Here's The Thing

Here's The Thing

United States

In WNYC’s new podcast series, award-winning actor Alec Baldwin gives the listener unique entrée into the lives of artists, policy makers and performers. Alec sidesteps the predictable by taking listeners inside the dressing rooms, apartments, and offices of people such as comedian Chris Rock, political strategist Ed Rollins and Oscar winner Michael Douglas. Every two weeks, Alec pursues great conversations in unexpected places to find out what motivates his guests, how they feel about what they do and what keeps them up at night. Here’s The Thing: Listen to what happens when a man you think you know surprises you. Here's the Thing is produced by Emily Botein and Kathie Russo, with Jim Briggs, Wendy Dorr, Ed Herbstman, Melanie Hoopes, Ariana Pekary and Brian Cosgrove. Music supervision for radio shows provided, in part, by Cary LoGrande of Audiosocket. Sign up for the "Here's The Thing" with Alec Baldwin newsletter to get the latest on upcoming episodes of WNYC's newest podcast.


Gordon Lightfoot on Dylan, Neil Young, and Stompin' Tom Connors  

Over the course of a career that has lasted more than half a century, Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has achieved global stardom and exceptional influence. Bob Dylan’s a fan—he's said, “I can’t think of any [Lightfoot songs] I don’t like.” These songs—“Beautiful,” “Sundown,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” and many others—have been treasured by generations of popular musicians and listeners around the world. But Gordon Lightfoot was just one of many aspirants who moved to Toronto in the early 1960s to try their hand in the burgeoning folk music scene there. Lightfoot tells host Alec Baldwin about fitting a feeling to a melody, why he owes his first hit record to an exec's girlfriend, and how he wrote "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by pulling lines straight from the newspaper. 

Radio Host Bob Garfield on Trump and Telemarketing  

Each week, more than 400 radio stations across the country air "On The Media," a program that takes a hard look at the boldfaced names in the headlines—and the smaller names in the bylines. The program has won many awards for its role as a watchdog for journalistic accountability—including a Peabody, the highest honor in broadcast journalism. Recent episodes have investigated why it's difficult to report on prison strikes, shamed the editorializing of infamous “sting operation” videographer James O’Keefe, and pondered ExxonMobil's climate change research. The show's co-host, Bob Garfield, brings a skeptic's ear for opinion and an insider's knowledge of how the spin factory works: for 25 years, he keenly dissected commercials for Ad Age magazine. He tells host Alec Baldwin that, despite his mellifluous voice, he wasn't a shoe-in for radio, and explains why his outrage at telemarketers mirrors his indignation at being fed political bull. 

Starbucks' Howard Schultz Doesn't Sleep—But Don't Blame the Coffee  

Howard Schultz wasn't born into business. A Brooklyn boy whose father worked menial jobs to support the family, Schultz thought his way out would be through sport. That is, however, until he broke his jaw on the football field at 18 (an injury from which Schultz is still recovering). For the next three years, he made cold calls, a job he hated but which ultimately taught him about how to sell himself. He soon connected those selling chops with a small Seattle coffee roastery called Starbucks. He hoped to expand the chain to 100 stores; Starbucks now has 25,000 locations across the globe. Howard Schultz—who has been at the helm as CEO for most of the company's history—tells host Alec Baldwin that at the core of that success is a desire to build the kind of socially enlightened, employee-focused business that his father was never able to work for. 

View the Starbucks "Upstanders" series here.

Elliott Gould: Mash Notes on a Long Career  

Elliott Gould has lived a life in show business. He was just 12 when he started singing and dancing in a vaudeville routine in 1951. Dancing has been a fixture: Gould says he tangoed with his mother to "I Get Ideas" at his own bar mitzvah, perhaps hinting at the career-long mix of serious artistry and arch comedy (with a bit of outré sexual antics thrown in) that was to come. His breakout role came in the 1969 romp "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," but Gould says it was his dancer's mind—a fixation on repetition to perfection—that ultimately caught the awareness of director Robert Altman. The two achieved mutual career standouts with films like "M*A*S*H," "The Long Goodbye," and "California Split." The latter is a film about the dark side of gambling—Gould's own struggle with gambling addiction would later add a subtle depth to his role in the "Ocean's Eleven" franchise. Gould told host Alec Baldwin about all this and more at the TCM Classic Film Festival this past April, and opened up about his relationships with Donald Sutherland, his first girlfriend (and, for a time, wife) Barbra Streisand, Ginger Rogers, Jack Nicholson, Ben Affleck, and many others.

