Alan Alda: The PopWatch interview
”My mother didn’t try to stab my father until I was six, but she must have shown signs of oddness before that.” That’s the first sentence of Alan Alda’s surprising and delightful new memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (Random House). While the book touches on some of his career highlights (M*A*S*H most prominently among them), there’s almost no celebrity gossip, just anecdotes from his colorful life — some funny, some bleak, all fascinating. (You can read the first chapter and hear Alda discuss the book at www.alanaldabook.com.)
Never‘s publication culminates a banner year for the 69-year-old actor/writer/director, including an Oscar nomination (for The Aviator), a Tony nomination (for Glengarry Glen Ross) and an Emmy nomination for The West Wing, (above, with Brett Cullen, who plays his running mate) where his character Arnold Vinick’s candidacy for president is heating up. With West Wing‘s new season beginning this weekend (yep, it’s moved to Sundays at 8), this was a good time for Alda to phone PopWatch to talk about his current hot streak.
What do you want to see happen on The West Wing? Executive Producer John Wells told Entertainment Weekly that even he doesn’t know who’s going to win the election.
They really are telling people that. I guess that’s true unless they’re really good at keeping secrets the way various administrations do, by putting out false information. All I’m looking forward to is their coming up with these great stories. The stories are surprisingly rich and dealing with subjects that I never thought I’d see on television. They’re very real questions about the way things work. And not in any way partisan. They’re really talking about the difficulties of a big country like this with many interests, finding its way, finding a consensus so that things can improve. I think it’s a really important program.
What was going through your mind the other night when the cameracaught you tearing up your Emmy speech when you lost to William Shatner?
I knew the camera was on me. I was trying to be funny.
It reminded me of how, in 1979, you did a cartwheel on the way to the podium when you won an Emmy for writing a M*A*S*H episode.
That was unplanned. That was spontaneous. When I was 8 years old, Iwanted to be a writer, and I’ve been working on that ever since. When Igot recognized as a writer, when I got the Emmy, I was more excitedthan the Emmys I had gotten as an actor.
Do you think you don’t get enough credit for your writing?
I get plenty of credit. I get enough.
It seems to me you don’t get enough credit for playing characters who are flawed or evil.
At least half of the people I’ve played are flawed or really bad, butmost of them haven’t been in pieces that were hits. People have onlybecome aware lately, with things like The Aviator. Actually,Hawkeye was much more flawed than people realized. You wouldn’t want tospend an awful lot of time with a smartaleck like that.
How do you explain all the awards recognition you garnered this year?
Who knows? It’s a good idea not to spend too much energy trying tofigure it out. Nobody knows why waves crest and things click. All I dois look for things that interest me and do the best I can. It’s notlike manufacturing cars or figuring out hemline lengths. To me, this isan art, and it’s run more like an art than a business. I don’tcalculate it. I ride it.
What image of yourself would you like people to get from Never Have Your Dog Stuffed?
It’s not an epitaph. I felt I could look back at my life and get a goodstory out of it. It’s a picture of somebody trying to figure thingsout. I’m not trying to create some impression about myself. Thatdoesn’t interest me. I’ve never tried to manipulate my image.
How did you sell to Random House a book with so little celebrity dish?
I think they saw from the beginning that I wanted to do a piece ofwriting. I didn’t want to give information about my career. I didn’twant to write a résumé. They understood I had no interest in dishinganybody.
What would you like people to take from this book?
It’s certainly no advice. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is really advice to myself, a reminder to myself not to avoid change or uncertainty, but to go with it, to surf into change.
What has the response from readers been like?
The thing I really love is when people tell me how they laughed atsomething or were moved by something. I’m getting that a lot frompeople, and that’s one of the reasons that this is one of the happiesttimes for me professionally. This is the culmination of a boyhood dreamcome true.