Elaine Stritch interview, NBC's '30 Rock' Christmas Special
By April MacIntyre Dec 4, 2008, 4:40 GMT
Elaine Stritch on 30 Rock, NBC
How lucky was Tina Fey to snag American treasure Elaine Stritch to guest star on NBCís "30 Rock."
Stritch is a monster talent, great dame and a classy broad, as they say, who hails from a sophisticated and wealthy family. She struck out on her own instead of following a tamer, more domestic path. Stitch defines the word moxie.
Despite her auspicious pedigree, she is best when she lets her hair down and reveals her flaws, demons and disappointments; her lack of pretentions and honesty as a performer made her one-woman shows SRO, and her career a notable one.
Stritch is the perfect foil for Long Island native Alec Baldwin, whose mensch-y charisma is fuel to her energy as an actress, even when she plays his mother. They are both huge talents in frame, and have hard to come by chemistry.
It would be wonderful to see them get a great film script to take it to a bigger screen.
Stritch plays Colleen, Jack Donaghyís mother in the December 11 "30 Rock" episode titled Christmas Special.
Monsters and Critics was lucky to join others in a conference call to speak with Elaine Stritch.
How much fun is it to play with everybody there?
Elaine Stritch: Itís never any fun to do a sitcom, no fun at all, no fun at all. Occasionally, yes, on a break you might have a passing word with somebody who just happens to be funny and you laugh, ho, ho, ho. Fine.
But once youíre back to worth, nothing truer has ever been said than - I think it was Neil Simon who said dying is difficult, comedy is hard. And thereís nothing funny about being funny - nothing. Okay?
Would you ever want to do a sitcom full-time?
Elaine Stritch: Well now on the other side of the coin is the tremendous satisfaction that you get out of doing comedy well. Itís more satisfying than MedeaÖ Itís more satisfying than doing anything at all - is to play a scene that is comedy and do it right.
Thereís nothing like the satisfaction of that. So when I say - when Iím, Dick Doom here about doing a sitcom, I have to add that if I do it well and I get in that car to go home, and over the bridge and back to The Carlisle - if Iíve done it right itís just - thereís no joy that can compare with it except just the joy of being alive.
Maybe thatís second. But I canít tell you. Itís just nothing can touch it. But also, I pity the driver that gets me after a day when I donít think Iíve done well. Oh boy, thatís tough.
So, I just try to have a non-alcoholic beer and cheer up, and tomorrow is another day and Iíll try again. But those days are tough. I take my work very seriously for this funny lady that Iím told I am.
Talk to me about your chemistry and your energy with Alec Baldwin, this Long Island boy. Heís such a strong male energy.
Elaine Stritch: Yes I can. I did a show at the Tisch School, their drama school, because Alec Baldwin was a graduate. They were celebrating him at Lincoln Center.
They asked me to come and sing for him. And I found a song that was sending him up which I knew he could take because he has great humor.
I sang a song called (Fly Him) and itís a comedy song, and itís a wonderful song. And then I sang a love song.
Here was my problem with Alec - first of all, let me say this first and foremost as far as I deal with him, he is a really sensational -- thereís no other word that is better than that -- and particularly in Alec Baldwinís case because heís always in the news.
He always will be. He always has been. He probably always will be. He is a sensational actor.
So that covers a multitude of sins and it should, you know. Acting is - oh my god, what a job. But let me tell you something, heís so good at it.
So you pay a big price for being talented; big, big, big price. Nobody ever gets away with it. Nobody ever gets away with being good. You understand what Iím saying?
Okay. A lot of these things sound like oxymorons.
I wish that there was some kind of a committee that sort of devoted some time and tried to understand women who are attracted to men who have nothing to do with their age because Iím old enough to be his mother and thatís meant as a pun but I guess it is because I play his mother.
I never think about that. I love playing Alec Baldwinís mother. But I donít want to go home with Alec Baldwin. But I have to admit that I donít care how old I am, I am really attracted to Alec Baldwin...in every way, except probably the thing that both men and women are thinking about when they meet all the time. It seems like in our business and in our day, sex rears its ugly head every five minutes.
