Emmy Award–winning actor and writer, acclaimed director, bestselling author, university professor, and today host of the APA’s 17th annual Author Tea, Alan Alda took a few minutes to talk to PW about his latest book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? and the art of communicating through the spoken word.

“It’s interesting how a person’s voice can add a bit of extra meaning to a piece of writing,” he says. “The tone can convey all kinds of extra thoughts to a sentence, like, ‘this is even more important than the last thing I said,’ or ‘I mean this in a lighthearted way, for god’s sake, don’t take it too literally.’ The trick, of course, is to start out with a text that conveys as much of that intimate tone and nuance as possible.”

Though he adds that nuance can at times be difficult to achieve. “Reading a whole book out loud is kind of a disorienting experience. I’ve read four entire books and parts of three others, and I can tell you that the mind swims. And your jaw locks. Normal words heard every day around the house become unpronounceable.”

Alda’s 14 years as host of PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers—where he was charged with getting scientists, physicists, neuroscientists, and academics to communicate complex ideas quickly and effectivelyled him to found the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? grew out of his experiences.

“Both writing [the book] and reading it were attempts to practice what I preach,” Alda says. “There are life and death issues on the table and we can’t afford to be murky about them. What surprised me about this book as I worked on it was how it applies to pretty much every corner of life. Business, parents and children, lovers, scientists, and doctors. And of course politicians, who could speak with utter clarity, if they ever wanted to.”

Today, 3–4 p.m. Alan Alda hosts the APA Author Tea in Room 1E07/08.