BALDWIN: It’s the stance my union should take. Promotional activities for films and television shows have replaced talented marketing and publicity departments. These division heads want to walk into a meeting and say, “We ran this star up the flagpole, nobody saluted, and the movie bombed. So the movie bombed because nobody liked so-and-so.” They’ve relieved themselves of any responsibility by tying the marketing to the star’s name. They psychologically abuse talent by going, “Hey, if the movie bombs, it’s bad for you.” They’ve psyched you into thinking you’ve got to run around the country for four weeks, telling the same anecdotes over and over until you want to drop dead. You miss your child’s volleyball game because if the movie doesn’t do well, it reflects on you. They’ve conspired to wash their hands of any responsibility.
PLAYBOY: Would you be reluctant to work with Warner Bros. again?
BALDWIN: Well, I did My Sister’s Keeper after that. The publicity I do now is modest because I don’t think it makes a difference. Why am I even here with you? Do you think this is something I enjoy?
PLAYBOY: It’s not?
BALDWIN: I want to assure you of something. Four out of five actors I know wouldn’t do this if their life depended on it—unless they felt pressure to promote a film. That’s exactly how I feel. I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, talking about this crap and my opinions of the business. I wouldn’t bother. I like you personally. I wouldn’t talk to somebody who was a shit heel. If Harvey Levin wanted to interview me, I would tell him to go drown. But if this wasn’t about promoting My Sister’s Keeper and maybe 30 Rock and the movie I’m now doing with Meryl Streep, I wouldn’t waste fucking five minutes on it.
PLAYBOY: Did you always feel this way?
BALDWIN: When you’re younger you get sold that it’s vital. Bit by bit you see through that. Like the Today show. I’m on an NBC show, and Today was considered vital. But when that voice-mail tape thing happened, Matt Lauer interviewed Levin before he even called me. Lauer put Levin on Today, and they never phoned me. When it’s in their interest to reach me, they know how. I saw that and said, “My relationship with the Today show is over.” I’ll never do Today again, ever. Life’s too short.
PLAYBOY: But media everywhere focus on TMZ.
BALDWIN: NBC will periodically give you that NBC-family spiel. I expected that, since I was starring on an NBC show, I would have gotten a phone call and they would’ve said, “Would you like an opportunity to come in and talk about it?”
PLAYBOY: Would you have accepted?
BALDWIN: I probably would have done that before I did The View. I raced in to do that show. Whoopi Goldberg is a friend. I called her and said, “Do you think I can get a fair shake?” Because when you talk about family law and parental alienation, there is this unfortunate gender-based dynamic. Could I walk into a show with a strong female audience? Would they understand my point of view? I trusted Whoopi and Barbara Walters. Whoopi is an impeccably decent person, and I am grateful she gave me a forum.
PLAYBOY: When you hit back at Levin, reports say you outed him as a homosexual. Was that fair?
BALDWIN: No, I don’t think I outed him. I thought Levin had been candid about that. But for a long time he wasn’t. I have nothing against people who are homosexual, but I find it funny that people in that tabloid world keep their own secrets. They want the world at large to respect that but spend their lives outing the secrets of others. I find Levin peculiar and hypocritical.
PLAYBOY: You’ve had a front-row seat at intrusive celebrity coverage—helicopters at your wedding, photographers trying to snap pictures of your newborn. Is it still this bad for you?
BALDWIN: No. Those magazines focus on people who are younger and newer. I’m 51 and have moved into another world, where they’re done with you—unless you do something. The three quickest ways to get back into that loop are: Don’t pay your federal income taxes, get drunk and try to bolt through airport security with a gun in your suitcase, and last but not least, get a DUI and be arrested in Malibu. A series of events could heat up that pot again, but the benefit of being older is they don’t care about me.
PLAYBOY: Why is there such an insatiable appetite to see stars in unflattering moments?
BALDWIN: This society is very wired together, and it’s the most neurotic a society has ever been. Twitter, all this stuff, I don’t view as anything good. Everyone is so hyperaware of what everybody else is doing. Everybody has been convinced their opinion should count. We all need to be spouting opinions. I’m now giving you an opinion about opinions.
PLAYBOY: You are.
BALDWIN: Another element is how distant government has become for the average person. People want their opinion to count somewhere, so they’ve transferred the desires and expectations of their democratic voice over to entertainment. They don’t have any input into what the government does. There is a chasm thousands of miles wide between Washington and the people. That’s why shows like American Idol are so important: People want to think they can affect something in that Roman gladiatorial way—thumbs up or thumbs down. I’m not saying public officials are exempt, because every time the people can gang up and condemn a public official, they do.
PLAYBOY: When you hosted SNL recently, you jokingly thanked Christian Bale. Whose audio tirade was worse?
