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Interview: Elaine Stritch from ’30 Rock’

Interview: Elaine Stritch from ’30 Rock’


We had the pleasure of speaking with Elaine Stritch, who plays Jack’s mom on 30 Rock. She spoke to us about what it is like working with Alec Baldwin, her Broadway career, and more about the Mother’s Day episode.

What’s it like being Alec Baldwin’s mother?

Elaine Stritch: Well if I had my choice I would not – I wouldn’t mind working with Alec Baldwin, but the mother role – I’m kidding. It’s terrific. I’ll tell you what happened with Alec Baldwin and myself. This is a couple acting together just this side of heaven. He’s one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with in whole life. And I – I’m not overdoing it. I just think he’s about the best around today. So I got lucky. I got lucky and I enjoy it thoroughly.

There’s such great chemistry between the two of you. Is that what brings you back to continue to play this role or is there other factors involved?

Elaine Stritch: That’s the – a big factor that we do – I don’t – I can’t explain chemistry. I really can’t. I haven’t got a clue what it’s all about. It just happens. It’s like falling in love, you know? You don’t say – you don’t – you can’t explain why you fall in love or explain why it’s this particular person. All the – all the question, the whole questionnaire falling in love is out to lunch as far as I’m concerned.

But with this chemistry idea of actors who work together, you know, actually in (Meldanie), in Gone with the Wind, you know, Rhett and Scarlett, the casting of those parts, wow. It’s just happens. Who can put their – the reason, you know, you can’t put your finger on it. That’s what makes it exciting. And I feel that with Alec. And also it’s so much easier. You come on the set. You’ve learned your lines, you know, you hope. You hope you have. And you start out and it happens. It just – my reactions to him, he doesn’t talk about it. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed our – quote, our relationship. We don’t go there. We – I think neither one of us – I think we passed by the studio and went to 8th Avenue and had a drink. You know what I mean?

I know that’s what I did. So you’ll have to ask Alec. I think probably it’s a similar experience he had. I’m not knocking it, what’s his name at the Actor’s Studio? Well anyway, he paid me a great complement. One of the students at the studio one day, I was a guest at a discussion about acting.

And they said do you think Elaine Stritch does the method? And he said Elaine Stritch was born with the method. So she didn’t have to come here. I thought it was a lovely very amusing comment and I’ll never forget it.

How does Ms. Donaghy feel about the love triangle her son is in?

Elaine Stritch: Well she thinks he’s – you know, he’s got to catch up for God’s sakes. You know, grow up, grow up is what she’s telling him. And she loves him. This is the wonderful part. This is the wonderful part.

And it’s – and I’ve just been talking about Alec Baldwin. I mean he’s a real prize package to work with. I just couldn’t have done any better.

If I have to face the fact that I’m old enough of course to play the part and be his mother, I won’t say I live that aspect of it. But actually I do. Actually I do. I’m not one of the – well never mind. We won’t go into that. Anyway, it’s as I said, it’s a joy to work with him.

Well do you get some chances to mouth off to Julianne Moore or Elizabeth Banks?

Elaine Stritch: Well I think a little bit I did on the Mother’s Day I think I did. No, I usually work with either Tina or Alec. Oh and this time I got a chance to work with that devine character actor that, you know what – what is his name on the show? I can’t remember it. I know his name for real.

Jack McBrayer. Oh heaven, absolute heaven. I mean he really is funny and he’s legitimate and he’s real. He’s some actor. You’ll always find that at the bottom of a real comedian. You know, he’s an actor as well or first and foremost and actor. And then he chooses what he does. You know what I mean?

Well you talked a little bit about Jack and Alec. So what is it like for you working with Tina Fey?

Elaine Stritch: Well Tina is a trip. That’s the – that’s a good word for her. You don’t know where you’re going but you’re more than willing to get onboard. You know what I’m talking about? She is – she’s an original piece of work. She really is. And that is what is almost demanded today to be a full-fledged performer, star quality –all that — all that terrific mish-mash stuff. And she’s got it in spades. That’s all I can say about Tina.

And I think she’s enjoying it. I hope she is. And I know she’s scared to death. She wouldn’t have the kind of talent she has if she were not scared to death. So when she walks on to collect those Emmys as she’s so good at doing, she’s really basically scared to death. This is my opinion of Tina. This is my guess. And I think I’m right. But the audience never knows it until I tell them two weeks later. You know what I mean?

