Alec Baldwin: The Accidental Actor

Alec Baldwin looks like a movie star, but he's actually more of an actor than a star. Then again, he's not all that sure about being an actor, either.


When Alec Baldwin was 18 and first attending college, he had holes in his shoes, so he swapped them for bowling shoes at a local bowling alley. At least they kept his feet warm as he walked around New York City. Baldwin grew up on Long Island with his two sisters (neither of whom is an actress) and three brothers (all of whom are now acting) in a working-class family. He worked as a waiter, a driver and a shirt salesman, and he did voice-overs for women's makeup. He dreamed of becoming a prosecuting attorney, going into politics, making the world a better place. He didn't give acting a shot until he was 21, but within a year he got hired on a TV soap opera, 'The Doctors," which led to the short-lived series "Cutter to Houston" and then "Knots Landing," on which he played the evangelist Joshua Rush. Then came the movies: Forever Lulu, She's Having a Baby, Beetlejuice, Married to the Mob, Talk Radio, Working Girl and Great Balls of Fire! When he co-starred opposite Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October, it looked like he was on his way to following in Connery's illustrious footsteps. But what followed were the well-received but little-seen films Alice and Miami Blues, and the trouble-plagued The Marrying Man with his future wife Kim Basinger. Next came Prelude to a Kiss, a cameo in Glengarry Glen Ross, a showy turn in last fall's Malice, and a re-teaming with Basinger in The Getaway. Now Baldwin is poised for another crack at major stardom with one of the big summer hopefuls, The Shadow.

But Baldwin, like Al Pacino, would rather be on the stage, where an actor can act, than on a movie set, where an actor is lucky to shoot one or two minutes a day. In 1986 he appeared in Joe Orton's Loot, then over the next six years he was on the New York stage in Serious Money, Prelude to a Kiss and A Streetcar Named Desire, which he passed on the sequel to The Hunt for Red October to do. Where Baldwin differs from Pacino (whom he interviewed for his recently completed NYU thesis) is that he doesn't see himself as only an actor. In fact, at 36, he doesn't expect to be working in front of the camera five years from now. He'll probably produce, he feels, or maybe, if the right opportunities present themselves, go into politics. But for now, it's the movies and his rediscovered appreciation for acting.

LAWRENCE GROBEL: The Shadow seems a departure from the kinds of films you've made before. What attracted you to it?

ALEC BALDWIN: It was a good film for a young audience, and there are some very funny moments in the movie for me. The two reasons I did the movie were because I read the script and laughed my ass off, and I could see it as a movie. Also, what I do is usually a reaction to what I did before.

Q: Which was a remake of The Getaway. How'd you choose that?

A: Walter Hill is a friend of mine and he had written the screenplay for Peckinpah's original movie, but Peckinpah deviated from that quite a bit and Walter always held on to his original screenplay and wanted to direct a version of his own. I was going to do the movie with Walter. Then they got into a hassle about the budget and Walter split to go do Geronimo, and he gave everybody his blessing to go do it without him, so I did it with Roger Donaldson. I always wanted to do a movie that required what I consider to be movie acting, which is that it's not what you do, but what you don't do. It's all about small, and less and less. An action film is a perfect opportunity for that. There's always a steady flow of action films--it's the most mined material--but what distinguishes an action movie is the acting.

Q: With the beating you took in the media from The Marrying Man, were you concerned how the press would treat you guys for The Getaway?

A: I never thought about it.

Q: Kim said she was scared to death before you made it.

A: I think she was scared because what we'd done the last time The Marrying Man didn't work, which was not fun. I have a perspective on that situation now. That is, there are 20 movies a year that are made in this town that have difficulties and problems that make what I went through pale by comparison, but you never hear about those, because it's not in their interest. So when you hear about it, it's a vendetta--somebody wants to get you. Somebody from that company is feeding information, or misinformation, as the case may be. I was always surprised that people made a big deal of it, because what it boiled down to was, I worked for somebody I didn't like and I told him to kiss my ass. So what? How many people don't want to tell somebody they work for sometimes to kiss their ass? That happens. I worked for a bunch of people who didn't have any idea what they were doing...

Q: You're talking here about Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Disney executives?

A: I don't want to name names.

Q: The problems are on record.

A: Right.

Q: They're powerful people. Was it a mistake for you to be so outspoken against such powerful people?

A: Was it a mistake? I don't view it in terms of a mistake. "Mistake" means would I not do it again if I had it to do over, and I can't say that I wouldn't. Was it something that represented a problem for me? Yes. But it provided me with two tremendous gifts. One is, I met my wife, which is the most important of all. And number two, now I go into everything that I do and I want to have a positive experience. I had very, very cancer-causing, corrosive feelings for a long, long time. But you know something? That was a great preparation for what I then had to go get involved in with my wife with this Boxing Helena trial.

Q: You were also brave to have spoken out against Neil Simon, one of the icons in your business.

A: What quote did you read about Simon?

Q: That you said he was as deep as a bottle cap.

A: Someone said he was the Salieri of American theater. Which would make John Guare the Mozart. But understand, making that crack about Salieri--that's then. I ran into Neil Simon in an airport and he walked up to me, stuck his hand out. I wished him good luck on Laughter on the 23rd Floor. He's a gentleman.

Q: Let's finish the point about your outspokenness. Given the repercussions, is it something you regret?

A: No, I don't have any regrets about anything. Let's face facts, these people [at Disney] are not making great films. You cleave off the animation department of that company, and you look at the body of work these guys make--we're not talking about people who have the answer. Lots of people have difficulty there. I feel uncomfortable now, because you'll probably print my assessments of them rather than have the balls to make a statement about how this business really works.

Q: Which is?

A: A studio talks to any entertainment magazine, and who is that magazine beholden to? That magazine is dependent upon them for access to feature stories and advertising revenue. Premiere is beholden to those people. These executives say, "You print this, you put a spin on this," and I go and say, "Don't do that." Who are they beholden to? Whose story is going to get printed? What I learned is, that's the way it is across the board, everywhere. I know personally of three stories about movies that were made by that company which make my movie look like it was a picnic, but you never read about them.

Q: So it's all behind you now?

A: I learned to live with it. The only thing I think about that experience now is that it's sad. All those people, all that energy. God, it could have been better spent somewhere else. But I found myself among people where it was their avocation to make you feel small and reduced. I certainly don't want my ass kissed when I work, but I don't want people to treat me in a real reductive way either. You're making movies, man. What can be more meaningless than making movies in the 1990s? The world is becoming unraveled and we're making movies. Let's everybody relax.

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