Iris Smyles Is Trying to Be a Human Again  

In Iris Smyles' new book "Dating Tips for the Unemployed," the main character 'Iris Smyles' embarks on a personal journey (modeled on Homer's "Odyssey") that involves plenty of emotional shipwrecks and failures to launch. The source material is closely drawn from the author's own off-center life. Smyles tells host Alec Baldwin about her preternaturally early interest in classic literature, details how and why she indulged her self-destructive streak, and explains why the five years she lived like a typing monk were the best of her life. "Who wants to be moderate at anything?" says Smyles, "That's so boring."


Kevin Kline Takes a Bow, Several Times  

Kevin Kline is one of the most acclaimed entertainers working today. So how did the kid from St. Louis end up with an Oscar, two Tony awards, and a career that has intersected with those of Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, John Cleese, and Kenneth Branagh, to name just a few? He says that, at Juilliard, the answer came in the form of a pair of tights and lots of dance practice, as well as a merciless culling of his midwestern elocution. Kline's career accelerated early: a cross-country tour with the soon-to-be renowned acting company founded by the great John Houseman led to Tony-decorated roles (three years apart) in "On the Twentieth Century" and "The Pirates of Penzance." His first film role soon followed, opposite Streep in "Sophie's Choice." Kline's stage and screen stock hasn't dipped since. He recently spoke with Alec Baldwin in front of a live audience at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, where he assessed some of his many marquee performances, and demonstrated the most important thing he learned at Juilliard: how to do a theatrical bow from every era since the Renaissance. 

Nuclear Safety Isn't Just About Who Has the Codes  

Gregory Jaczko didn't grow up aspiring to work on the country's central nuclear energy oversight body, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He had a freshly-minted Ph.D. in physics when he received a fellowship to learn about the political process in Washington, D.C. While there, he worked with Senators Ed Markey and Harry Reid, apprenticeships that prepared him for the contentious work of navigating nuclear industry interests—or pursuing countervailing aims. In fact, Jaczko says that when he was appointed to the NRC, he "arrived with a 'scarlet N'" (for "nuclear") because Markey and Reid have combative histories with the nuclear industry and lobby. Questions about Jaczko's leadership style dogged his tenure, including allegations of angry outbursts and abusive behavior. These resulted in a series of high-profile Congressional hearings; though a later investigation cleared him of wrongdoing, Jaczko resigned before the end of his term. But he tells host Alec Baldwin that after President Obama made him the youngest chairman in the history of the Commission, his primary aim was ensuring safety at the nation's aging and decaying nuclear energy sites—especially in the wake of the 2011 reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan.


Viggo Mortensen, From Warrior King to Captain Fantastic  

Viggo Mortensen became a global star as a valiant crusading king in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. But then he deftly complicated this virtuous image with a series of dark, dense character studies for the director David Cronenberg. And his latest role is perhaps his most complex yet. In "Captain Fantastic," Mortensen plays a father who raises his six children in the wilderness—then reassesses his convictions as this bucolic fantasy collapses. The fame that came with his "Lord of the Rings" role also gave Mortensen the freedom to exercise his wider artistic imagination: he's a distinguished author, poet, painter, and publisher. Mortensen tells host Alec Baldwin how he got his acting start in school playing the ass-end of a dragon, and explains how his eleven-year-old son convinced him to say yes to the role that would make him famous.


Michael Eisner Wants a Good Movie to End Quickly  

Michael Eisner started out in show business the same way everybody else does: by taking tickets at the studio door. But most ticket takers don't end up as epochal media magnates. Eisner rose to prominence at ABC as a protege of Barry Diller, helping to take the television network to the top of the ratings with programs like Roots and Happy Days. He jumped (also with Diller) to Paramount Pictures, and during his eight year stint as president and CEO, the studio produced hit film after hit film, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saturday Night Fever, Beverly Hills Cop, and many more. Eisner then spent the next two decades leading The Walt Disney Company, reinvigorating the animation studio with experiments like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and dozens of musical successes, starting with The Little Mermaid. But it wasn't just cartoons: Eisner vastly expanded the company's signature amusement parks, and spearheaded numerous media acquisitions, with Disney eventually absorbing ABC, ESPN, and launching cruise lines and sports teams. Eisner continues to experiment with new ideas and formats; his production company makes, among other things, a Netflix cartoon for adults about an alcoholic horse. Eisner walks host Alec Baldwin through his expansive film career, and explains how he views risk and reward.  


