IrAlan Alda finds a spark of humour in
l the unlikeliest ofsituations. Faced
l with any stressful moment his
: natural reaction is to make ’em laugh. It’s almost more of an affliction than a gift. ‘My wife had an operation once and was in stitches. In my anxiety about her condition I kept trying to make her laugh. She was in pain from trying to laugh and the more she was in pain the more anxious I became and the more I made her laugh. This is one sick person we‘re talking about.’
Alda is in town to promote his new film Sweet Liberty. a sweet-natured comedy-drama about love. life and the pursuit of happiness. As he settles down for a press conference an unseen hand unexpectedly dims the lights and he’s off again. ‘Can you speak louder?‘ he demands of his first questioner. ‘I‘m very tired and I seem to be losing the power of sight.‘
‘one sick man’
Born Alphonso D‘Aruzzo Jr. (‘My real name? My real name is Cary Grant.‘) Alda is still instantly recognised as M‘A *S*H’s Hawkeye Pierce. During eleven years of television’s top-rated show he won mantelpieces worth of awards including honours for writing, directing and performing. However, his prolific career also includes Broadway triumphs. a powerful TV movie as death-row killer Caryl Chessman and an impressive array of movies including The FourSeasons which was one of the top five grossing movies of its year. Throughout it all comedy has been king. ‘How did I choose comedy? That‘s like asking someone how they
chose to be Jack the Ripper. lsaw an ad in the paper and thought. I could dothat‘
Alda plays smalltown professor Michael Burgess in Sweet Liberty.
His normal. placid summer routine is 5 ofour [oving and co-opcrating with
irrevocably disrupted by the local encampment of a visiting movie company who have arrived to film his bestselling tome on the American revolution. He envisages a stirring romantic epic about the birth of a nation. Hollywood. with typical finesse. wants a brash. vulgar costume comedy for the teen set. As these artistic differences unfold in the background. Alda uses the foreground to explore his favourite and enduring preoccupation - human relationships. Despite its fun-filled ridiculing of a familiar Hollywood mentality Alda insists that the film is not an act of belated revenge. ‘What
interests me is not how hard it is fora ?
writer versus the studio but how hard it is for one human being to love someone else. It‘s not a movie about movies. that‘s just a side dish. Ifyou were looking for themes in my films
then I think I‘m trying to understand i
the regrettable things that we all do to each other. They all ask questions. although there are no answers. Four Seasons asked why can't we be
‘ friends with people we can't live
1 without? Sweet Liberty is demanding
Why can't we agree on reality? Illusrons and fantasies get in the way ,
5 The List 19 Sep‘tl— 2 Oct
; each other. My character doesn’t
; understand that he‘s falling in love with an illusion.’Alda himself retains i few illusions about the film industry
; having experienced both sides of the Hollywood success/failure coin. ‘l
made eight movies before I did
I M‘A ‘S*H. but they were all duds.‘
M‘A ‘S‘H provided the springboard j forthe fruition ofhis
l second-time-around film career.
3 During the annual production hiatus ; he made films like California Suite
: and Same Time. Next Year before embarking on more personal projects like TheSeduetion ofJoe
Tynan. The seemingly effortless
sweet but shrewd
: transition from small to large screen i was far from inevitable. ‘There are a ' lot of people who were successful on ' tv and then went into the movies -
1 Clint Eastwood. Goldie Hawn. Burt : Reynolds and now the Saturday Night Live people like Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy. It‘s not such a big deal. For a long time [suppose there was a feeling that you can‘t crossover; just because you had a big audience every week on television
Best known as M *A *S*H’s Hawkeye, off-screen, Alan Alda views life through an incorrigible sense of humour. He talks about how and why he uses it in his new film Sweet Liberty which opens in
Glasgow and Edinburgh this month.
' \ there was no guarantee that if they stuck your name on a theatre marquee they'd have a big hit. My feeling on that is that no-one‘s name guarantees a hit. Movies have their series too and even ifClint Eastwood does an uncharacteristic movie it
‘ goes down the tube.‘
The years on M*A *S‘H provided Alda with an undreamt of testing
ground for future career aspirations
and he wound up writing and directing some award-winning episodes. The acquired skills are now applied exclusively to films but are no less abundant. Sweet Liberty was made for Alda‘s own company and employs him as writer. director and actor. perhaps indicating just a suggestion oframpant megalomania? ‘prower wasn‘t good Mrs Marcos wouldn't have shoes. I just love doing all three things. I am kind of lazy but I am afraid ofbeing lazy so I work harder.’
Well known as one of the industry‘s workaholics. Alda used to work on M‘A "S*H in California during the week and commute to his New Jersey home and family at weekends. Now he has finally begun to slow down. Sweet Liberty
occupied over two years of his time and was provoked by one of the most frantic and unfunny periods of his life. ‘About three years ago I was trying a tv series out of Four Seasons. Both of my parents were ill in two different hospitals and I was working on jokes between hospitals. It was the worst year of my life and I thought this is so miserable there must be a funny movie in it!‘
During one visit to his ailing father, who died this year. Alda was approached by a nurse who offered him a photograph and a curriculum vitae. Its a moment he makes capital
.of in Sweet Liberty. Humour is all things to him - a weapon. a defence and a salvation. His humour however is pointed and perceptive but never malicious as befits an ineffably decent fellow forever pigeonholed as Mr. Nice Guy. It’s an image that seems to irritate him. ‘I hate it. Every time they say my name they put a dash and then Mr. Nice Guy. What they mean is Mr. Softie. I don’t think they mean something decent by it. they mean something pejorative. It just doesn’t sound like a regular person to me.’
‘not a movie about movies’
Nice. or just normal. Alda has certainly been a caring and sensitive member of the creative community. working hard for the feminist cause and speaking out on sensitive issues. However he would like it to be known that he is no pushover but is ever ready to enter the legal arena to protect his good name. He also refuses to sign autographs in a bid to retain a semblance of normality. A sweet but shrewd cookie then.
Alda clocked up his half century this year and there would appear to be few challenges remainingfor the man who once shared a variety bill with burlesque stripper Rose La Rose and later emerged the recipient ofseven People‘s Choice awards, six Golden Globes and four Emmys. The smell of the greasepaint and roar ofthe crowd still tempt the ham in him. ‘I‘d like to get back to the stage. When I go to a play I get envious. I went to see A Little Night Music three times because I loved it so much. The third time I had this fantasy that the stage manager would come forward and say. “Our lead actor is ill. is there an actor in the house?” I‘d have jumped up and said. “I‘ll do it. I'lldo it. I know all the songs!“‘
At the moment he is writing a new film script. A straight. dramatic piece. He is rather tickled by the notion that his character is very different — a bad guy. ‘Do you think I will be accepted as a bad guy? Can I get away with it?‘ he asks eagerly. then pauses. ‘I’m too old to worry about it. I may only have another forty or fifty years left. I ought to
have as much fun as I can.‘ With his sense ofhumour it seems unavoidable.
Sweet Liberty opens on 26 September at the Dominion, Edinburgh and the ABC, Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.