Alec's most recent prominent role was in the 2004 acclaimed movie "The Aviator." Equally at home playing leads and character roles, actor Alec Baldwin is known for his work in just about every genre, from action thrillers to comedies to dramas. Born April 3, 1958 on Massapequa, Long Island, he was the second of six children (brothers William, Daniel, and Stephen would also become actors). Baldwin was a political science major at George Washington University before he decided to become an actor; following his change in vocation, he studied drama at NYU and the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. Early in his career, Baldwin was a busy man, simultaneously playing a role on the TV daytime drama The Doctors and performing in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on stage in the evenings. A few years after making his 1980 Broadway debut, the actor moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a role in the television series Knots Landing. He made his film debut in 1986 with a starring role in Forever Lulu, which led to work in a number of major films. From 1988 to 1989 alone, Baldwin appeared in no less than seven films, including Tim Burton's black comedy Beetlejuice, Mike Nichols' Working Girl, Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob, and Oliver Stone's Talk Radio.
In 1989, Baldwin achieved big-budget success playing ace CIA agent Jack Ryan in the undersea thriller The Hunt for Red October. The film's popularity won him acclaim, so Baldwin surprised many by foregoing the opportunity to reprise his role in the sequel Patriot Games (he was replaced by Harrison Ford) in favor of returning to Broadway to star as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Although his decision paid off--he received a Tony nomination for his performance--it also marked the point at which Baldwin's star wattage began to flicker. His 1991 film, The Marrying Man proved to be an all-out flop (although it did provide him an introduction to co-star Kim Basinger, whom he would marry in 1993), and the critical success of his next two films, Prelude to a Kiss and Glengarry Glen Ross was overshadowed by a subsequent string of flops, including Malice (1993), The Getaway (1994), and The Juror (1996).
The actor rebounded a bit with his role in Al Pacino's acclaimed documentary Looking for Richard but then had the unfortunate luck of starring in the 1998 Bruce Willis disaster Mercury Rising. However, the following year proved more fortuitous for Baldwin, as he starred in the coming-of-age comedy Outside Providence, as well as in the crime drama Thick as Thieves and the ethical drama The Confession, appearing alongside Amy Irving and Ben Kingsley. In addition, the actor made an uncredited appearance in Notting Hill, sending up his macho Hollywood persona as Julia Roberts' piggish actor boyfriend.
Alec Baldwin: "The Last Shot"
Meeting Alec Baldwin for the first time, it is no surprise that he rarely talks to the print media. Before heading to the airport, he granted select journalists a mere 6 minutes of his time to try and promote The Last Shot, the comedic tale of an FBI agent who poses as a Hollywood film producer in order to ensnare some mafia big wigs. Serious, intense and always to the point, Baldwin makes it clear how he feels about using and marketing actors, when asked to simply comment on satiric elements of The Last Shot, and the fact that these days, industry inside jokes now play equally well everywhere' "I think that the business is so kind of self-referential now with the 'making of' and 'HBO first look' where there's a whole kind of industry now about the forensics of the business so to speak that wasn't here 20 years ago," says the outspoken actor. "I think a lot of that is very detrimental to the business and has demystified the business in a significant way, but these are viewed as marketing tools no doubt. I think that most people around the country now get it about a lot of the lingo and a lot of the attitudes that dominate the movie business in a way that they didn't 20 years ago."
