BALDWIN: For me, everything changed when I turned 50.
BALDWIN: Suddenly life is too short. 30 Rock has spoiled me in terms of realizing there’s nothing like having an audience for what you do. You realize you have plenty of time left but none to waste. And you don’t want to do anything you don’t want to do anymore.
PLAYBOY: What’s the biggest downside of being 51? What do you miss about the guy who starred in The Marrying Man and The Hunt for Red October?
BALDWIN: About being younger? Having dark hair. When you get older, you look older, and there’s nothing you can do.
PLAYBOY: At least you have plenty of hair, even if it’s gray.
BALDWIN: I’ve got hair for five guys. That’s one thing I am proud of. I don’t miss much else. I still throw a football with people at work all the time. I play tennis. But now, at 51, boy, my arm hurts the next day. You don’t recover as well, and you don’t want to get hurt. I ski, but if visibility is low, I don’t want to go out. I get a little scared. I don’t have time to lie in bed and recover for four or six weeks from a broken back or collarbone. But I’ll answer that question in a different context, in terms of what I went through in divorce. My only regret in life is that my daughter had to go through what she went through. I wonder how she’ll feel years from now, how it will affect her relationships. That is one of the greatest tragedies of the system, the reason I wrote the book. The most important thing is what is in the best interest of the child, but the system treats parents like mules. They just beat you with this incessant metronome of what’s best for your child. Who cares how much you suffer or how much you spend financially or emotionally? It’s not about you. That is a lie and a huge mistake. It should be that both parents deserve to have a life as well, with some dignity, decency and privacy, without the intrusion of these judges and lawyers, who are just the worst people you’ve met in your life.
PLAYBOY: Could even a perfect legal system mitigate the bitterness that obviously existed between you and your ex?
BALDWIN: They have to ignore the emotionalized part of it. Judges should sit down and say, “If either of you alienates the child from the other, I will give primary and sole custody to the other person. Don’t do it.” But they don’t want to get in the way of the gamesmanship. Once one alienates the other, it’s more lawyer fees. If you get divorced, if your wife keeps your kids from you, you’re going to spend money to get them. The courts don’t want to get in the way of that commerce. A woman walks in, takes all your behavior as a father, puts it in the blender with the lawyer and paints you as a bad father for the purposes of alienating your child. That has to change.
PLAYBOY: How did growing up with five siblings in the Long Island town of Massapequa shape you?
BALDWIN: You discover as years go by how much that determines who you become as a person. There are times I love living alone and other times I really miss a house filled with a big family. My dad was a teacher. He didn’t have money, and his six kids had to entertain themselves. My friends had money, boats, country houses, finished basements with pool tables. We had none of that. So it was my brothers and I, playing football, baseball, softball in a field adjacent to a golf course near our house. We lived there. At home everybody told jokes, finding a way to be funny. That led to what we’re all doing.
PLAYBOY: Were you surprised they followed you into acting?
BALDWIN: My brothers had been putting one another on and entertaining one another out of necessity since they were five years old. I realize ending up in this business was natural for them. I was formed in my home, with my family, living a very simple life. I’m not some bling kind of person, no privatejet guy with big gold-encrusted jewelry. I linger on this because when I think about what the average American is, I think of my dad—the average American who wakes up every morning, puts in the hours trying to hold on to his job and do it well. If I run for office, my goal is to recognize that government doesn’t need to have lower taxes, a smaller budget. It’ll be smaller than now because we are undergoing a correction. But government needs to spend money more responsibly. It’s the only entity in this country authorized to stick its hand in your pocket and take your money, and if you don’t pay, you go to jail. It’s a disgrace, the way they just piss it away. Government needs to build roads, put satellites in the air, have bombs, ships and planes for the defense department, and schools. We need basically everything we have now. We just need to do it better. Let’s say I want you to build a highway. I’d have people come in from all around the world and explain how they built one in Germany, Italy or Riyadh, and I would turn to people in my country and say, “You’ve got six months to build the highway, and if you don’t, you’re fired.” It becomes a reservoir a certain group of politically connected people drinks from. That has to stop.
