In the new film "The Aviator", Alda plays Owen Brewster, a corrupt Maine senator who tried to bring down billionaire aviation pioneer Howard Hughes.
"When they asked me to do the part," Alda tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "I thought, boy, what a compliment that I'm going to work with Scorsese and Leo and play this terrific part and this great script. And they showed me this picture of this guy: one of the ugliest people I ever saw. I saw a little bit of the flattery and it oozed out. He was ugly, ugly deeply inside."
Interestingly, when director Martin Scorsese was casting the film and thought of Alda for the villanous role,disagreed, saying Alda was too nice for that part.
"We only had to work together for a couple of days to realize how wrong he was about that," Alda says, joking. "I've played a lot of bad guys. The funny thing is people don't remember, so that's good. I get to surprise them all of the time. But I'm afraid after this movie comes out, I think my cover is blown. They're going to find out what I'm really like now."
Brewster tried to steal Hughes' airline and hand it over to the owner of Pan Am, Alda notes. This powerful man tried to bring down Hughes with a public investigation, only to have the tables turned on him.
Alda explains, "I think the wonderful thing in this story is that Hughes has descended into madness and he finds out he has to go to this hearing and defend himself in front of television cameras for the first time. They had never televised a hearing before. He has to pull himself together and he hates crowds and he has to defend himself. And you should see the News Reels of this. We used what they said almost verbatim. It was an amazing dialogue. Hughes did pull himself together and got the whole country on his side. He was really a national hero, which I didn't know before this."
About Hughes, Alda says, "He was the first billionaire in the country, real billionaire. He invented airplanes. He was an engineer. He flew them like a daredevil. He was a courageous guy. He made movies and that's before you get to his regular job of trying to sleep with everybody in Hollywood."
Fast facts about Alan Alda:
- Born Alphonso D'Abruzzo in New York, N.Y. on Jan. 28, 1936. His wife is Arlene Alda, a photographer, musician, artist, and author. She was a clarinetist with Leopold Stokowski and the Houston Symphony when they met; married in 1957. They have three daughters: Eve, Elizabeth and Beatrice.
- At age 15, Alda began his show business career performing Abbot-and-Costello-style routines with his father, actor Robert Alda, at the Hollywood Canteen.
- Two years later, he made his theatrical debut starring in "Charley's Aunt" in summer stock in Barnesville, Pa. When he traveled to Europe to study during his junior year at Fordham University, he acted with his father on stage in "Room Service" in Rome and on TV in Amsterdam.
- After attending the Cleveland Playhouse on a Ford Foundation grant, Alda studied improvisational acting with Paul Sills and continued this training at The Compass (Hyannisport, Mass.) and Second City (Chicago).
- In 1956, he made his New York stage debut as an understudy in "The Hot Corner."
- From 1961-62, he performed the role of Charlie Cotchipee in the Broadway production of "Purlie Victorious."
- In 1963, Alda made his film debut reprising his "Purlie" role in the movie adaptation called "Gone Are the Days."
- In 1964, he made his TV series debut on the NBC pioneering political satire show "That Was the Week That Was." And the following year, he returned to the New York stage in his first lead role opposite Diana Sands in the two-character hit, "The Owl and the Pussycat." He followed that success with a Tony-nominated performance in the musical "The Apple Tree" (1966-67).
- In 1968, Alda starred on the big screen as George Plimpton in "Paper Lion" and went on to appear in five additional movies (including 1971's "The Mephisto Waltz") and a couple of TV movies (notably the "The Glass House", a 1972 ABC adaptation of a Truman Capote story in which he played a college professor convicted of manslaughter adjusting to life in prison) before landing the role that would change his life.
- From 1972 – 83, Alda made a cultural impact as Capt. Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce on the classic TV comedy-drama series "M*A*S*H" on CBS. He won a Best Actor Emmy (1974) And over the show's 11-year run, he received 25 individual Emmy nominations and became the only person to win the award for writing, acting, and directing episodes of the same series.
- In 1974, he co-directed and co-starred opposite Carol Burnett in an adaptation of the Broadway comedy "6 Rms Riv Vu" on CBS earning an Emmy nod for his performance. He picked up another nomination in the change-of-pace starring turn as convicted killer Caryl Chessman in the NBC movie "Kill Me if You Can" in 1977.
- In 1978, he teamed with with Ellen Burstyn on the big screen in "Same Time, Next Year." And the following year, he made a feature screenwriting debut with "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," a political drama that featured Alda as the titular U.S. senator juggling relationships with his Southern mistress (Meryl Streep) and his long-suffering wife (Barbara Harris).
- Alda wrote, directed and starred in a series of gentle comedies of variable quality depicting the foibles of American bourgeois life: "The Four Seasons" (1981), "Sweet Liberty" (1986), "A New Life" (1988), and "Betsy's Wedding" (1990).
- In 1989, veering from his powerful Nice Guy image, he received rave reviews for his portrayal of an egotistical TV director in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors." Similarly positive notices followed for his unsympathetic roles in two HBO original movies: for his subtly unflattering characterization of Dr. Robert Gallo in the Emmy-winning profile of the AIDS crisis "And the Band Played On" (1993) and as the unrepentant advertising executive responsible for five deaths in "White Mile" (1994).
- Alda collaborated with Allen two more times on "Manhattan Murder Mystery" (1993) and the romantic musical comedy "Everyone Says I Love You" (1997).
- In 1992, Alda worked on Broadway as the star of Neil Simon's mild farce "Jake's Women," a Tony-nominated role he recreated for the 1996 TV adaptation, and in "Art" in 1998.
- Also in 1996, Alda received praise for his pairing with Lily Tomlin as the aging hippie birth parents of Ben Stiller in David O Russell's comedy "Flirting With Disaster."
- In 2000, he received his 29th and 30th career Emmy nominations for a recurring role as a prominent physician in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease on "ER" and as a hard-nosed talent agent in Showtime's "Club Land" in 2001.
- He recently joined the cast of NBC's White House drama "The West Wing," playing a Republican from California with presidential aspirations.