Baldwin raises his voice against the studio's marketing departments when asked whether Hollywood's so-called 'dream factory' should be laid bare as it is in The Last Shot. Not referring to his movie, Baldwin instead insists that "it's a business. When you do a movie at Paramount, and you finish shooting the movie and you walk across the hallway, to go to Entertainment Tonight, which they own, you're doing a television show which the studio owns that they're charging commercial time for that they're earning money on to promote the movie that you just walked off the set of, so the synergistics are not lost on everyone," says Baldwin, angrily. "I'm trying to get the Screen Actor's Guild to have a conference with the publicity departments of the major studios, to talk about the fact they're taking actors now and kind of inserting them like suppositories into the cavities of the movie-going public, because using actors now is all so much marketing. What used to be clever marketing campaigns by studios has been replaced by actor-driven campaigns, so that when the movie fails, the marketing department can step back and say, 'well, we ran Alec's picture up the flagpole and nobody came to the movie so we're clean.' We used to have a Saul Bass poster and there was some creativity, not that there aren't creative elements in marketing now, and people who do marketing for the studios work just as hard, but they are daunted by a more crowded marketplace. The problem is that most of the marketing that's done now means let's get the actor out there to charge up the hill and if you get shot to pieces you get shot to pieces. Get out there and do Letterman, Good Morning America, these tiresome tedious round of promotional things to raise the awareness again in a very crowded marketplace to call attention to your film. The only thing worse than what we have to do, is if we don't do it, because then, you're the tree that falls in the woods and nobody hears it. It's a bad, bad situation when there are just so many Goddamn movies out there right now which is ridiculous."
Ironically, of course, Baldwin had indeed just finished a flurry of TV interviews, and in this 6 minutes, still has to convince us why it is that he is starring in The Last Shot, a self-reverential but hilarious look at Hollywood through naïve eyes. Baldwin says there was more to choosing this project than the appeal of the character. "I never look at movies so much in terms of the character. I read the movie and I say this is a movie I want to see and I kind of screen the movie in my mind in its entirety then say to myself 'is this a movie that I want to be in?' I've been offered roles that were dynamic and flashy roles in movies that I thought were very mediocre, then I've played roles that weren't as dynamic in great films. I'm much more interested in being a modest component in a great film than being a dynamic component in a film that's not that worthy. So I say this is a very well-written film, that Jeff Nathanson's a brilliant writer, a brilliant guy and I loved working with him. We've got a great cast, I thought it was funny, and it's funny how the best movies by my lights are movies where it's so well-written you don't have to work that hard, because it's all there. Nathanson's created the situations for you and you need to get out of the way of what's clever and just stand there and say the lines. In great writing that's the way it is; there's less you have to do, and just say it."
Baldwin says he had no difficulty in relating to this character's desperate need for success. ""Well I think anybody in this business gets to that point where you need a hit. My character in the movie is a character that's desperate for a hit record, in that he needs a sting, a bust, a successful operation to raise his stock in the eyes of his brother and the bureau. I'm in this business so I feel it every day. I mean, unless you're the highest paid actor who's at the top of the pile, everybody else is in there thinking, I hope that I do something that either creatively excites the community or you do something that sells a lot of tickets- one or the other."
An actor for some 2 decades now, Baldwin has remained politically outspoken on so many issues, that it has been frequently suggested that he run for politics himself, but on that subject, he remains perfectly coy. "To do that would mean to give up what I'm doing now and I'm really not finished doing that, but I don't imagine I will do this the rest of my life," Baldwin admits. "I'm having a good time doing this again after a few years of not having a good time. I've been doing this for 25 years, so my enthusiasm peaks and ebbs and I really am enjoying myself now because I've worked with some people I loved. I loved doing Cat in the Hat with Bo Welch, The Cooler with Wayne Kramer, and on Last Shot, I loved working with Matthew and Jeff. I mean, for me it's all about what's the experience like making the movie? Has it been a good way to pass the time, and I don't really think about how well the movie is going to do. If it does well, great, and if it doesn't it doesn't."
Alec Baldwin: State and Main
We spoke with Alec Baldwin when he was out promoting his work in David Mamet's State and Main, in which he plays a super-mega-movie star "recovering" from a hobby detailed below. And, while we were sitting down to talk about Mamet, certain press outlets were in a rage about the then current Presidential election of 2000, which was still in doubt. Baldwin, it was reported, had said that if George Dubya won the election, he and wife Kim Basinger would movie to Canada. The logical place to start, at the time, was to ask if he had started house shopping . . .