BALDWIN: Make everyone understand that when you steal on a government contract, it’s almost like treason. If I were president, I would make defense fraud treason. I would make it a treasonous act to play on the security fears of the American people, to have them authorize the building of all these things to defend and protect us, and then have you steal money inside the life of that contract. I’d send you to prison for treason.
PLAYBOY: What about bailed-out companies like AIG cutting bonus checks?
BALDWIN: That’s a complicated question I don’t even think experts can answer now. People have contracts; it would be illegal to void them. These things were rushed by the former administration. What we need is an SEC that matters. The reason I think I would want to run for office and be good at it is, the way all this should be done is overwhelmingly obvious to me.
BALDWIN: You want business, but you’ve got to stand up to business. If a company says, “Hey, you break our chops about exhaust, about our factories…,” you turn to them and say, “Go. Leave. Because the jobs and tax base we’ll lose are less than what it would cost to clean up your mess, what we’ll pay later in hospitals for the people who get cancer from what you’re going to do.” I think our society is evolving that way now. This is the thing that excites me about Barack Obama: He gets that you’ll pay now or later. Tell that corporation to drop dead, get out of your state and move someplace where they need jobs so bad they’ll sell their souls for short-end money.
PLAYBOY: Every article written about you cites your decision to do A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway—which cost you Patriot Games—as the reason you dropped off the superstar track. Would you do it differently now?
BALDWIN: I don’t know if I’m so certain and self-assured about the choices I’ve made. Sometimes I think, What if I had done it their way? Where would it have led? You are asked to be a part of a system in which the bulk of the films you make will be forgettable but will give you an opportunity to do certain things creatively. I look at Tom Cruise, who made films that called for him to be young, fit and charming, and that appeal made him a star. When Tom wanted to give a real performance, he made Magnolia. It was like watching some alien that looked like Tom Cruise, because it was nothing you’d ever seen Tom do. That he was not given the Oscar that year for Magnolia was devastating to me. I thought he was breathtaking. Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich—like Tom, she’s beautiful, charming, smart, funny and winning, yet she plays a self-serving woman, a little coarse and willing to go to considerable lengths to get her way. She won the Oscar. Could I have done that?
PLAYBOY: How might that system have worked for you?
BALDWIN: You can get into that rhythm of “I’ll do one for them, one for me.” I didn’t do that. I wanted independence. I thought, You want me to do these movies, and they suck. Only later do you realize that if you do the one that sucks, you could do the one you wanted to do and have an audience for it. In spite of the reversals he has had over the past several years, the person who has done the most with that is Mel Gibson. He has made great films in all genres. Mel is everything you want in a movie star, but there’s a layer underneath him. I don’t know if the word is danger or pathos, but there’s a complexity to Mel. Apocalypto is one of the most overwhelming, exhilarating but hideously violent films I’ve ever seen.
PLAYBOY: You mentioned to me after our first session that you had never made a truly great film. The Departed won an Oscar. You made Glengarry Glen Ross, The Hunt for Red October, The Good Shepherd, Married to the Mob. How can you say that?
BALDWIN: What I meant was, it’s one thing to make a small contribution to a great film. The goal of a film actor is for your name to be above the title in a film that is a soaring commercial success or wins an Oscar. Not you, necessarily, but the film wins something significant.
PLAYBOY: Is that still your goal?
BALDWIN: I had to let go of that. Whatever dreams of glory I had, so to speak, I no longer have. I’m doing the TV show. When that is over, my eye is looking toward doing something else.
PLAYBOY: Won’t TV momentum help your future in movies?
BALDWIN: I’ll be too old by then.
PLAYBOY: Is there a performance you are most proud of?
