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Last of the Line

Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of Hollywood's four Baldwin Brothers, takes cigars seriously, not acting.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, Mar/Apr 98

(continued from page 1)

The muscular bulk, explains the usually slender Baldwin, was put on for the role he plays in One Tough Cop, a film based on a true story of a New York City detective named Bo Dietl (profiled in the February 1998 issue of Cigar Aficionado). "I not only lifted weights every day for six weeks before we began shooting, but I actually chose to be a little chubbier," Baldwin says, resting one hand on his stomach, which actually looks pretty flat. "I wanted to look like one of those barrel-chested New York City cops who have the big arms so that they can choke you out." Perhaps because Baldwin was quite the carouser during his drinking days in New York, the question arises whether the choke hold is something that he knows about firsthand. "I've almost known about being choked out. But I'm the kind of guy who's smart enough to get a smack on the forearm and say to the cop, 'OK, I'll do what you tell me.' "

Despite his inherent aversion to violence--especially when it's directed at him--Baldwin's title role in One Tough Cop required a take-no-bullshit exterior. And that came with its own set of potential problems. "Bo Dietl's a pretty fearless guy who speaks his mind," says Baldwin, a believer in Method acting. "I tried to actually be him only about 50 percent of the time. If you play a guy who won't hesitate to punch somebody in the mouth and all of a sudden you find yourself feeling that impulse, well, let's just say that it can be a little risky."

In preparation for One Tough Cop, Baldwin and fellow brother-of-the-famous Chris Penn spent lots of time in the company of law enforcers and one another. They were in on at least one missing-persons case and used the time to develop a sense of synergy. "Chris Penn's a great guy," Baldwin says. "Somebody once asked me who would win a football game between the Baldwins and the Penns. I said that, unequivocally, the Baldwins would easily win. This got back to Chris and he said, 'That may be true, but the Penns would win the fight at the end of the game.' Now, I don't know about that, either." Baldwin hesitates for a beat, as if contemplating the logistics of a post-scrimmage imbroglio. "Chris could kick my ass, but I've got a big brother, too. Me and Billy would get Sean. My brother Dan would get Chris and we'd still have Alec."

Ironically, famous-family football sounds like the type of Hollywood schmoozing that Baldwin enjoys best. Unlike most of his contemporaries in Hollywood, he devotes as little time as possible to the West Coast--"I would never live in a state where the ground moves," he quips--and has spent the better part of his career living in Tucson, Arizona. At the time of the interview, he and his family were planning a move east to a Connecticut farmhouse.

Baldwin got his first taste of Tucson seven years ago, when he was on location for his TV show, "The Young Riders." He fell in love with the city, married (he and his wife, Kennya, met on a Manhattan bus when Baldwin was a struggling actor working in a pizza shop) and began his family there. The rural pace and picturesque setting suit Baldwin. Getting off on the vibe of a small town, he plays bogey golf whenever he can squeeze in the time, rides motorcycles and rebuilds old cars for fun (the current project is a 1965 Ford F100 big-window pickup truck).

Already in Baldwin's garage is an impressive fleet that includes a 1965 Mustang Fastback, a '68 Camaro, a '69 Firebird and a '68 Charger RT. "I like the Detroit muscle cars," he needlessly says. "They're so ballsy and they look cool when I drive around, doing the American Graffiti thing. But I have to tell you that I like high-performance vehicles as well. One of my favorite cars in the world is the one that my wife drives--a Volvo 850R sport wagon, the turbo. It looks like a station wagon but it moves like a rocket ship. So it's kind of cool to be Steve Baldwin at a red light in a station wagon, blowing some Porsche off the road."

This sounds like a metaphor for Baldwin's overview of Hollywood, a place and a state of mind that can be easily symbolized by the highest-end Porsche in any one of Wolfgang Puck's parking lots. Although his last name basically anoints him as automatic royalty in Tinseltown, Baldwin insists that the world of stardom is one in which he is not 100 percent comfortable. Conceding that it's convenient to be bumped up on the reservation sheet at Nobu, he maintains that star-studded events are not his milieu.

Baldwin's face creases a bit, making him look older than his 31 years, as he explains, "When I was younger I wanted to be in the loop and pimp around town with the big shots and supermodels and all that crap. These days, though, I'd rather ride my motorcycle during the day, then have my kid chase me around the living room with a broom when I get home. I don't feel the need to feed my ego the way I used to."

That didn't stop Baldwin from recently appearing on the E! channel mingling with a fairly star-studded crowd backstage at a U-2 concert. He didn't seem to mind the company one bit. "I enjoyed being backstage at U-2, waiting to meet [lead singer] Bono, because I admire Bono," he allows. "But there were all these supermodels and record company people back there, with all this energy about us being the elite, and I don't get that. I wasn't going out of my way to intermingle with all those people who were intermingling with each other. It just doesn't feel right to me. I guess there is a certain acceptance that you need in order to feel right in that crowd. There's a place in celebrities' egos where they have to be comfortable enough to feel that they have a right to be who they are and where they are. I just don't feel that way."

This is not to say, however, that Baldwin doesn't admire some of the most accomplished people in his profession. He mentions Sylvester Stallone ("A big stogie man"), Gary Oldman and Mel Gibson as actors with bodies of work that he aspires to.

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