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“I box, I march to Sousa music, I juggle, I dance, I swim, I play tennis, I do my podcast [Clear+Vivid], I act, I’m on Ray Donovan playing a part, I’m in Marriage Story,” says the legendary actor Alan Alda as we sit down at the New York offices of Alda Communication Training — or ACT — to record The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast.
We begin discussing his life since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. “Really, I’m more active than I used to be,” says the 83-year-old Alda, a 1994 inductee into the Television Hall of Fame and a 2019 recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award.
Alda is best known for his work on TV, having garnered 34 Emmy nominations, six of which resulted in wins. He became world famous as the star of TV’s immensely popular comedy series M*A*S*H, on which he played Dr. “Hawkeye” Pierce for 11 seasons spanning 1972 through 1983, and for which he received 25 Emmy nominations and five wins — three for acting, one for directing and one for writing, making him the first person to ever win Emmys in all three of those areas. He also became the first person to ever receive Emmy noms in a single year for acting, directing and writing, a hat trick that he pulled off four times. It’s something that only five other people — Louis C.K., Lena Dunham, Aziz Ansari, Donald Glover and Bill Hader — have ever done once.
His other Emmy nominations have recognized work in, among other shows, ER, The West Wing (for which he won) and 30 Rock. Meanwhile, on the big screen, he has starred in three Woody Allen films — 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1993’s Manhattan Murder Mystery and 1996’s Everyone Says I Love You — and garnered a best supporting actor Oscar nom for his work in 2004’s The Aviator, under the direction of Martin Scorsese.
In Marriage Story, which Noah Baumbach wrote and directed for Netflix, Alda plays Bert Spitz, the second divorce lawyer employed by Adam Driver’s Charlie Barber, a theater director who is being divorced by his wife Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson. “Noah does something that I don’t think has ever been done before, and it takes a lot of skill and nerve to do it: He wrote a story that chronicles a divorce, but it’s a love story,” Alda says. The actor, who has been married to Arlene Alda for 62 years, and who founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University a decade ago, adds, “[The marriage at the center of the film] is falling apart partly because they don’t communicate well, which is an appealing subject to me.”
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear.
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Alda discusses what it was like for him to grow up as the son of Robert Alda, an actor best known for originating the role of Sky Masterson in Broadway’s Guys and Dolls; how he had already begun to make his own name on Broadway when the opportunity to star on M*A*S*H came along, and how that impacted his life over the next decade-plus; why, post-M*A*S*H, he primarily focused on film parts, with occasional exceptions like his guest-starring turn on The West Wing (having previously turned down that show’s lead role); and why he so enjoyed playing a decent if also slightly incompetent divorce lawyer in Marriage Story.
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Sterling K. Brown