'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Buzz Aldrin ('Apollo 11')

Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. Lunar Module Pilot
Nasa/Getty Images

"I think all the people that were able to dust off things and find these films are just to be congratulated," says American hero Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, in reference to Apollo 11, Todd Douglas Miller's acclaimed documentary feature for CNN Films comprised largely of never-before-seen footage and audio from the eponymous 1969 NASA mission involving Aldrin, Michael Collins and the late Neil Armstrong, as we record an episode of The Hollywod Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast.

51 years after the moon landing, which was described by The New York Times as "the most extraordinary feat in human history," footage shot by Aldrin and Collins that was included in Apollo 11 has unexpectedly brought the duo a shared Emmy nomination in the category of best cinematography for a nonfiction program. Aldrin, who turned 90 in January, considers Apollo 11 to be the best film ever made about space, but downplays his own contributions to it, saying that if he winds up with a statuette on Sept. 14 (the first night of this year's five-night, all-virtual Creative Arts Emmy Awards), "I'll consider myself [an] awardee for the space program."

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LISTEN: You can hear the Aldrin interview below starting at 27:32, following a conversation with Apollo 11's Emmy-nominated director and editor, Todd Douglas Miller.

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, Elton John, 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, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Keira Knightley, David Letterman, Natalie Portman, Hugh Jackman, Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Hart, Carey MulliganSeth MacFarlaneAmy Adams, Trevor Noah, Julia Roberts, Jake Gyllenhaal, Glenn Close, James Corden, Cate Blanchett, Sacha Baron Cohen, Greta Gerwig, Conan O'Brien and Samantha Bee.
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Aldrin, who was born Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr. in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, is the son of a trailblazing aviator and a homemaker. He graduated from West Point, third in the class of 1951. He served as a fighter jet pilot in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, participating in 66 combat missions and destroying two enemy aircraft. And he then returned stateside and earned a doctor of science degree from M.I.T. in January 1963, writing his thesis on manned orbital rendezvous with the hope that it might help him to one day become an astronaut, like his friend Ed White, at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which had been established in 1958.

Sure enough, in October 1963, he was (like Collins) part of the third group of astronauts invited by NASA to join the space program. His contributions to NASA over the next eight years were numerous and varied, from pioneering underwatering training methods to establishing a record for time spent walking in space during a single mission (five-and-a-half hours, during the November 1966 Gemini 12 mission, the last of the Gemini missions that paved the way for the Apollo missions). But he is, of course, best known for Apollo 11, for which, at the age of 39, he served as lunar module pilot and, with a then-unprecedented audience of 600 million people watching on TV around the world, became the second of only 12 people in history (all American males) to walk on the Moon (a mere 20 minutes after the first, Armstrong).

Armstrong's first words on the Moon are famous: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin's first words are less widely remembered, but poetic in their own right — in response to Armstrong saying "Isn't that something! Magnificent sight out here," Aldrin responded, "Magnificent desolation." Aldrin now explains that he wasn't disappointed with what he found at the end of their long journey; just merely stating facts. "I don't really think we could have found any spot on Earth more desolate than Tranquility Base was," he emphasizes.

Aldrin was hailed as a hero upon his return from the Moon (he and his colleagues were presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. Richard Nixon and embarked on a 45-day/27-city goodwill tour) and his retirement from NASA in 1971 (having accumulated 12 days, 1 hour and 53 minutes in space and 7 hours and 52 minutes of spacewalking). But in the years thereafter, he experienced severe depression — like his mother (whose maiden name happened to be Moon), who had taken her own life a year before Apollo 11, and her father, who had also committed suicide — which led to alcoholism.

"I think there is some kind of a frustration in not knowing exactly what to do and feeling confident about moving in that direction — a degree of loneliness and irritation," Aldrin reflects. "And once you start down the path of trying to get sober, you find that that's not as easy as you thought." But, he adds, "I've got 41, 42 years invested now in sobriety," noting, "I'm more proud of that than I am of how many dollars I have invested in my bank accounts."

Today, Aldrin — who has been thrice married and divorced, and is the father of three children — remains highly engaged with life and space. "Somehow I missed that milestone in life called 'retirement,'" he says with a chuckle. He was an invited guest at the State of the Union address in January 2019, receiving a standing ovation. In March 2020, when Americans began to quarantine, he had more experience than most at doing so, having spent 21 days isolated from others (except Armstrong and Collins) upon returning from the Moon. And he has been carefully monitoring the latest developments in commercial space exploration, hoping that a mission to Mars is not too far in the future. "I am very impressed with Elon Musk's SpaceX Starship refueling capabilities for going to the Moon and going to Mars," he says, adding, "I think Elon Musk, with his Starship, is way ahead of [Jeff] Bezos right now."