BALDWIN: Mine was worse by far because it involved parenting. Christian Bale’s was a skirmish with a colleague on set, and the only odd thing was how long it went on. Probably on half the films I’ve done I’ve seen someone lose it. You’re shooting and someone gets in your eye line, or a light blows when you’re really onto something as a performer. A phone goes off or a walkie-talkie. I’ve seen people lose it on behalf of their creative expedition. It’s frustration, nothing personal. Mine was so much different.
PLAYBOY: What reaction hit you hardest?
BALDWIN: The most harrowing for me was negative mail I got from people who were critical but not hating or condemning. What hurt was that it was heartfelt. They’d say, “My father or my mother did this to me one time, and I’ve never forgotten it, never gotten over it.” Wow. I still believe the people who released the tape only made it worse, but the worst part for me was the way it touched the people who parent their kids. I’m thinking of my next book being about this.
PLAYBOY: After all that, you’ll write a book about parenting?
BALDWIN: It will be ironic for some people, but I’m going to write a parenting book. We’re at, not a crisis, but an awful place right now in terms of parenting. People are raising their children with the belief that we need to be friends with our children. Kids have too much power and call too many of the shots, telling their parents what they will and won’t do.
PLAYBOY: Why has this happened?
BALDWIN: In my gut I feel it’s another manifestation of how hard life has become. People are working hard to make money and manage their feelings about what the country’s going through. We live in stressful times. People come home, walk up the driveway, put the key in the door, and they just can’t do another hard job. Parenting your children effectively is a tough job.
PLAYBOY: You write in your book that after the tape leaked you offered to leave 30 Rock and even thought of jumping out a window. How serious were you?
BALDWIN: Very serious.
PLAYBOY: What did you learn from all this?
BALDWIN: Don’t lose your temper and act out in that way. I spoke to a lot of professionals, who helped me. If I hadn’t left that message, I wouldn’t have left myself open for that. On the other hand, I left the message with the presumption of privacy. I never dreamed they would do that. I was mortified, stunned. And not for me, because if I blew my brains out, a cadre of people on the other side would be elated. If I committed suicide, they would have considered that a victory. Destroying me was their avowed goal.
PLAYBOY: This is your ex’s legal team?
BALDWIN: Oh, it’s a whole them. But the important thing is, when they released that, I was devastated for my daughter, who goes to school with other showbusiness kids. When parents are doing their job, these kids admire their moms and dads as entertainment professionals. When you go the opposite way, and this happens—I couldn’t imagine anything more overwhelming for my daughter.
PLAYBOY: How did you repair your relationship with her?
BALDWIN: All I will say is, I met a therapist, one of the few smart therapists in the court-appointed family-law business. Most of them are racketeers who turn you upside down and shake your pockets out onto the table. But this guy said, “This is hard for you to believe right now, but you are the child’s father, and a child has only one father. Your child will come back to you. Her nature is to come back to you.” And over time that’s indeed what happened.
PLAYBOY: Ironically, in your new film, My Sister’s Keeper, you play a lawyer in a child-custody battle.
BALDWIN: [Laughs] I tried so hard to put just a little sheen of oil on him.
PLAYBOY: Did your experiences shape your character?
BALDWIN: No, because if I had put in the things I might have wanted to, it would kill the movie. My character is very sympathetic, an epileptic who has a seizure in the middle of the trial. My guy’s on the right side of the issue, representing a young girl in a medical-emancipation case. He’s not a divorce lawyer, but I tried to give him the requisite oily sheen of most lawyers I know.
PLAYBOY: Do you really have it in for lawyers?
BALDWIN: I’ve met women since I’ve been single, and the minute I find out one is a lawyer, I’m like, “Check, please.”
PLAYBOY: Compared with the controversial things you’ve said in the past, your words seem more measured now.
BALDWIN: I think it just doesn’t help anybody. I’ve watched people go at it, like Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump. All the negativity in my ugly assessments of Harvey Levin or my ex-wife’s divorce lawyers, all the negativity that has been in my life—I don’t want that. Let’s say there are 10 people I’ve had real tension and conflict with in the past. I never think about them anymore; none of them live in my life now. I did The Marrying Man with my ex-wife at Disney. A lot went wrong. Almost 20 years ago I did things I would do differently now. Yet 15 years later Michael Eisner called and asked me to do his interview show on CNBC, and he was a delight to talk to. Did I enjoy doing the movie when he ran Disney? No. I set that aside. Jeffrey Katzenberg ran the studio back then, and many of the frictions I had on The Marrying Man were with him. He called and said, “Would you come and do Madagascar with us?” I had a great time; he was an absolute gentleman. You’ve got to set those things aside.