Alec Baldwin’s podcast, “Here’s the Thing,” is one of the best interview series out there. I’m just fascinated with the guy who provides a blueprint of a well-done interview and here’s why.
1. He comes to the studio absolutely prepared for the guest. If it’s a show business colleague, he probably knows the person but still has done his research on the guest’s work. Often, as in the case of Dick Cavett, he says, “I’ve seen all your shows,” and then references several. Because of that, they have a good talk about Sir Lawrence Olivier, an extended chat about Marlon Brando with insights you’d get nowhere else.
2. He relates to the guest. Again, with Dick Cavett, they talk about working while enduring emotional issues and then talk about Cavett’s period of depression.
3. Baldwin is honest. When talking with Jerry Seinfeld, he asks, with mild disbelief, “You’ve never been short with a person? Seinfeld says no, never, and Baldwin says with naked winsomeness, “I wish I could say the same thing.” It’s a reference to his famous temper but the comment is real and heartfelt, and we have brief glimpse into his own life and regrets.
4. He’s funny. He interviews novelist Erica Jong and her writer daughter. The two are close but have different views of life and are headstrong. In one segment when they begin arguing about feminist issues, Badwin breaks in at the perfect moment shouting “We’re going to a commercial break brought to you by Victoria’s Secret!”
5. He’s passionate. At times, he wants to know something so badly he talks over the guest and drives in his question, forcing the guest to new and often uncharted territory. He does this several times with Julie Andrews, who at times reveals her devotion to her family, her vaudeville roots, her rebellion against her Mary Poppins image, and, at times, her polite insistence on finishing her thought.
6. He’s modest. At different times guests will refer to Baldwin’s acting skills. Baldwin brushes them aside with a polite thank you and returns to his questions. He’s not there for himself . He’s focused on the guest.
7. In every interview he seems to get to a core truth of the artist. Musician Herb Alpert says at one point, “There’s something about being an artist. . . . When you’re doing it you’re in the exact moment of your life.”
8. He’s passionate about getting to the root of the person’s ambition. In his interviews with Brian Williams ( March 4, 2013) , they talk about Williams’ early years, his drive, living in poverty and eating Spam sandwiches. But he also gets to the person’s true loves, as well. Williams spends more time talking about his wife and raving about his daughter than he does interviewing several presidents.
This interview is fascinating in retrospect because Williams does reference his “experience” in being in a Chinook helicopter that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire in Iraq in 2003, which has gotten him into trouble, but throughout the interview he comes across as a down-to-earth, hard working professional devoted to his profession and his craft. You can’t dismiss his sincerity and humility.
9. Baldwin uses whatever he can to show that he can relate to the interviewee. In some cases, it’s similar childhoods, sometimes raising a daughter. With Billy Joel they compare their respective high profile divorces from beautiful women.
In all the interviews Baldwin is knowledgeable, passionate, and in pursuit of what makes the artist, journalist, writer, policy maker, tick.
He’s always after what makes that person that person.
10. What really cemented my respect was Baldwin’s interview with policing experts Joe Eterno and David Kennedy. Baldwin’s knowledge and passion are present but he rightly steps back and lets the men talk. They are two of the best interviews I’ve ever heard on the subject of 21st century policing, human rights, the Constitution and the relationship of police and community.
Baldwin combines research, talent, curiosity and passion. Each show is lively, honest, entertaining and bursting with revelations and insights — about the interviewee and occasionally the interviewer.
I’d love to interview him sometime about his technique.