Joe Dallesandro Thought Warhol Made Soup  

Joe Dallesandro became famous as a shaggy-haired blond Adonis in the iconoclastic and transgressive Andy Warhol-produced films Flesh, Trash, and Heat, in which he helped to rewrite the rules for onscreen sexuality. He's name-checked in "Walk on the Wild Side," Lou Reed's most famous song, and that's Joe's pair of jeans on the cover of the 1971 Rolling Stones record Sticky Fingers. But, as he tells host Alec Baldwin, Dallesandro just wanted to run a pizza place. That was before a series of left turns brought him to the attention of one of the twentieth century's most influential taste makers — even if "Little Joe" didn't have a clue who Andy Warhol was at the time. 

Netflix's 'Making a Murderer' Makes a Star  

The massively popular Netflix series Making a Murderer explores the circumstances surrounding a homicide in small-town Wisconsin, and highlights the ways the criminal justice system failed defendants Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. Defense attorney Dean Strang became the show's unlikely hero, and internet obsessives turned him into a moral crusader and even a sex symbol. While Strang was wholly unprepared for his sudden popularity, he tells host Alec Baldwin he's glad the show is giving viewers a taste of how American justice really works outside of Hollywood tropes, and talks about what he thinks the Avery case really hinges on.

Listen to Alec Baldwin's conversation with Making a Murderer writers and directors Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi.

Michael Pollan Tried to Blow Up a Woodchuck  

Michael Pollan says that every writer has a "final question," an irreducible topic to which all their work tends. For Pollan, that topic has always been nature — specifically, the ways in which the natural world and humans have co-evolved to mutual benefit. So it's funny to hear Pollan talk about his failed attempt at incinerating an animal that was giving his garden a hard time. He tells host Alec Baldwin how this experience disabused him of the pastoral notions of nature found in Emerson and Thoreau, and goes on to talk about drunk elephants, his new Netflix series Cooked, the failed Bloomberg soda ban, and psychedelic drugs.


Anthony Weiner on Term Limits and Text Messages  

This interview was conducted in April 2016, prior to new reports that Anthony Weiner continued to be involved in explicit text and digital message exchanges.

Anthony Weiner is charismatic, full of ideas, quick on his feet — he's a natural politician. These personal strengths were well suited to governance during his stint in the New York City Council, and as a U.S. Representative in Washington. But his personal flaws became very public, and very visible, during a series of well-publicized sexting scandals. The professional fallout was swift in both instances: Weiner resigned his House seat, and later suspended his candidacy in the 2013 race for mayor of New York City. He talks to host Alec Baldwin about the ways in which an elected official has to publicly atone for private misconduct, and considers his next professional move. 

Ellie Kemper Gets Brain Freeze with Alec Baldwin  

Ellie Kemper leapt into pop culture consciousness in 2009 when she joined the cast of "The Office" during the show's fifth season. Her portrayal of earnest, perky receptionist Erin Hannon introduced viewers to Kemper's strongest weapon as an actress: her own effervescent personality. And Kemper's bright disposition is now front and center in the Tina Fey-created Netflix series "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." 

"I am naturally cheerful and sunny — not manic," Kemper tells host Alec Baldwin. "I think for an actress, I'm the most normal I've ever met."

She's also hysterically funny, and talks about her formative experiences learning improv comedy from Jon Hamm; her newfound love of Dick Cavett; and why a set of bathroom fixtures recently brought her to tears.

