The storied acting career of Alan Alda is simply legendary. For over four decades and from M*A*S*H to The West Wing, the 85-year-old has basically done it all.
After stage acting and other appearances for the first 15 years or so of his career, Alda found his springboard with M*A*S*H. The wildly popular show ran for 11 seasons from 1972 to 1983, with Alda playing “Hawkeye.”
Audiences adored the comedic and serious mix of storytelling, with Alda often at a focal point. He has often said that the show’s success was not solely due to the talent of the cast but also the team’s work ethic.
He reiterated this in an interview with Empire, which was focused on one of his other famous shows, The West Wing. Like M*A*S*H, the program was both wildly popular and critically acclaimed.
Sitting down with other cast and production members, Alda highlighted the similarity between both shows.
“[Working on The West Wing] was similar in many ways to my experience on M*A*S*H,” Alan said. “Because you had people willing to work late at night to get it just right. The one-hour live debate that we did was one of the most exciting times for me on stage or on camera, because anything could go wrong.
It’s always a joy to see someone dedicated to their craft, and Alda is a prime example of that type of person.
How Alan Alda Was Cast on M*A*S*H
Back before M*A*S*H took off and Alda became known as Hawkeye, there were some hurdles.
According to a cast interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Alda was living with his family on the East Coast, and the idea of working for a show that might fail was causing hesitation.
“I was making a movie in the Utah state prison. ‘M*A*S*H’ was by far the best script I’d ever read in prison,” Alda said. “I said to my wife, Arlene, ‘I can’t do it because it’s going to be made in California and we live in New Jersey. Who knows, this thing could run a whole year.’”
Alda ended up commuting to Los Angeles and New Jersey nearly every week of filming. While he thought the show could end at any second, it spanned an entire decade instead.
Show creator Gene Reynolds and writer Dan Wilcox also spoke during the interview, testifying why Alda was a key addition to the cast.
“He was attractive, a leading man and wonderfully comedic actor who could play the sober moments,” Reynolds told the Hollywood Reporter. “There’s not a lot of guys like that floating around.”
Meanwhile, Wilcox highlight his ability to display subtlety and nuance while acting.
“Alan was brilliant at finding a way to play a scene so that he wasn’t directly in it,” writer Dan Wilcox said. “If he had an exposition in the mess tent, he spent the whole time studying his food. He’d pick up a fork, sniff at it, and put it back down, meanwhile participating in the conversation.”