Alec Baldwin: I don't mean to burst your bubble but, interestingly enough, in 1992 I did an interview in which someone said to me "if Bush, Senior, were to beat Clinton, what would you do?" and my exact words were, in a very off-handed way admittedly I said "It might be a good time to leave the country." That by no means was meant as some kind of oath of unpatriotic petulance. Eight years later a journalist, in an interview with my wife, brings up that quote. My wife goes "I don't recall my husband saying that. He might have said it." and this German woman says (and Baldwin shifts into an accent) "Vell, if your husband is to leev the country vould you go veeth your husband to the country?" It's all speculation. So Drudge prints in The Drudge Report "Baldwin vows to leave country" which is, I want to say unequivocally, not true. I never said that. But you see, as I've learned, your political opposites in the media are totally lying in wait to ambush you and diminish you and marginalize you in any way that they can. That works well for Drudge, Fox, the Post, Murdoch -- that whole kind of crypto fascist media arm where what you wind up being is something to incite their crowd. As soon as Alec says that then the response from all of the chorus is "Well, let us help you pack your bags. Can I drive you to the airport?" I got email that would say this day after day, which is the purpose of that arm of the media.
CrankyCritic: Do you ever ruminate as to why the media is so obsessed with what "Entertainment People" think?
Alec Baldwin: I don't think that the media is obsessed like that. This is just my opinion, it's up to you to make your own conclusion. But I look at the media; if you analyze the whole galaxy of media coverage of entertainment, 99.99999% of it is"click on the eShopping Channel" I watched the other day and it was all onomatopoeic "Buy with Brad" "Give like Gwyneth" "Shop like Charlize" [laughter]. What you wind up having in the media is a very small spec on the carpet, so to speak, is the political and advocacy work of entertainers. 99% of it is ET or Access Hollywood. Who's wearing what? Who's sleeping with Who? Who's divorcing Who? Who went to the premiere? Who opened a restaurant? All lifestyle reporting of the stars. I think that when you say people care, they don't care.
There's a small arm of them; my political work is always done in private. I very rarely go public. If I go to a fund raiser and the media just happens to be there, I'm not angling for the media. I go to raise money for whatever candidates I work for or for whatever issue I'm involved in. I do a lot of that privately in people's homes. I avoid the Media Nation at every turn that I can. All my coverage comes from right wing media outlets. They're the ones who keep it in the air because it's fodder for their agitprop. The only one who seems to be interested, in a way that they can be dismissive and mean-spirited, is anything that's owned by Murdoch.
CrankyCritic: Isn't some of your political work non-partisan? Animal rights for example.
Alec Baldwin: Sure. But once you are their poster boy, symbolizing their political opposite ... the ones who keep my political views in the paper are all right wing outlets. You don't see the New York Times write about my political opinion. You don't see the Daily News write about my political opinions. You don't see anybody write about them, except The Post.
CrankyCritic: And once they say it, they can't say that you've done something nice.
Alec Baldwin: If I went out tomorrow and I was the sponsor of a school prayer they'd probably all jump out the window and commit suicide. [laughs] Let's talk about the movie!
CrankyCritic: OK, why don't you do more comedy? Outside Providence was a scream, but that was a supporting role. Beetlejuice had you playing straight man. Ghost. Whatever.
Alec Baldwin: Sometimes I will get some of the better comic material in my hands -- that's not when I do SNL or something like that -- a feature or independent film. The studios want to make everything easy for the audience. They want people to know that a comedy is a comedy. So big comedies are driven by proven comic talent. This is true in television as well. I've developed some TV series in the last couple of years and, if you do half hour sitcoms, they're happier when the lead is well known or undeveloped comic talent. So Ray Romano, Seinfeld, they want the person to have a basis in standup comedy. If they want me to do a television show they're always saying "Alec you're a lawyer/ doctor/ cop. It's a one hour. It's a Dick Wolf production. It's West Wing." It's something serious. If I say I want to do . . . maybe me and William Shatner are two waiters on a gay cruise line [and we press lose it] -- I've pitched ideas like that -- they just look at me like they have no desire to get into that.
CrankyCritic: Do you like doing comedy more than drama?