Away from 30 Rock, are there any roles you’re interested in taking on?

Elaine Stritch: Well for the past eight, nine years I’ve been playing myself. And I’m rather happy about it. I think I’m a good acting partner for me, you know? And I don’t have anybody else but me. I seem to do very well. There’s no room for any difference of opinions – nothing. I just do anything in the world I like up there. Of course I think I’ve been doing that all my life anyway.

But it’s a very simple way to perform and yet it’s the most difficult I think, the, you know, the one woman show. That’s really tough.

And I’m really getting enormous satisfaction of what I’m doing now at the Carlyle Hotel. It’s closed now but I did it – I opened in January in Elaine Stritch singing Sondheim one song at a time. And I – they – I love this expression. They said by popular demand they booked me two more weeks just these – the last two weeks we’ve just closed. And I honored Stephen Sondheim and did all his material. And, you know, when you have a writer like that it’s hard work but it’s so satisfying.

I’ve just had a wonderful time, talk about being scared to death. I think – I love that expression in the theater, still fooling them when my husband used to say that. And I think everybody’s husband who had anything on the ball used to say that. You know, how you doing? I’m still fooling them. I love that. Anyway that’s what I’m doing. I’m – the main thing I’m doing is I’m not fooling myself. I fess up to the fact that it’s the most difficult material I’ve ever done. And it gave me – it was a big success on Broadway when I introduced Sondheim’s stuff long ago in a musical called Company. And now to do my choice of anything of his that I want to do is thrilling. And the audience felt the same way. Ho, ho, ho. They really did. I’m bragging but I’m telling the truth.

Sondheim is absolutely brilliant.

Elaine Stritch: Let me tell you what his opening night wire was to me at the Carlyle. You will love it. It’s – I – good luck which made me laugh. And then he said, I will not be there tonight. So feel free to make up any lyrics that you – of your choice. You know, you can’t fail but to be good with someone with that kind of warmth and humor behind you. This is – this was one of the greatest opening night telegrams I’ve ever gotten in my life.

But needless to say, I did my best to stick to Sondheim.

About a year ago when you were doing 30 Rock you were kind of concerned about Alec’s health and his diet. How’s he doing?

Elaine Stritch: He works very hard at everything he does. And he’s very – I think he’s always on it. He’s not always successful but who is? But he works – he tries. God knows he tries.

He’s a very lovable fellow, a very lovable fellow. He’s not – I don’t think he’s aware of it, but he’s got an attitude. He’s got a look in his eyes. And every woman he looks at he says I’m very willing to take care of myself, but please help.

I think that’s a lovely invitation to women. I think women adore Alec Baldwin.

If Tina Fey ever wanted you to come on the show full-time, is that something you’d want to do?

Elaine Stritch: I consider I’m a – that I’m a running part as now. But I – no, I don’t think it’s a good thing to have her overkill for mother. I think she should come on once in a while. One or two or possibly three shows a season. That’s enough. That’s enough for me, but not just because I don’t want to do more. It’s enough because I think taste-wise it’s the best thing to do with her.

She comes on every once in a while, raises hell, you know, changes the whole atmosphere and leaves for a while. And I think that makes her not the boring mother, you know what I mean? She just floats into New York with her furs and diamonds and tries to straighten him out a little bit. And then she leaves. And I live that about the part. I like this because you want her. When is Colleen coming back? I love to hear that.

Like you mentioned before, Alec Baldwin, he has a way with women. He’s a good-looking man. He’s definitely charming. He’s got an abundance. But you’re his mom. I mean is there any moments and you’re like, “Oh man, that is a handsome man?”

Elaine Stritch: Well of course, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m, you know, I’m getting up in years. That doesn’t change anything in that department. Well, you have to behave yourself a little better than one would if I were, you know, a closer to his age. But he is a lovable guy — he really is. And humor up the whazoo. He’s so, so full of humor that it’s delightful to be around him. And he’s very smart. He’s very smart. And in many ways — I don’t want to go overboard praising Alec Baldwin, but many ways he’s a pain in the ass.

And now it is a Mother’s Day episode. And were there any other moms on or did you kind of take on the mom role?

