Spring 2019

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A t the SAG Awards ceremony on Jan. 27, actor, director, writer and communicator Alan Alda was presented the SAG Life Achievement Award for his professional and philanthropic accomplishments. SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris sat down with Alda for a career retrospective. GC: Most people recognize you from M*A*S*H, so I'm going to start with M*A*S*H. In preparation for coming together, I watched the final episode. You helped to write that and you directed, right? Did you always want to be a writer? AA: I wanted to be a writer [at age 8] before I wanted to be an actor. My father had been in burlesque, and he had stacks of burlesque sketches. GC: Your father was in M*A*S*H with you. AA: Yeah, twice; I wrote a show for him. That was wonderful because my father … liked to write, too. So when I told him the idea of the show that I was doing, he said, "Yeah, I got a great idea. They go up to an aid station and they're bombed. And you lose the use of one arm, and I lose the use of the other arm and we have to operate on a guy." And I thought that's the worst idea I ever heard. This is his Tin Pan Alley personality coming out. What a corny idea. And my next thought was, give the guy a break. Maybe it is a good idea. Just because it sounds corny, maybe you can make it work. Well, I don't know if it's not corny or not, but I wrote that in and we shot the show, and what was extraordinary was it was a father-and-son moment. We were two hands on two different bodies acting as one, and that was me and my father. GC: So M*A*S*H was on for 11 years. How did you come to the finish of the show? AA: It came a lot from me, because I thought we were still doing our best most of the time. But it looked like before long, we'd be heading downhill. We could have gone on more; we would have enjoyed it. But we were also too old for the characters we were playing. Those people were in their 20s. GC: When you said goodbye on that last day, did you stay connected to your fellow castmates? AA: Yeah, we have dinner at least once a year. We're in touch all the time by email. And I have a podcast called Clear+Vivid, which is about communicating and relating. And I learned things when we did M*A*S*H about relating, as a person and as an actor. GC: What did you learn? AA: Well, we didn't do what a lot of actors do between shots, go over the lines a little bit and then disappear into the dressing room while they light the set for your next scene. We sat in a circle of chairs and made fun of each other for hours at a time. We played word games and came up with stupid questions. Well, people gravitated to it because it was so much fun. But what would happen was — and why it was an important acting lesson for me — was that that connection we established sitting in the chairs was as people, not as actors. We would go over the lines a little bit, but that wasn't the main thing that was valuable to us. The main thing was this contact, person to person, reading 56 SAG-AFTRA | Spring 2019 | Actor to Actor with Alan Alda with finish of the show? before long, we'd be Alan Alda with his Life Achievement Award GREGG DEGUIRE/GETTY IMAGES

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