Alec Baldwin reveals how he bounced back from his lowest ebb
ALEC Baldwin strides into the hotel suite, dressed in a navy blazer, white shirt and dark jeans. His black hair slicked back, his blue eyes ablaze, he looks like he’s about to deliver that infamous pep talk he gives in Glengarry Glen Ross – where he tells Jack Lemmon and the other real estate agents to “Always Be Closing”.
That was two decades ago, when Baldwin was just five years into his movie career after a spell in daytime TV (The Doctors, Knots Landing) – though it still plays as fresh today as it ever did.
For a time at least, that role in Glengarry – little more than an extended cameo – came to define Baldwin as the ball-busting alpha-male. That he remains the most famous of the Baldwin brothers – also Daniel, Stephen and William, who all act – and that he was married to Kim Basinger for nine years only helped perpetuate an image he now denies. “When you do films, it’s a part you play,” he says. “One of the truest things to commit to is your own nature. And to play really Type A, hard-charging, tough, brutish people is not at all my nature. But I had to find a way to do that.”
It may account for why Baldwin’s post-Glengarry career has been so diverse, from hosting Saturday Night Live and the Oscars to voicing the US version of Thomas The Tank Engine and guesting on Will And Grace. He was, lest we forget, the original CIA operative Jack Ryan – a character later played by Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck – in the Tom Clancy adaptation The Hunt For Red October. He’s also been a superhero (though not a very good one) in The Shadow and played Phoebe’s lover in Friends. And you’re just as likely to find him in a rom-com like It’s Complicated as you are in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.
Baldwin, 54, is at the point where he doesn’t discriminate, he says. “It’s all the same. If it’s James Cameron and an adventure film, if it’s Martin Scorsese and it’s a tough drama, if it’s Nancy Meyers and it’s a romantic comedy, if it’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and it’s a children’s animation, it’s all the same… you sit there and look at your calendar and go ‘I’m free, now what have you got?’ And they come to you and you read it, and you go ‘I’ll do that, that sounds good.’ ”
Along the way there has been recognition – notably an Oscar nomination for his casino boss in The Cooler – though perhaps not as much as he deserves. It’s only truly come with the arrival of 30 Rock, the sitcom set behind the scenes of a TV sketch show that has dominated his output over the past decade. For playing network television boss Jack Donaghy, Baldwin has won two back-to-back Emmys, three Golden Globes and seven Screen Actors Guild awards, making him the most decorated male in the history of the SAG.
He’s fiercely proud of the show, on which he has been a producer since the third season. “The great distinction for our show is that we’re one of three shows, ever, in history where the principal two actors [he and Tina Fey] and the show all won the Emmy in the same year,” he says (the others, he notes, were those illustrious classics All In The Family and The Dick Van Dyke Show). He says that the show’s been through a dip – in the fifth season – but has come back out stronger. “We all fell in love with it again,” he says.
Understandably, the show’s recent cancellation after seven seasons – its current final season is a truncated, 13-episode run – was a blow. Baldwin admitted on his Twitter account that he offered to cut his salary by 20 per cent, but bosses at network NBC were adamant that it had become too exorbitant. “I would’ve done it next year and the year after,” he says, “but NBC is in desperate trouble and they told us we have to go. They have to tear the house down and start all over again.”
Not that Baldwin is looking for sympathy. It’s been a particularly fruitful time for him – this year has seen him rock out with Russell Brand in Rock Of Ages and reunite with Woody Allen in To Rome With Love (they made Alice together in 1990 and he’s now shooting Allen’s next film with Cate Blanchett). He’s also now back voicing animation – a discipline he’s periodically been drawn to in the past, with contributions to everything from SpongeBob SquarePants to The Simpsons and the cartoon version of Kevin Smith’s Clerks.
Based on the children’s series The Guardians Of Childhood by William Joyce, Rise Of The Guardians is the new festive offering from DreamWorks. A hyperkinetic 3D CGI fantasy, the premise sees a group of supernatural gift-givers – Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy – in league to protect children from darkness... which just so happens to be embodied by Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law), a bogeyman who wants to turn children’s dreams to nightmares.
Baldwin voices North, a Slavic-sounding Santa Claus, complete with bulging, tattoo-clad forearms. “I wanted my character to sound more thuggish than the other ones,” he says. “They can’t all be [adopting a wishy-washy voice] ‘Hi! I’m Santa Claus. How are you?’ Sometimes the guy that’s going to get the job is the one who’s a little more straightforward. It’s like running a studio – the head guy has to be thuggish, and you hire a lot of sweet people to run it for you.”
He recently got married to Hilaria Thomas, 28, a former competitive Latin ballroom dancer turned yoga instructor. So is he a devotee of the discipline? “I do yoga when I’m not shooting,” he says. “We just finished the TV show [30 Rock] and I’m going to do yoga now, because I need yoga… and not just to get her off my back. She’s very devoted to that.” Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine Baldwin – who was raised Roman Catholic in Long Island, New York – sitting in an ashram in the lotus position, but he seems happy. “Life right now is really, really good,” he says.
It hasn’t always been, of course. He went through a traumatic divorce with Basinger, whom he met on 1991’s The Marrying Man and reunited with on The Getaway. After their separation in December 2000, Baldwin contended that Basinger tried to deny him access to their daughter, Ireland (now 17). Evolving into a seven-year custody battle, chronicled in Baldwin’s book Promise To Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood And Divorce, it left him at breaking point – where he even contemplated suicide after an angry voicemail he left his daughter (calling her “a rude, thoughtless little pig”) went public.
If that explosive moment saw Baldwin at his lowest ebb, there are other more philanthropic sides to his character – from helping out with fundraisers for the National Dance Institute in New York to his work with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. A member of the NYPO board, he also hosts a radio show for them and donated $1 million to the cause. “I’m older now and for me now it’s more about just exploring different aspects of the culture,” he says.
Baldwin stems from a cultural background – his father was a high school history and social studies teacher who also led the school’s drama club. The second of six children – and the eldest of the four Baldwin brothers – he wound up in New York, studying drama at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, making ends meet as a busboy in the infamous Studio 54 nightspot. And although TV became his bread-and-butter in the 1980s, he’s been just as prolific on stage, gaining a Tony nomination for his take on Stanley Kowalski in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.
“The older I’ve gotten, your appreciation shifts towards things that are very difficult, where you see people have put tremendous hours and hours of commitment,” he says. “I find anything where people are talented and hard-working, and all of it comes together – their opportunity, their gifts, their luck, their good fortune – appealing. I’m so much of a mind now to be in the audience, to watch, and to experience and to feel, rather than having to get up and perform. I want my life to be less performing.” «
Rise Of The Guardians is in cinemas from 30 November
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