With nearly 42 seasons under its belt, Saturday Night Live has lots of behind-the-scenes secrets that have never been spilled — until now.
On Saturday, the long-running NBC sketch series will wrap its 42nd season, and a new cover interview with The Hollywood Reporter features 20 show members dishing on how and why many of the current political characters were cast, including Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump.
Alec Baldwin Had to Be Persuaded to Portray Trump
“The idea came out of a conversation with Tina Fey at some point during the summer. She said, ‘Well, the person that should really play [Trump] is Alec.’ And I went, ‘Yeah!’ A light went on,” SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels revealed about how Baldwin came to portray President Trump.
At the time, Baldwin was booked to do a film, but that didn’t keep Michaels from persuading him to join.
“I was all booked to do a film. The people involved were supposed to escrow money and the money didn’t hit on the agreed-upon date, so we gave them an extension. During that time, Lorne was calling me, going (in Michaels’ voice), ‘I think you should play Trump. I think you would be fantastic. And what would you rather do than come here every weekend for the next 18 weekends?’ Then the money for the movie didn’t hit again. We gave another extension, and I said to Lorne again, ‘I can’t. I’m going to make this movie.’ And he was like, ‘Well, when you finish shooting, we’ll fly you here on a private plane on Saturdays,’ ‘” explained Baldwin.
Added Baldwin: “I said, ‘I’m going to be doing the movie Friday nights. I’ll work till one, two in the morning, then I’m going to get on a plane?’ He’s like, ‘That’s right. That’s what I said. You’ll work till two in the morning, then get on a plane and come here to be with us and do the show where you belong.’ Then the movie dies and I call up Lorne: ‘I’m Trump.’ “
Kristen Stewart Sparked Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer Impersonation
“Back in February, I was on a plane with Kristen [Stewart] — she was coming out to host SNL; I was coming out to shoot a movie. She has a reputation for not loving to be interviewed, which I think becomes very funny, so I shamelessly pitched her [this monologue idea where she’s] doing the worst opening ever,” said McCarthy.
“That was around the time of Sean Spicer’s first couple of press briefings, and they were just so insane. It was a Tuesday, and one of our producers, Erik Kenward, told me that Melissa had flown out with our host and had a monologue idea. That’s when I just blurted out, ‘Melissa should play Spicer,’ ” added writer Ken Sublette.
Although McCarthy typically doesn’t “do impressions” because she claims not to “have the ear for it,” it didn’t take much for her to sign on.
“When I read the script, I was like, ‘Oh, God, that is juicy, but I don’t understand how we’re going to physically make it work.’ To which the amazing special effects person at SNL was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s not that big of a deal. That’s gonna take me, like, 15 minutes.’ ” said McCarthy. “I was like, ‘Hey!’ “
For McCarthy’s second portrayal of Spicer, which was shortly after the press secretary made “inappropriate” comments about the Holocaust, the actress was unable to get to New York for the taping, and instead filmed the scene on the Access Hollywood lot in L.A.
“Melissa couldn’t get to New York, so I said, ‘Well, what if we shot it live remotely in L.A.’ Of course, I said it not knowing anything about how difficult that would be to pull off. [They shot the sketch on the Access Hollywood set in Burbank.],” said Sublette. “It was awesome, but logistically I don’t think we’d do it again.”
FROM PEN: Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer Impression Was the Week’s Finest Performance
A Failed Titanic Gag — Inspired by Ivanka Trump
In February, Nordstrom confirmed that it dropped Ivanka Trump‘s fashion brand from stores, which prompted the series’ writers to brainstorm together to come up with an angle on how to tackle the news.
“We’d spend hours and hours trying to come up with an Ivanka sketch and then bail on it because it just didn’t seem right. We had this Titanic idea when all the companies were dropping her products. We wanted to make it be like Ivanka was in one of her stores and then the Titanic music starts playing and suddenly the walls fall in and water rushes into the store and all of her shoes and purses fall off the shelves into the water,” explained writer Chris Kelly.
Although the team made every attempt to bring the Titanic-inspired sketch to fruition, it didn’t come to be — but it wasn’t without effort.
“We really liked the image of everything just in slow motion falling down around her, and then we called one of the directors, and we were like, ‘Could we shoot on a soundstage and make it flood?’ And he was like, ‘No, we can’t,’ ” said Kelly. “We really tried to jam through some Titanic-y idea for weeks, and then eventually we thought of this perfume angle [Complicit perfume, with Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka].”
Why Rosie O’Donnell Won’t Be Playing Steve Bannon, Despite Her Offer
Along with renewed interest in the series from audiences across America, the series’ focus on the White House has also prompted A-list actors to express their love for the show by pitching themselves to play political figures, including Rosie O’Donnell’s self-nomination via Twitter to play Trump’s controversial chief strategist Steven K. Bannon. But why hasn’t the series taken her — not to mention many more A-list celebrities — up on the offer?
“We’ve gotten a lot of pitches from people, big people, like, ‘I can play this person on the Cabinet, or I can play this person.’ It’s in the vein of Melissa and Alec and Larry David, and it’s never happened before. We got a lot of Kellyanne and Bannon pitches,” revealed producer Lindsay Shookus. “But the casting has to make sense. You don’t want to make a splash to make a splash. That’s not what we do.”
Even notable cast member Leslie Jones questioned why O’Donnell wasn’t brought onto the live show after she expressed interest publicly.
“I asked Lorne, ‘How come y’all aren’t bringing Rosie O’Donnell in [to play Bannon, per her plea on Twitter] or any of them to do it?’ And he was like, ‘When you’re playing a character, you can’t play it from hate. You have to play it from funny, because when you play it from hate, it looks like you’re just being mean.’ ” Jones explained.
“I love Rosie to death, but he might have been right on that one,” added Jones.
Donald Trump “Made All the Decisions” When He Hosted SNL
In November 2015, Trump hit the 30 Rock stage as host (prior to being nominated as the Republican candidate). And according to writer Bryan Tucker, he showed up alone, which is rather unusual for political figures.
“The thing I found most surprising about that week was that normally when a politician comes to the show, they bring four or five people with them. When we bring a sketch to Hillary Clinton or even John McCain, there are two or three other people there to talk it through and give us thoughts about what might be acceptable. He came alone with his BlackBerry,” recalled Tucker.
“He made all the decisions on what he wanted to do and what he didn’t. He was just going with his gut the whole week. Turns out, that’s also how he governs.”
Dave Chappelle’s Election-Themed Monologue Was Completely “Off-the-Cuff”
For the post-election show, Dave Chappelle was approached to host because “Lorne really felt Dave Chappelle was the perfect voice, and because no one had seen him in a while, what he had to say would be that much more powerful,” according to Shookus.
Although Chappelle’s “monologue wasn’t that good at dress [rehearsal]” and he didn’t seem “especially happy,” according to guest writer Neal Brennan, he went completely “off-the-cuff” when he took the stage.
“Chris Rock and Lorne and I are all watching underneath the bleachers, and Dave is such a good orator that he spun that yarn about Frederick Douglass and Bradley Cooper. [Chappelle shared a story about Douglass being the first black man invited to the White House, then recalled how he’d recently been a guest in the West Wing for a party where all the attendees — except Cooper — were black.] He’d never said any of it before in his life. It was off-the-cuff,” said Brennan. “He’s just playing a different game than the rest of us.”
“It landed on such a hopeful note, which I don’t think anyone really expected from him for the show,” said Shookus. “I think it was healing for people.”
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays (11:30 p.m. ET) on NBC.