Elaine Stritch: Everybody’s mom came to visit them at NBC, absolutely. They had everybody’s mother, not just Alec’s. And there was a nice show about it at NBC. And all the mother’s got together. And it was a cute idea for the script I thought. I’m sure it’ll – it played well. I hear good things about it.

And what about on set? Like did anybody kind of bring cupcakes or like was there any kind of special mom thing going on even like behind the scenes and stuff?

Elaine Stritch: Well of course, that’s what it’s all about or it’s what’s going on behind the scenes. Patti Lupone is on the show as you probably all know. And all of their mothers are – I mean they’re the mothers that visit the characters on 30 Rock.

What does Jack have planned for Colleen on Mother’s Day?

Elaine Stritch: Well just another stab at trying to get her to stay out of his life. And he’s involved in a lot of romantic bullshit. And she tries to straighten him out. And I don’t think he wants her to try to straighten him out.

But as it turns out he’s very grateful because she – she’s very straight-forward with him. And they really have a wonderful relationship. And they really love each other very, very deeply, I’m sure of that, not to get too serious about 30 Rock.

But, you know, real comedy comes out of reality, you know? I always say if you can’t give a reason for the banana peel being in the alley, then don’t have the comic trip over – slide over it. Do you understand what I mean? First explain how the banana peel got there quickly. And then there’s a reason for all the comedy. And that’s good in 30 Rock because they usually do that.

You’ve won three Emmys. You’ve won a Tony. What do awards like that mean to you?

Elaine Stritch: A great deal because it demands attention. It – I work very hard and I don’t always get quick approval. I don’t have a great talent for explaining myself in acting because I can’t explain it. So it’s very hard for me to explain it to you. And I should have to.

So when I suddenly see that I’m approved by my peers and people like me and I win prizes, my God, who doesn’t want to do that? You know, lying up a storm if they tell you oh no, that doesn’t mean anything to me, you know.

Would you like to host Saturday Night Live?

Elaine Stritch: Well it would scare the hell out of me. But I dig challenges, you know. I just did an evening at Sondheim. So I have a feeling I could do anything if I got through that, you know?

You’ve accomplished so much in your career. Are there any new goals you wish to obtain?

Elaine Stritch: The next one I get to do I hope I attain everything I want to. But I don’t know any specific thing to tell you that I – I would like to do a serious play. I would like to do a serious great play — a really good play as in Edward Albee, as in, you know, that kind of writing.

Well I’ve done two of them. I love Edward’s writings. But, you know, any writing. I’d love to do a Sam Shepard play but he just doesn’t call me. I don’t understand what’s the matter with him. Now that’s been said.

And you’ve also played wide variety of characters over the years. Do people expect you to resemble any of these characters when they stop you on the street?

Elaine Stritch: I don’t know what they expect when they stop me on the street. They think I’m insane. But they believe me. So maybe life is just insane. But they seem to think that I’m unusual. And I love that. And I’m dangerous. My favorite review of all time was when – I remember telling Tina this and she knew exactly what I was talking about.

My favorite review was Elaine Stritch is the most dangerous actress on Broadway. I could have added to that review and said she’s doesn’t make a lot of money but she’s dangerous. So, you know, work it out.

You’ve done programs such as the Cosby Show where you played Ms. McGee.

Elaine Stritch: Oh I was very good on the Cosby Show. And I adored him. He’s very similar to how I feel about Alec Baldwin, Cosby. Cosby is right up my alley. We get along great together in front of a camera. And I’d love to do a play with him. I think he’s a really smashing actor.

Do you find a difference between working on a show with a live audience such as the Cosby Show and 30 Rock?

Elaine Stritch: Oh I love the studio audience because I’m in the theater and I – laughs feed me, keep me going, make me understand the humor that I’m playing more. And you get better with each performance. But I do love a live audience. But I get along, you know, it’s like that song, I get along without you very well except. And then you get a long list of expects. But it’s okay. It’s okay.

If you’re an actor, you learn how to deal with these problems of not having the live audience as opposed to having the live audience. You play your part. You focus. You try to concentrate and mean what you say and say what you mean. And the laughs will come, I – trust me. They will come. When you start trying to make people laugh you’re in big trouble.

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