But that doesnít happen with me. But this strong male/female attractiveness to this guy, itís just absolutely - I was about to say overpowering, but it isnít. I can handle it.
Iím telling you, Iím so attracted to him. But it seems weird - my age seems weird. Why am I this old? You know what I mean?
Elaine Stritch: Itís not working right. The chemistry is wrong. What the hell is going on here? And we laugh together and work together very, very well. And Iím just crazy about him and Iíll never cause him any trouble because of these feelings that I have.
I mean socially or when we ad-lib on a stage together, I just right away take on a bossy kind of persona because itís a way of not letting him know that he makes me nervous and Iím attracted to him.
Iím not a bit backward about admitting the fact that Iím in love with Stephen Sondheim too, but I donít want it ever to go anyplace because I wouldnít know what to do with it.
You know what I mean? And the same thing I feel about Alec Baldwin. He is, as a guy - and what I think Iím in love with, his talent. He is so talented...that itís scary and thatís a good word for him.
And all Alec Baldwin has to do in his life to have a really good life is just easy fucking does it. You know what I mean?
You can cut the fuck and itís just that - but thatís the best advice anybody could ever give to Alec Baldwin. Easy does it. Take it easy. The cameras are going to be there tomorrow.
I promise him from the bottom of my heart. But there there. And I donít care who knows it.
Before your marriage to your husband, who was your favorite mistake in love?
Elaine Stritch: Before my husband?
Did you have a favorite mistake in love?
Elaine Stritch: A favorite mistake, thatís a very - thatís a funny question. I mean itís funny ha-ha. Itís not funny peculiar; itís a very good question. But I didnít see what you said about my husband.
You were married from the mid-70s to when he passed? Well I was thinking back in your dating days prior to your marriage with John.
Elaine Stritch: You know, about my husband, Stephen Sondheim just wrote a musical called Road Show and thereís a song in it that knocked me out. It was so romantic and it was called The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.
What youíre talking about is the worst thing that ever happened to me.
Well, someone that you enjoyed but you sort of...
Elaine Stritch: Big mistake?
One that you wish you had not - I donít know if you want to reveal.
Elaine Stritch: Iím trying to think. I think every single relationship that I ever had in my life meant something to me and if it was a bad experience - I donít think Iíve ever had a bad experience. It was terrific at the time.
Looking back on it, I think yeah, look, all those relationships that I had that were out-to-lunch served their purpose...because they made me realize how sensational my husband was.
You know what I mean? And I think itís true in life, at the risk of getting very philosophical here, we need bum times in order to appreciate and live through the good times because the good times are just as difficult as the bum times.
How do you play mother to Jack?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, itís because Iím exceptionally talented. Thatís how I can do it and thatís how I get through everything and I - because I do. And I admit that. Itís high time I admitted it
Real talent comes out of real fear and Iím getting over my fear and Iím admitting the fact that thatís - thereís one thing I do - thereís many things that I do.
But the one thing that I do very, very well, Iím a very good actress. So I can fool even Alec Baldwin. Okay?
But heís got enough humor to understand what Iím talking about.
Jack gets so upset by you and he eats so much on the show.
Elaine Stritch: Oh yes. And incidentally, Alec Baldwin should cut that out offstage. The only time anybody should allow him to eat at all is on camera because it doesnít get a laugh offstage. It gets a laugh onstage. You understand what I mean?
I want Alec to lose about 20 pounds.
Now did you bring mothering skills into that performance?
Elaine Stritch: I donít have any mothering skills. Iíve never been one so I have nothing to draw from, from life. But I certainly seem to be convincing some people that Iím his mother. I think I treat a lot of my friends like Iím their mother.
Because I tend to be a little bossy.
And that only comes from the fact that Iím not altogether sure of myself. And so I like to talk about mothers like that because mothers donít mean to be so bossy to their kids.
But theyíre kind of scared of their kids, so in order to hide the fear they come on very strong just like we all do in life. You know what I mean?
So mothers come in and say do as youíre told and theyíre really scared to death of you.
So weíre talking about Alec, but whatís it like working with Tina Fey?
