Stephen Baldwin: Get Out of Town

Baldwin first came to Tucson six years ago, back when he was shooting "The Young Riders" TV series here. Though he insisted that the sleepy town wasn't exactly his kind of place, his wife-to-be refused to move to Hollywood, so they agreed to give Tucson a try. Now he commutes to the sets of locally shot films like 8 Seconds and Posse or travels to locations with his family in tow, managing to build a life for himself that he says is financed by--but untarnished by--the hustle of Hollywood.

Baldwin realized that he'd found a home here when locals began treating him in the manner that makes him comfortable. "I sometimes shoot pool with a bunch of neighborhood guys," Baldwin explains. "Every time I walk into the pool hall, they yell over the crowd, 'Hey, here comes the schmuck from TV!' That's what I like about Tucson--I'm that 'schmuck from TV'--it keeps me grounded."

As we troop past wheelbarrows and pickaxes, Baldwin, the only person in the store sporting sunglasses and Armani shorts, observes, "It is so freaky in here. I get stoned walking around Home Depot. It's almost as surreal as the desert, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. The other day I was in here and saw a guy wearing a $2,500 suit getting his paint mixed. I was like, 'Wow. That's cool.'"

When Baldwin can't find what he wants, we hit a couple of other hardware emporiums. If none of them accommodate his paternal needs, all nevertheless serve to bolster his personal standing as a celebrity: in a town where movie stars are about as common as oceanfront views, I can see that Baldwin is constantly getting checked out by people who are sure they know him from somewhere but can't quite place him.

Some of that uncertainty may change with the release of A Simple Twist of Fate. Baldwin says he got his role in this movie, written by and starring Steve Martin, by being a little crazier than his competition while auditioning for the role of Gabriel Byrne's bad-seed brother. "I was reading a scene in which Byrne's character physically and violently throws me up against a wall and threatens me," he says, driving towards his favorite steakhouse. "I have a line where I sarcastically say, 'Whatever happened to brotherly love?' When I auditioned, I kissed the reader before I said that line. I'm not saying I got the role because I kissed the guy, but I don't think anybody else did anything like that."

As we enter Lil Abner's Steakhouse, a big barn of a place with an open-pit barbecue and a country-western band, Baldwin can't resist comparing this down-home setting with the power-mealing that he does during his trips to L.A. "For me, eating at Le Petit Four in Sunset Plaza is purgatory," he explains. "It's not about who you are, but who you think you are. And that can be very physically and emotionally debilitating. I don't want to get up every morning and put on my Hollywood mask and my wet suit of armor that will make me impervious to the things that eat away at you in that town.

"Another side to what I'm saying is that now I don't mind going there so much," he continues. "I find it amusing to see the image that everybody is projecting and to try to figure out who the real them is. The sad truth is that L.A. is like a record that skips. Every day it's the same thing, the same deal-making scenario: Pitch me. Babe, how are you? Your new face-lift looks great! When I see that stuff, I wonder how those people can do it every day. It's like falling asleep and waking up in a scene from The Player. Each one is making a stab at being a producer, meeting some girl that he saw at a club last night. She's a model fresh from Iowa and he's trying to get her to do ... God knows what. It's Hollywood, man."

This monologue is interrupted by the appearance of a tittering waitress who not only recognizes Baldwin, but reminds him that he'd chatted her up during a prior visit to Lil Abner's. Baldwin responds with a bona fide courtliness that most people reserve for real acquaintances. Either Baldwin gets off being a big fish in a small pond, or he simply does not have it in him to be unkind with fans. When the woman departs, I ask him whether either of these guesses is correct.

Baldwin says his own attitude can be traced back to an encounter he once had. "I was outside of Manhattan's Four Seasons Restaurant and one of the members of the Starship Enterprise was the biggest asshole in the world to me," says Baldwin, who won't name William Shatner, but smiles knowingly when I do. "I very apprehensively and cautiously approached him and said, 'Excuse me, I don't mean to bother you or anything, but I just want to say that I've been a fan for a long time. I'm an actor, I'm just starting out, and I want to say thanks for your work.' In the most bastardish way possible, this guy brushed me off without even bringing his eyes to mine. It was like someone had shot an arrow through me. I was devastated. A few experiences like that made me swear that I would never be a prick toward any fans."

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