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Playboy Interview: Alec Baldwin
  • July 26, 2011 : 00:07
  • comments

When TMZ.com leaked a 2007 voice mail Alec Baldwin had left for his daughter, Ireland, in which he referred to her as a “rude, thoughtless little pig” and called his ex-wife Kim Basinger “a thoughtless pain in the ass,” it seemed Baldwin had once again sabotaged a career destined for great things.

He had done it before, when he stepped off the superstar track by choosing to do A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway rather than reprise the role of Jack Ryan he originated in The Hunt for Red Octobe
r. Although Baldwin’s Stanley Kowalski drew a Tony nomination and favorable comparisons to Marlon Brando’s, it cost Baldwin the kind of film franchise superstar careers are built on. The voice mail, which he accused his ex’s lawyers of leaking, was more traumatic and potentially much worse. Baldwin, however, has recovered.

Two years later his professional career seems in better shape than ever. He has won an Emmy and two Golden Globes for his portrayal of 30 Rock
’s self-absorbed TV executive Jack Donaghy. At the age of 51 Baldwin also has a strong feature career that falls somewhere between star and character actor. He next plays a lawyer who squares off with Cameron Diaz in the courtroom drama My Sister’s Keeper
, and he is currently shooting a love-triangle comedy with Meryl Streep and Steve Martin.

Baldwin was initially so distraught by the damage the tape did to his relationship with his daughter that he entertained thoughts of killing himself, offered to leave his TV show and briefly dropped his agent (because the agency also repped his ex-wife), but he rebounded. After requisite apologies and a rekindled relationship with Ireland, Baldwin turned the embarrassing incident into a chance to champion reform of what he says is a broken child custody court system, and he wrote A Promise to Ourselves, a primer for divorced fathers struggling to remain involved parents.

Baldwin grew up in a middle-class home in Massapequa, New York, on Long Island, as the oldest of six children including future acting brothers Billy, Daniel and Stephen. He attended George Washington University, but he became interested in acting and transferred to NYU. His dark looks and baritone landed him a job on the daytime soap The Doctors
, followed by a role on the TV drama Knots Landin
g.

He moved on to small parts in the films Married to the Mob
, Working Girl
and Great Balls of Fire
and scored a quick hit as Jack Ryan. But Baldwin bristled at the star system and the executives who control it, often clashing with the Hollywood power structure.

He often promotes his films with guest-hosting stints on Saturday Night Live
(he has now hosted 14 times), and sometimes these appearances have been more memorable than the films. The characters Baldwin has created include the amorous scoutmaster who puts the moves on Adam Sandler’s Canteen Boy during a camping trip, and Pete Schweddy, the monotoned purveyor of baked goods who takes to National Public Radio to describe his delectable “Schweddy balls.”

The SNL
connection paid off when SNL
head writer Tina Fey created 30 Rock
. Lorne Michaels, who produces both shows, persuaded Baldwin to do the sitcom, a move that reenergized his career. Though he began as a parttime performer when NBC launched the show, his role grew and he signed on for six seasons, which will take him through 2012.

Playboy
sent Michael Fleming, who last interviewed Hugh Jackman, to catch up with Baldwin in the Hamptons, where he lives part of the time. Fleming reports, “In person he is a bit thicker and grayer now than in his matinee idol days. Considering the withering comments he has lobbed at enemies in the past, I expected Baldwin to come out firing. He is still a live wire, but age and public humiliation have mellowed him a bit. Luckily, the more he talked, the more outspoken he became.”


PLAYBOY: Setting up this interview was like trying to shoot a moving target. It took months for you to carve out time in your schedule. Not many actors your age are so busy.

BALDWIN: For me to have any career opportunities at the age of 51 is a miracle. But it’s all about 30 Rock. We’ve won every prize they give out, some twice. People need to laugh right now. Tina Fey and her writers are so good, they’ve skewed things for me.

PLAYBOY: How?

BALDWIN: People send scripts now, and I read them and go [breathes in loudly], “I don’t know. It’s more cute than funny.” I work with people who are really funny. It sets the bar high.

PLAYBOY: You, Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan are very different. On what level do you connect?

BALDWIN: I love Tracy because he is this sweet kid from the Bronx, a real New Yorker who went from comedy clubs in the outer boroughs into the 212 area code with Caroline’s and then stardom on SNL. But he’s still childlike. When he was told he was going to host SNL, he burst out crying in front of us; he couldn’t believe they’d asked him. He’s among a handful of people in my life who always make me laugh. He’s sick and perverted but in a wonderful way. He’s my favorite pervert.

PLAYBOY: How about Tina Fey?