Elaine Stritch: Tina Fey is hard, I havenít nailed her down yet. I hope I have a scene in the future thatíd give Tina and me an opportunity to really play a scene, really play a good comedy scene together because I have tremendous admiration for her.
I think thereís a human being in there thatís - that none of us have even seen yet. Do you understand what Iím talking about?
Because when someone is that funny and also a writer which is two talents kind of even just growling at each other, she canít give herself completely to the material because she - itís her material.
So sheís got to figure that out. And once she does - and she has. Iíve seen her do some very good work on 30 Rock. But - and maybe she thinks Iím judgmental about it because Iíve been doing it for so long.
But Iím not judgmental. Iím just fascinated. Iím fascinated with her talent. She has got talent all over the placeÖand her biggest problem, Iím sure sheíd admit this in a minute, is zeroing it in, focusing it on one thing at a time.
Of course. But let me tell you something, whatís sheís accomplishing day by day here in New York City in the television industry is really commendable, really - bravo, bravo, bravo.
Are you still trying to get Jack and Liz together?
Elaine Stritch: No, thereís no episode thatís all about that. No.
Not even compunction on your part to see your little boy end up with the right woman?
Elaine Stritch: No, I donít think she wants to end up with anybody.
If the truth be known - no Iím serious. I think Jackís at the bottom of every womanís, they get jealous.
You donít think so? You donít think women are jealous of their sons? then they get used to it and then they (top the wife), and then theyíre satisfied.
Did you have any resistance from your family about your career?
Elaine Stritch: No, not a bit. My family are very sophisticated and they had nothing to do with the theater. They had friends in the theater and they were sophisticated people so they took me to the theater.
And I donít know why, the stage just seemed to attract me because it was live and I love that. And - but the idea of doing television is another challenge for me.
And acting is acting. I donít see the difference. I play a part, I play a part. If a camera is on me, I make believe the camera is the audience. You know, who gives a shit? Iím not going to worry about that. Iím just going to play my part.
John Barrymore, who was a famous, very funny, brilliant actor - Iíll never forget the story about him when he asked - somebody asked him what acting was all about and he said whatís the play and whereís the stage.
And it comes down to as simple as that, and television is hard to do. Situation comedies, oh, theyíre so hard to do. Iíve talked to Tina about this and we certainly agree that itís awful hard to be funny in 19 minutes.
Do you still suffer from stage fright?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, sometimes. I think it all depends on how you feel, what your mental state is at that particular time, how much youíve rehearsed. And I think thatís the most important thing in show business is rehearsal.
What kind of advice would you give to an actor who is starting out now?
Elaine Stritch: Well we could say that everyday. You - call me tomorrow, Iíll tell you the worldís changed. Right?
So who knows? I donít want to get dramatic about that. But just put one foot in front of the other foot and behave yourself. And be good to people and respect them, and all the good things. Just be a good guy and the talent will take care of itself.
I think behavior is very important in any form of the arts. And, you show me a great artist and heís got a problem 99 times out of 100, right? So they got to work on that.
They got to work on - because nothing is any good unless you feel good is it, you know, unless youíve got your health.
Thatís why I want Alec Baldwin to lose 25 pounds...because heíll feel better and heíll even be funnier if thatís possible.
How much fun is it to be a thorn in Jackís side?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, the sharper the thorn the deeper it goes, the more I like it. Absolutely. And then itís a better scene.
Conflict is great acting material. You show me two people that are getting along and having a cup of tea, I donít want to watch that on television.
But show me somebody that - well they better have something to say if theyíre going to like each other.
But show me a conflict and Iíll tune in, especially if itís funny. And Tina Fey makes it funny. Fighting is boring unless Tina gets her pen - a hold of it and it takes on a less serious - it, nobody knows what comedy is anyway.
But I can have a rip-roaring fight with Alec Baldwin and the audience are in hysterics. So explain that.
But what a healthy thing to see that the fighting is so ridiculous that itís funny.
So the message could be try getting along maybe. I think if I got along with Alec Baldwin thereíd still be something funny about it.
Funny, ha-ha and funny peculiar.
More episodes in your future on 30 Rock?