Alec Baldwin: Both comedy and drama are equally challenging to do. Good writing is good writing. Movies that depict the idiosyncracies of Hollywood are... we had some of those too. My favorite movie is The Big Picture, that Kevin Bacon movie he did with Chris Guest. To me that is the truest take on Hollywood. It's done in a very arch way but the truths that are in there, y'know when he goes and he sees the studio executive and they're just completely enamored of him and he can do no wrong and they're going to build him a house on the lot and let him live there. And as soon as his movie doesn't do well they don't dismiss him so much as they torture him until he runs away.
CrankyCritic: Your challenge in this role, in this comedy, is that your character has a "hobby" (he likes 'em young); that's a real fine line to keep that funny when it's legally and morally repulsive
Alec Baldwin: I think that Bob is a victim, quite frankly on this one. [laughter] If you recall Bob; every indication is that Bob was going to arrive in town as the "new Bob, the "reformed" Bob and it would be one thing entirely if Bob came into town and picked Julia's character and stalked her and made that all happen but as you well see in the film Julia is prepping for bob's arrival. She's read the magazines. She knows the score and Julia's character (she) wants the old bob. She doesn't want the reformed bob. Bob was set up [laughter]
CrankyCritic: Did you have any actor in mind when you played him?
Alec Baldwin: Yes. [laughs] The key to it is not the circumstances, meaning whether the person medicates themselves from the pressures of movie making with drugs or money or work. And sexuality is a big part of it for some people. Certainly being a movie star is kind of a Faustian bargain because you know there's no shortage of willing participants. The guy that I kind of modeled this on, what I liked about him was... the particulars don't matter. It's their attitude about it that matters. This is not like it was fifty years ago where mega-glamorous people were cultivated. It was Gable and Lombard and Cary Grant. Most of the people who are big stars today are ordinary individuals. They're like the common man who's been put in the big seat of the space shuttle. They get there and, whatever they need to do to negotiate that experience and deal with that tension, who cares? Money. Sex. Power. Work. Whatever. What I like about it is that some of them suffer the consequences and some of them don't. Some of them make this active decision; I mean I know this one guy in particular I'm thinking of whose attitude is "I'm going to enjoy this while I've got it. And I'm not going to break a sweat for one moment. If I make some mistakes along the way, I'm human!" He doesn't expect perfection. He lives his life. He enjoys it,and that's what I modeled Bob after. Bob was the guy who had the conscience-ectomy [laughs,] like, why let our conscience get in the way of us? How long am I gong to be here?
CrankyCritic: Robert Redford had this theory of winners and losers. He thought as long as people win, whether they're in politics or show biz, as long as they're winning they can get away with just about anything. The minute they make a slip, everything comes down on them
Alec Baldwin: Yes, that's a very good point. I think that with film stars, yes, we do tend to overlook. We tend to ascribe all of these wonderful qualities to movie stars when they just act like ordinary people. Movie stars are people who can do what the average person does every day and yet they're all blown up into this magnanimity in their lives. A movie star will host a birthday party for their child at Planet Hollywood and they'll say on Entertainment Tonight "Bob So-and-So had a birthday party for his daughter at Planet Hollywood!" and across the country thousands of parents are having birthday parties for their children.
CrankyCritic: Was there any trace of self-parody in Bob?
Alec Baldwin: No. I never equated myself with somebody on that level, who was like the monolithic movie star who made juggernaut movie after juggernaut movie. My career has been a lot more bumpy than that. For me it was purely outside of my experience.
CrankyCritic: But you started off by playing "Joe Cool" . . .
Alec Baldwin: In?
CrankyCritic: When you were a kidlet with your brothers
Alec Baldwin: Oh. Oh! Right you mean literally Joe Cool. My role as "Joe Cool" Yes!
CrankyCritic: Do you still have those movies?
Alec Baldwin: Yes!
CrankyCritic: Will you show them to your kids?
Alec Baldwin: Yes. Well people in the family has them. Friends I grew up with. But, yes.