Alan Alda returns to ’30 Rock’ tonight, Dec. 9, as Milton, the father of Jack (Alec Baldwin). Alda, who has guested twice before, returns in the episode ‘Christmas Attack Zone’ in which Liz (Tina Fey) and Avery (Elizabeth Banks) apparently convince Jack to tell his mother (Elaine Stritch) two secrets – one of which involves his father.
In a conference call, Alda says Jack gets his mother and Milton together at a holiday dinner in a vengeful sort of way. “And he doesn’t expect what happens after that,” Alda teases, in what he calls a “backwards holiday story.”
Alda, who over the course of his career has been nominated for 33 Emmys and won six, says working on ’30 Rock’ gives him a similar feeling to his work on ‘M*A*S*H.’ “It’s a very collaborative company,” he gushes. “They are all supportive of one another. They’re very tuned into one another. Just the same way we were. And it’s a pleasure to see that.” He goes on to say, “They like to laugh and they like to gossip. And it’s just fun to be with them.”
As for his character, Milton, Alda loves the little things that make the character grow. Milton is especially affectionate toward his son, Alda says, and that drives Jack crazy. He says the writers are interested “in doing more than just the one joke thing. [They ] are really excellent.”
A man used to working behind the scenes, Alda reveals he’s relieved not to be directing ’30 Rock’ like he did in his ‘M*A*S*H’ days. “There’s an old joke that somebody is meeting Mother Teresa and telling her how wonderful she is. And she says, ‘Yeah, but what I really want to do is direct.’ But I did that already,” he says. “And for the experience itself, I don’t really need to do it anymore.” He says he is simply happy to come in and out of ’30 Rock.’
He says he was delighted when the producers called him up to play Baldwin’s father. As for Stritch, Alda admires her energy. He says she went out at night after shooting the show to do a Broadway musical – ‘A Little Night Music’ – doing what he calls two full time jobs. "She's remarkable," he says. "[That] takes a tremendous amount of energy."
As for Fey, he sees a little bit of himself in her work ethic. As an actor, creative consultant, writer and frequent director on 'M*A*S*H,' Alda would frequently act in, write and direct the same episode. He even created and wrote a separate sitcom – 'We'll Get By' – in the 70s during 'M*A*S*H''s heyday and did a handful of movies. What was his secret to the energy? "The only way I could deal with it was to not think about the other deadlines that were still hanging over my head. I wouldn't think about anything but what I was doing at the time. It's kind of good training for the rest of your life."
What amazes Alda about Fey, he says, is "she has a young child. And that's a full time job. It amazes me because she doesn't look as exhausted as I used to look. I'm filled with admiration for her." He says he marvels that she “can satirize. She can impersonate. She writes like a dream. And she's a wonderful actress."
On the subject of multi-tasking, Alda reveals a pet peeve of his. It drives him nuts, he says, when someone having a conversation with him – usually a younger person - is texting. “You know, if you’re going to talk, talk,” he says. “If you’re texting, text. You have to do one thing at a time and really do it. Otherwise you don’t even know you’re living. You don’t even know you’re alive. At least that’s the way I look at it.”
After a pause, he says, “Actually, I hope I said that right because I’m playing chess on the computer while we’re talking. Just kidding, just kidding.”
'30 Rock' airs on NBC Thursdays at 8:30 PM Eastern. This is the last new episode of 2010. It will return at 10 PM Eastern early next year.