BALDWIN: Tina’s a smart and sexy woman who writes with an edge and thinks like a guy. The success of 30 Rock is not how many people watch the show but who’s watching the show. Industry people watch. There are shows far more successful than we’ll ever be that nobody in my business watches. So when NBC chief Jeff Zucker or NBC programming honcho Ben Silverman or SNL and 30 Rock producer Lorne Michaels are having lunch at the Grill and people walk up and say, “My kid downloads that show, and we watch the DVD boxed set,” it’s enormously gratifying.

PLAYBOY: You’ve had enough classic moments on SNL to fill your own DVD. Which skit do people bring up most often?

BALDWIN: “Schweddy Balls.” It’s going to be on my tombstone: HERE LIES ALEC BALDWIN AND HIS SCHWEDDY BALLS.

PLAYBOY: Did you turn down any sketches for being too outrageous?

BALDWIN: Probably a few. It’s hard to remember. I’m often asked if I think about going into politics. If I do, these guys will have a field day. I’ve given them so much crap to use against me—Canteen Boy, Schweddy balls. I just did the Wii sketch. Did you see that?

PLAYBOY: Describe it.

BALDWIN: I did this with two SNL guys. I’m their father, and I show them that the best way to shake the Wii wand is to go like this [simulates masturbation], and we’re doing this obscene, horrible thing. Google or YouTube that one; it’s just ridiculous. While I’m doing it, I’m thinking, If I run for political office, they’ll have a forest of material to kill me with.

PLAYBOY: Can comedy be held against you?

BALDWIN: I always hope people will understand that what I do as an entertainer is totally different from the way I behave. The day you say “I am a candidate,” you have a different responsibility. You hope the American public has the ability to delineate what of your private behavior matters and what doesn’t. If a guy’s a drunk driver, he has shown a lack of judgment that could hurt people. A womanizer? Well, you don’t know what someone’s going through in their marriage. Maybe he or she was miserable and unhappy, and if they were seeking companionship from someone else, that’s none of my business. If they don’t pay their taxes? That I’d worry about. The truth is, you have to assume they’ll slam you for all of it.

PLAYBOY: Your hosting career spans 14 SNL episodes. Who are the most impressive cast members you’ve worked with?

BALDWIN: Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell and Will Forte. Hartman used to just amaze me. But maybe the most impressive moment I witnessed on the show involved Mike Myers. He hosted a Japanese game show in which Chris Farley is tortured when he doesn’t answer the questions right. Myers took my breath away. He just so nailed it, doing all this phonetic Japanese. We were peeing in our pants.

PLAYBOY: Do you watch a lot of television?

BALDWIN: No. I’ve watched 60 Minutes and The Sopranos on Sunday nights, and I cried when The Sopranos ended. I don’t watch anything else.

PLAYBOY: Why did you say yes to 30 Rock?

BALDWIN: It’s shot in New York. Lorne Michaels made a provision in my contract that says I would never miss my visitation with my daughter. I work a limited number of days a week, and then I’m on a plane. That was the biggest consideration. The pilot was funny, the show got funnier, and by the end of the first season people were saying glowing things.

PLAYBOY: You’ve clashed with studio heads and producers. What bothers you about the way Hollywood works?

BALDWIN: I worked for Warner Bros. on The Departed, and I just did My Sister’s Keeper with Cameron Diaz. My problem with Warner Bros. is that it’s part of the same company as TMZ, and it’s like that with all these companies—Extra, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight. I would be so happy if those shows went off the air. It is a huge problem in our business—this microcosmic analysis and elevation of people who are just witless and talentless, or people with talent, like Lindsay Lohan, who struggle. Who gives a shit about their personal trivialities? It hurts the business.

PLAYBOY: TMZ’s Harvey Levin ran the audio of the biting voice-mail message you left your daughter. How mad were you?

BALDWIN: I thought about suing Warner Bros. My attorneys told me digital or electronic property of a minor is the intellectual property of the parent or legal guardian. TMZ was not allowed to release that tape without my approval. I don’t think they did anybody any favors. Everybody knows Levin is a human tumor, a graceless character who lives in that weird netherworld. I don’t blame those pathetic people; they are what they are. This is about the company. Warner Bros. wants me to do a movie and then shoves it up my ass with another company down the hall. You work for Paramount, and they say, “We want you to promote the movie you’ve done for us by going on a TV show we own. We’re going to double dip and make money on you both ways.” They’re not paying me serious appearance fees, and as a union member I have a big problem with that. You want me to do appearances now on Entertainment Tonight? Pay me. Are you making a profit on Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight? Everybody says, “Do it for free because you’re promoting your movie.” Pay me.

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