"Real talent comes out of real fear," said actress Elaine Stritch about her long career, which includes her return to the Emmy-winning role of Colleen Donaghy on NBC's "30 Rock" this week. In the course of the chat, Stritch hit on such subjects as what she thinks would make Alec Baldwin even funnier, her thoughts on Tina Fey and what the 82-year old actress has learned during her successful time in the entertainment business.
Stritch began by stating that comedy is not fun at all and there's nothing funny in the work that goes into trying to make people laugh. "On the other side of the coin," she countered, "is the tremendous satisfaction that you get out of doing comedy well. It's more satisfying than 'Medea.' It's more satisfying than doing anything at all - is to play a scene that is comedy and do it right. There's nothing like the satisfaction of that."
It's no surprise, then, that Stritch is in awe of Tina Fey, the multiple Emmy-winner for "30 Rock" who created, stars in, writes and executive produces the sitcom. "I think there's a human being in there that none of us have even seen yet. Do you understand what I'm talking about? Because when someone is that funny and also a writer which is two talents kind of even just growling at each other... she can't give herself completely to the material because she - it's her material." Clearly aware of her outspokenness, Stritch added, "But I'm not judgmental. I'm just fascinated. I'm fascinated with her talent. She has got talent all over the place, you know what I mean? All over the place."
Playing the overbearing mother to Alec Baldwin, who also won an Emmy this year for his role of Jack Donaghy, Stritch was the first to admit that she doesn't pull from real life because she's never been a mother. She did say, however, that she does understand them. "I like to talk about mothers," she said, "because mothers don't mean to be so bossy to their kids. But they're kind of scared of their kids, so in order to hide the fear they come on very strong just like we all do in life. You know what I mean?"
Stritch also shared some incredibly strong not-so-maternal feelings she holds for her TV son. "I wish that there was some kind of a committee that sort of devoted some time and tried to understand women who are attracted to men who have nothing to do with their age because I'm old enough to be [Baldwin's] mother and that's meant as a pun but I guess it is because I play his mother. And I never think about that. I love playing Alec Baldwin's mother... but I have to admit that I don't care how old I am, I am really attracted to Alec Baldwin...I'm so attracted to him. I just - but it seems weird - my age seems weird. Why am I this old? You know what I mean? It's not working right. The chemistry is wrong. What the hell is going on here? And we laugh together and work together very, very well. And I'm just crazy about him and I'll never cause him any trouble because of these feelings that I have."
Despite her public crush on Baldwin, she also has some harsh words for him regarding eating and his weight. "Alec Baldwin should cut that out offstage. The only time anybody should allow him to eat at all is on camera because it doesn't get a laugh offstage. It gets a laugh onstage... nothing is any good unless you feel good... unless you've got your health. That's why I want Alec Baldwin to lose 25 pounds...because he'll feel better and he'll even be funnier if that's possible."
She continued to dispense advice (asked for or not) for Baldwin, who has been known to take his career and his craft very seriously. "All Alec Baldwin has to do in his life to have a really good life is just easy-fucking-does-it. You know what I mean... that's the best advice anybody could ever give to Alec Baldwin. Easy does it. Take it easy. The cameras are going to be there tomorrow."
Stritch also had some words of observation for Fey and her work ethic. "[Tina's] biggest problem, I'm sure she'd admit this in a minute, is, you know, zeroing it in, focusing it on one thing at a time." Before she could give more advice, however, she admitted that she has yet to figure out the talented Fey. "I can't nail her down. I haven't nailed her down yet. I hope I have a scene in the future that'd... give Tina and me an opportunity to really play a scene, really play a good comedy scene together because I have tremendous admiration for her." Despite her thoughts and suggestions, she came back around to gushing when she said, "Let me tell you something, what [Tina Fey is] accomplishing day by day here in New York City in the television industry is really commendable, really - bravo, bravo, bravo."
As for a future storyline for "30 Rock," Stritch offered a suggestion involving another Broadway vet who has appeared on "30 Rock" episodes as Baldwin's brother. "What I want Tina to do is to write an episode that includes Nathan Lane and myself. Because Nathan is my other son, which makes me laugh. I mean all Nathan and I do is laugh offstage about the fact he's playing my son but we've never had an opportunity to get to it. So I want a good script written about Alec and Nathan, and Tina and myself."
With Thursday's episode being a Christmas-themed episode, Stritch teased that she was able to do some singing in the episode but fans shouldn't expect her to sound the same as she normally does. "I did a little [singing] on the Christmas show. I sang 'Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire.' But it's a fantasy of Alec - of my son's. He just sees me doing that. I don't really do it. But in essence, the truth is I really do it. And I had a - not an acting problem, but a very interesting challenge as - a little tiny challenge as an actress. I did not sing like I sing. I sang like Alec Baldwin's mother trying to sing."
In talking about things she has learned that have served her well in her career, Stritch recounted, "John Barrymore, who was a famous, very funny, brilliant actor - I'll never forget the story about him when somebody asked him what acting was all about and he said what's the play and where's the stage. And... [what] it comes down to is as simple as that, and television is hard to do. Situation comedies, oh, they're so hard to do. I've talked to Tina about this and we certainly agree that it's awful hard to be funny in 19 minutes. I don't want to get dramatic about that. But just, you know, put one foot in front of the other foot and behave yourself. And, you know, be good to people and respect them, and all the good things. Just be a good guy and the talent will take care of itself."
Getting back to the fears involved in being a talented performer, Stritch admitted, "I'm getting over my fear and I'm admitting the fact that that's - there's one thing I do - there's many things that I do. But the one thing that I do very, very well, I'm a very good actress. So I can fool even Alec Baldwin. Okay?"
The Christmas episode of NBC's "30 Rock" airs Thursday at 9:30/8:30c.