• The screen star has gone on to have a lengthy career, not just on the small and big screen. (The Feed)
The screen and science legend talks fame, mental illness and, um, masturbation?
Marc Fennell

The Feed
28 Mar 2016 - 7:44 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan - 2:41 PM

Alan Alda: he's an actor, director, screenwriter, six-time Emmy Award winner and the granddad you wish you had.

While he's most famous for his iconic roles on M*A*S*H and The West Wing, the 80-year-old has also dedicated a huge chunk of his life to science and teaching scientists how to communicate their discoveries.

"My interest in science goes way back earlier to when I was six," says Alda, speaking at the World Science Festival in Brisbane.

"I would mix my mother's face powder with toothpaste to see if I could get it to blow up."

Fast forward several decades and he's less concerned with explosions and more with helping scientists tell the stories of their breakthrough research.

"The best kind of storytelling for me, the most effective, is dramatic storytelling where something very big is at stake.

"Overcoming those obstacles makes the story much more interesting."

Alda has faced his fair share of obstacles during his time.

As a child, he had to cope with a mother who suffered from mental illness - often thinking that he was the cause of her particular outbursts.

As an adult, fame presented a whole new range of challenges for the modest performer.                                                

"It came as a shock," he said.

"People would start grabbing at me: some guys would come up to me and grab me and say 'Hey Fred, look what I've got here'.

"You were like a fish in a barrel.

"I had nightmares. I think what I had was night terrors, where you're not really dreaming and you think you're awake.

"You think there's somebody in the room trying to kill you and this fierce presence that looks like some kind of Gollum.

"One night I woke up and it was kneeling on the bed choking me. He wasn't really there, but I was terrified as if he were."

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