When it was announced last year that Alec Baldwin would be parodying then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, many observers scratched their heads.
After all, longtime SNL actor Darrell Hammond had done a well-received Trump impersonation for years, and while Baldwin has hosted the show more times than anyone else, it was a risky move for producers to give such a prominent role to someone who wasn’t a cast member.
It turns out to be the best decision SNL has made in years. The show is currently enjoying its highest ratings in over 20 years, and is rolling out plans for a half-hour Weekend Update spin-off show that will premiere in prime time on Thursday, August 10.
Baldwin was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air on Wednesday, and in addition to talking about the success of his hit animated movie The Boss Baby and his new memoir, Nevertheless, the actor revealed to host Terry Gross the secret behind his savage portrayal of our commander-in-chief.
“I always say the same stupid thing to myself,” Baldwin told Gross. “I say, ‘Left eyebrow up, right eyebrow down, stick your mouth out as far as you can, like you're trying to bite somebody's nose off, and kind of growl with that irritability.' ”
One thing Baldwin said he locks on to during his SNL segments is that Trump, with all his private golf courses and gold-plated bathrooms, doesn’t appear to ever be having any fun.
“He doesn't shut up about how rich he is. He doesn't stop talking about how much money he has, and how much privilege he has, and he just seems miserable,” Baldwin said. “If he's an advertisement for wealth and privilege, then, good God, I think it's terrible.”
Baldwin also took notice of the cadence of how Trump speaks and developed a backstory that he uses to explain the president’s many pauses and sputters during his speeches.
“He was always straining to find a stronger, better word in his language … and never found it,” Baldwin said. “You see him digging in some bin, he’s like in a filing room looking for another word. … I think he has a glossary of about 200 words.”
Despite the popularity of his portrayal of the president on the show, Baldwin doesn’t even think he does the best Trump impersonation.
“I think other people can do Trump more deftly than I can,” Baldwin said, noting that doing the impersonation live in front of a studio audience requires sacrificing authenticity in favor of a larger-than-live presentation.
“It’s kind of the Macy’s Day Parade of Trump, it’s a very larger-than-life thing,” Baldwin said.
Regardless of his opinion of the impersonation, his ruthless portrayal of a miserable president in over his head has certainly caught Trump’s attention, who has criticized the show and Baldwin multiple times on Twitter.
Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me.Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2016
I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show - nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
Just tried watching Saturday Night Live - unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can't get any worse. Sad
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016
Baldwin, who has offered to stop doing his Trump impersonation if the president releases his tax returns, thinks it’s ridiculous that the president of the United States is taking time out of his busy schedule to respond to a show that’s making fun of him.
“I think it's absurd that he would be doing that in the direction of anybody — any kind of comedy programming that's parodying him or commenting on him, whether it was Jon Stewart in his day or Colbert now,” Baldwin said. “And then when you think about it's me that he's doing it with, I find that even more surreal.”
Listen to the full interview:
SNL returns from its hiatus this week, with Louis C.K. scheduled to host the show for the fourth time. With five more shows scheduled before the end of the season, Baldwin said he expects to take part in at least four of them, but says next year is still up in the air.
“Next year, I doubt I’m going to fly back from Rome, wherever I’m shooting. I’m not quite sure I’m going to fly back from Rome to do ‘SNL,’ ” Baldwin told the Huffington Post. “But we’ll see.”