Mary Brosnahan on Homelessness in New York  

Mary Brosnahan recalls a trip she took to Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the height of The Troubles: she was 16, raised in a Detroit suburb, but here she saw soldiers deployed with rifles right in the city center. The trip politicized the young Brosnahan, even though the seed didn't sprout right away. She had wanted a career in the film industry, but a stint doing presidential advance work for Michael Dukakis reactivated the political animal, and conversations she had with homeless neighbors near Cooper Union suggested a focus. She took a job with Coalition for the Homeless, and quickly became its chief operating officer. In the more than twenty years since, she's been a tireless advocate for New York's homeless — a population that now surpasses 60,000. Brosnahan sketches the history of the chronic urban problem for host Alec Baldwin, and offers insight into what she's learned at the helm of a New York institution.


Cary Fukunaga Wanted to Be a Snowboarder  

Director Cary Fukunaga was born half-Japanese, half-Swedish. His works travel wide cultural distances, as well. He's told an immigrant story (Sin Nombre), created authentic British period drama (Jane Eyre), and explored gothic noir (True Detective). His latest film, Beasts of No Nation, travels to an African country of no name. And while he's got a great eye for the specifics of his locations, Fukunaga also studies the emotional landscapes of complicated characters. He tells host Alec Baldwin that he enjoys the conflict between the appearance of normalcy and a darker underlying reality.

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Steven Donziger: Oil and Its Aftermath  

In 1993, tens of thousands of native Ecuadorians filed a civil suit against oil giant Texaco, alleging that the corporation's activity in the country's north-east Lago Agrio oil fields resulted in the poisoning of drinking water, land toxicity, and biological defects and cancers among local communities. A young Harvard-trained lawyer named Steven Donziger first visited Ecuador in 1993 as part of the plaintiffs' legal team. After decades of litigation — still ongoing — Donziger has ultimately become the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' primary American legal counsel, as well as an outspoken critic of the legal tactics employed by Texaco (which was absorbed by Chevron in 2001). In 2011, Donziger won in Ecuador, resulting in a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron. But a federal judge in New York ruled that the judgment could not be enforced due to what he described as the “dishonest and corrupt” measures of Donziger’s team. Donziger is currently appealing that decision.





MSF's Joanne Liu Still Believes War Has Rules  

Joanne Liu is the the International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a non-governmental organization that administers humanitarian medical aid and assistance to war- and disaster-ridden areas. They don't just treat victims of bomb blasts or famine; MSF also makes public pronouncements about the political forces exacerbating oppressive conditions for innocent civilians. MSF's resolve to work in the world's most dangerous places has been tested lately. Last October, a U.S.-led airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, devastated a non-partisan hospital run by the organization, and killed dozens of people. And this February, at least seven people were killed after another airstrike hit an MSF-supported hospital in Syria's Idlib province.

Despite the blows her organization has incurred over the last year, Liu tells host Alec Baldwin she still believes that wars have rules about the treatment of non-combatants and civilians, and articulates MSF's role in addressing protracted political conflicts that compound injury to innocent people. 

Molly Ringwald: 'These Films No Longer Belong to Me'  

For movie fans who came of age in the 1980s, Molly Ringwald is the definitive "it" girl. As the creative inspiration for director John Hughes, Ringwald was the de facto center of generationally-significant films like 'The Breakfast Club,' 'Sixteen Candles,' and 'Pretty in Pink' (written by Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch). Her red hair and sardonic wit became cultural icons all their own, and made Ringwald one of the greatest teen stars in film history. But she tells host Alec Baldwin that these films, as important as they are to a whole generation of movie fans, are passing moments in her growth as an artist and an actor: she's written two books, acted in numerous films and television shows, and released a jazz record, 'Except Sometimes,' in 2013.  

Still Plenty of Fight in Mickey Rourke  

Mickey Rourke started boxing as a young man as a way to cope with a rough home and a rough neighborhood. He was undefeated as an amateur in the ring, before coming to New York to study at The Actors Studio. Working with renowned acting coach Sandra Seacat, Rourke found success on the screen in the 1980s, starring in The Pope of Greenwich Village, Body Heat, Angel Heart and others. But there was a string of disappointments, too — and a reputation for being a pugnacious collaborator — and Rourke disappeared from Hollywood for much of the 90s and early 2000s. He resurfaced in the acclaimed 2009 drama The Wrestler, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Rourke tells host Alec Baldwin about how he learned to throw punches in his childhood, and why boxing is still the source of his pride and his renewed on-set discipline. 

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