Elaine: They have to get my availability. Iím glad you asked that because one thing I really want to do - itís a terrific job for me because I get to shoot in New York. I donít have to go to La-La Land.
So I can stay here at home and I donít have to travel. And thatís attractive. But what I want them to do and what I want Tina to do is to write an episode that includes Nathan Lane and myself.
Because Nathan is my other son who makes me laugh. I mean all Nathan and I do is laugh offstage about the fact heís playing my son but weíve never had an opportunity to get to it.
So I want a good script written about Alec and Nathan, and Tina and myself.
Did you get to sing at all in this episode?
Elaine Stritch: I did a little on the Christmas show. I sang Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire.
But itís a fantasy of Alec - of my sonís. He just sees me doing that. I donít really do it. But in essence, the truth is I really do it. And I had a - not an acting problem, but a very interesting challenge as - a little tiny challenge as an actress. I did not sing like I sing. I sang like Alec Baldwinís mother trying to sing.
So I rather like that about myself. Good for you, Elaine, I said when I got off.
What it was like to work with Rock Hudson when he was such a huge star?
Elaine Stritch: Oh great. Not a care in the world did I have, and not a brain in my head did I have either, because I thought it was perfectly acceptable to fall in love with Rock Hudson. And as far as Iím concerned, it was.
You know, what did I know?
He was a huge star and one of the best looking guys that ever lived, and a great kisser. I donít know anything beyond that, but he certainly knew how to kiss you goodnight.
So as far as I knew, he was perfectly all right. And gay meant, you know, a fun evening to me. Thatís all.
I didnít know what gay meant except that it was a fun evening. And so who knew? Who cared and who knew, or who knew and who cared?
Did you ever get to meet Ernest Hemingway?
Elaine Stritch: I met Ernest Hemingway a long, long time ago in the Floridita Restaurant in Cuba.
I went to his house and we got stoned out of our minds, just with alcohol not the hard stuff. The hardest drug I ever took was Dewers, Red Label. But we went to his house and we had the best time. I wish I could remember more of it.
But I did meet Ernest Hemingway.
Thatís one of the joys of being sober. If you have a good fortune in your life and you get to meet people like Ernest Hemingway, youíre there for it. You understand what I mean?
Thatís the best thing about sobriety. For the last 23 years, I know everything that Iíve done - repeat, everything.
That is a good thing.
Elaine Stritch: It is a good thing.
Itís a good thing most of the time. Some of the things I donít even want to remember sober.
What appealed to you about playing Colleen on 30 Rock?
Elaine Stritch: Who wouldnít? First of all, for, well a New York actress - for someone who works in the theater most of the time most of her life, I get to stay home which is something that sounds kind of funny coming from an actress.
But most actresses love to travel and go different places, and blah, blah, blah. I donít. But that has something to do with my age. And Iíd rather stay in New York and to do a series in New York is, you know, made in heaven. Itís great.
Whatís next in your career?
Elaine Stritch: I just got back from a tour. Every once in awhile I do a few nights here and there of Elaine Stritch at Liberty, the one woman show that I do. So I do that occasionally. Thatís about it. Thatís about all Iím doing at the moment.
And I just finished the Christmas 30 Rock, and hopefully Iím going to do more than the Christmas shows. I hope so, because I donít enjoy it.
I really donít enjoy it, but itís very satisfying as far as work is concerned. If I can get a good 30 Rock in me, itís good news.
For me, I mean, because itís the hardest thing in the world to do, is to do a sitcom and to be truly funny in 19 minutes. This is - no, seriously, itís hard stuff to do. So if you accomplish it, itís joyful. Itís really joyful.
So itís nice - I hear the Christmas show is really good, so that makes me so happy I canít tell you.
Is it harder sustaining a live show by yourself?
Elaine Stritch: Oh yes. I mean when I go out and do Elaine Stritch at Liberty, physically itís hard and itís a lot of movement, and a lot of singing and a lot - it taxes you.
But as far as satisfaction is concerned, if I can get through a sitcom I can do anything, anything because I donít care whether actors want to admit it or not. But it is, at the moment, the hardest form of comedy, I think. Thatís my opinion.