BALDWIN: No. I don’t have the feeling for anything I’ve done in movies that equals anything in the plays I’ve done. I liked them, but take every supporting role and throw it out the window. You just come in and play your scene. I remember being around Leo DiCaprio in The Aviator and thinking, God, how gifted this guy is, how he’s taking advantage of his opportunities. I love to watch the young actor transition into the grown man on film. There was always something boyish and puckish about Johnny Depp, but I’ll never forget watching Sweeney Todd and feeling profoundly impressed by his performance.
PLAYBOY: You say you have no regrets, but it sounds as if you wish you had trusted the system more.
BALDWIN: Yes, not that I should have but rather what might have resulted if I had? A lot depends on who sponsors you in that club. If you’re a young De Niro and you forge into a unit with Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen and the company of actors that included his former wife, or Leo with Scorsese—I didn’t have that. It’s like they’re asking you to walk down a dark alley. If it’s the right people, a door at the end leads to a fabulous wonderland. But the people who asked me to come down the alleyway? I was like, “Eh…let me get back to you.”
PLAYBOY: Should you have gone down the alleyway anyway?
BALDWIN: From time to time I wonder. Maybe I say this to myself just to medicate whatever anxiety I have, but had it worked out, I might have been seduced into doing that the rest of my life. I do not want to do this for the rest of my life. There are other things I want to do. I do what I do on a case-by-case basis, and I see that this is going to end, probably very soon.
PLAYBOY: By your choice?
BALDWIN: It doesn’t really matter. More my choice, since I want to do other things. This is the jail with golden bars, but it would be so horrible for me to read this article and not have said there is a lot of wonderful in this business, a lot I’m going to miss. God knows, to walk away will be hard, but I’m trying to have the discipline to understand that I want to have other experiences. Maybe a private life.
PLAYBOY: Is that realistic?
BALDWIN: I have this silly fantasy. I get married again, I have a kid. I’d love another shot at that, with everything I’ve learned. My kid’s like eight, comes home and says, “Dad, Jimmy’s mom says you were a famous actor on TV and in the movies. Is that true?” And I go, “Yes, Johnny, Dad was famous.” I whip out my scrapbooks and my DVDs and say, “Believe it or not, that’s your dad.” And my kid’s like, “You used to be on TV and everything? And now you stay home and just clean the house all day while Mom works?” “That’s right, son.” It’s a dream, that the kid doesn’t know anything about that part of my life. Our normal life is uncontaminated by it.
PLAYBOY: How long are you committed to 30 Rock?
BALDWIN: I’ve got three more years to go.
PLAYBOY: Will you run for office?
BALDWIN: I’ll put it this way. The desire is there; that’s one component. The other component is opportunity. A law firm in a liberal Democratic bastion in Ohio state politics sent me a binder with a cover letter that read, “Mr. Baldwin, here’s who we represent, the kinds of cases we handle, our credentials in Ohio state politics. We want you to move to Ohio and run for governor. We will launch your career.”
PLAYBOY: Could you live in Ohio?
BALDWIN: I have sometimes thought I could move to New Jersey or Connecticut and run. I’d love to run against Joe Lieberman. I have no use for him. But it’s all fantasy. I’m a carry-me-out-in-a-box New Yorker. Here, anything can happen. Who thought Eliot Spitzer would go down the way he did? Senator Hillary Clinton left to serve as secretary of state. Two of the biggest forces gone. Maybe Andrew Cuomo will run for one of their old seats. How much longer will Chuck Schumer stay as senator? After 2013 Bloomberg will be gone. What happens then? Do I run for Congress on Long Island? What’s Tim Bishop going to do? He represents my district. People get sick, die. They’re offered lucrative deals and want to cash in and make money for their retirement. People misstep. Unfortunately, an opportunity for me may mean bad things for someone else. I don’t wish that.
PLAYBOY: How does all this factor into your career?
BALDWIN: I’m done in 2012. In March 2012 I’ll wake up and say, “What am I going to do now? Am I done?” I think I will be done. I may finish a play or something, but I’m retiring at the wrap party.