One-time GW student Alec Baldwin talked about impersonating the 45th president and the pressure to make money in Hollywood during Lisner event.
By Kristen Mitchell
When actor Alec Baldwin was asked to play President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live” in October, he was assured it would only be a six-week gig. After Mr. Trump was defeated in the presidential election, he was told, there would be no need for a recurring role.
Things didn’t pan out as expected, however. Voters elected Mr. Trump president, and Mr. Baldwin quickly became a staple of the late-night comedy show. The one-time George Washington University student talked about his role playing the divisive president at Lisner Auditorium Wednesday during “A Conversation with Alec Baldwin,” sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates.
Before debuting his impression of Mr. Trump, Mr. Baldwin spent hours studying videos of campaign speeches to learn the then-Republican presidential candidate’s mannerisms.
“He’s always striving for a stronger, better word that he never comes up with,” Mr. Baldwin said. “When you do Trump, I remember watching like ‘OK left eyebrow up, one eyebrow down, push your mouth out as far as you can like you’re trying to bite the face off the person you’re talking to.”
Mr. Baldwin’s impression has largely been a hit, but Mr. Trump criticized SNL and the caricature on Twitter, calling the show biased and Mr. Baldwin’s portrayal not funny. The Trump administration has played an instrumental role in creating SNL in recent months, Mr. Baldwin said.
“With Trump, we’re always waiting for something else to happen. Trump is the head writer of ‘Saturday Night Live’,” he said. “Trump and [press secretary Sean] Spicer, they’re a team.”
Mr. Baldwin attended GW for two years before transferring to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1979. George Washington President Steven Knapp introduced Mr. Baldwin and said even though the actor transferred, he considers him an alumnus.
Dr. Knapp applauded Mr. Baldwin’s “stellar career on stage and screen” and his new-found acclaim for his role on SNL.
GW President Steven Knapp welcomes the crowd to Lisner Auditorium, where actor Alec Baldwin talked about his new memoir and impersonating Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. (Photo courtesy of Norwood Photography)
Mr. Baldwin has met Mr. Trump a few times over the years but doesn’t know him well, he said. The real estate mogul was a well-known figure in New York City, but not a coveted dinner guest.
“Trump is kind of a strange flying Dutchman-like figure in New York social life. He’d come into an event, black tie, with his wife, his wife is really lovely, and take the pictures and leave,” Mr. Baldwin said. “New York society accepted Trump because in New York making a lot of money still matters for something.”
Mr. Baldwin has been outspoken about politics throughout his career. He has taken public positions on gun laws, reproductive rights and campaign finance reform. Taking on controversial topics has probably cost him in his career, he said.
“There’s a large group of people who, they don’t want in their mind to have their entertainment experience sullied by people’s political beliefs,” Mr. Baldwin said.
Despite his strong political beliefs, Mr. Baldwin said he doesn’t plan to run for office. He hopes the next president forgives crippling student loan debt, rebuilds America’s infrastructure and focuses on sustainable peace.
Mr. Baldwin advised young people in the arts not to get caught up chasing fame and money. He admitted to host Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage, that over the years he took roles he shouldn’t have for the money. Focusing on the wrong things can ruin a person’s career, he said.
Mr. Baldwin, who starred on the NBC show “30 Rock” for seven years, said all the best people in entertainment are gravitating toward television because it fosters creativity whereas movies have become too focused on making money. Investors are interested in big blockbuster films that mitigate any risk, he said.
“Not always, but usually, you kind of feel the hand of commerce at your throat whenever you’re shooting,” Mr. Baldwin said. “Every day you’re shooting the film, and when the films don’t work it’s problematic.”
Playing Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock” was the best role of his life, Mr. Baldwin said. The show was on the edge of being cancelled for years, but NBC was proud of it because people in the entertainment industry liked to watch it. Mr. Baldwin talks about his acting career and family life in his new memoir “Nevertheless,” published earlier this month.