened in the early 1990s after Alec had just become a movie star and N.Y.U. called him asking for a donation. Alec attended the university for three and a half years but never graduated. “They come to ask me for money and my assistant—he’s a kid from L.A.—he comes up to me and goes, ‘Ask them for the degree … They’re shaking you down for the dough; tell them you want the degree.’ I go, ‘You’re a fucking genius,’” Alec told Howard on Tuesday.
To finish the degree, N.Y.U. had him write a paper on the applicability of method acting training to a person with a career in film and theater. “The only person that fit was Al because he kept going back to the theater,” he said. “I contact him and he agrees to let me interview him when he’s shooting ‘Carlito’s Way.’”
One question he had for Pacino was how the legendary actor coped with sharing the screen and stage with less-talented thespians. Alec recounted the interaction for Howard with a spot-on Pacino impression: “He goes, ‘No, I don’t get involved in that at all, Alec—no, no, no. I just say, Alec, everybody in the business is talented … Some of us are just more talented than other people.’”
All these years later Alec has himself become a stage, film, and TV legend. He’s currently gearing up to shoot “Dr. Death,” an upcoming NBC drama adapted from a Laura Beil podcast. Though he isn’t allowed to say too much about it, Alec said he co-stars as a doctor alongside Christian Slater and the show’s lead, Jamie Dornan of “Fifty Shades of Grey” fame.
“I’m a genius, see,” Alec told Howard. “I get the guy who’s the star of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ He’s gonna bring all his fans in there and then I just step in with the scrubs and go, ‘Oh!,’ and then say something pithy.”