Back On Track
Alec Baldwin has emerged from every actor's nightmare—a career downturn and a nasty, public divorce—with the ultimate accolade, an Oscar nomination.
From the Print Edition:
Alec Baldwin, May/June 2004
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When Prelude to a Kiss wrapped in April 1991, Baldwin remembers asking the producer when the film was scheduled for release. He recalls the date was in December to put it in contention for the Oscars. "'Great,' I said, and without a molecule of irony, I went on to predict that 'we are going to win everything: best picture, best director, best screenplay, best actor. This is the most beautiful piece I've ever worked on.' The movie was released instead the following July and it sank like a stone. It did no business. It was a fucking disaster. Ever since that day, I've never thought about what a movie can do for me."
Don't take Baldwin's cynical reticence the wrong way, however. He is thrilled to have been recognized with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Cooler, and grateful, too. "Well, it's better this way than the other way. I'd rather have people like what I do and be unafraid to say so," Baldwin says. But he also can't help exposing his disbelief about Lady Luck's unlikely spotlight on him. "I mean I did it, and it was over. I loved Maria [Bello] and I loved William [Macy]. But it was fast. It was over and I left. Then you get a phone call, and it's like a slow-burning fuse. They say, you're in the Sundance Film Festival. Then they say, you're in Toronto, and in the Hamptons Film Festival, and then the Berlin Film Festival, and then, you won the National Board of Review, and you're going to be nominated for a Golden Globe." There's a pause in Baldwin's rapid-fire patter. His eyes brighten, he waves his hands, and almost shouts, "You go, how can that be? Don't they know it's me?"
He's proud of the movie and of all the obstacles it overcame. "[Kramer] made a lot out of nothing, $3.2 million," Baldwin says. "I defy anyone to tell me that movie looked like it cost $3.2 million." He credits Kramer's skill as a director for using time efficiently and for capitalizing on some lucky breaks, such as being given free run of a casino in Reno while it was undergoing renovations. And he praises the film's director of cinematography, Jim Whitaker. "He shot the shit out of it." Baldwin continues. "It's fate. You come together, and while you know this about independent films, you don't want to say it. There is no margin for error. The unstated thing is you know you could do your job perfectly. Everyone could do it perfectly, and the movie would still be mediocre. You don't have the money to buff it up and polish it. In fact, you probably know there's not enough money to make the movie you promised yourself you were going to make. But you do it. Sometimes you do one, and it's a really good movie. The Cooler is a really good movie."
Baldwin extols the virtues of other films from his filmography. One of his favorite roles was Robert Green in the action picture The Edge, with Anthony Hopkins. "When I worked with Tony, it was he and I throughout, and he's one of my favorite movie actors alive," Baldwin says. "It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I'm an unabashed fan."
Glengarry Glen Ross, the classic film about ruthless real estate agents in a game to succeed at any cost, is another favorite because Baldwin "loved working with those guys." "Those guys" included Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Jonathan Pryce and Ed Harris.
Rob Reiner's Ghosts of Mississippi, about the quest for justice in civil rights leader Medgar Evers, 30-year-old murder, was another powerful experience, Baldwin says, because of Reiner's skill with the actors. "He was brave. He would walk right up to you and say, 'I need you to do it and do it this way.' He was very commanding. I need that. And I loved that," Baldwin says. He had been riveted by the story because he believes that all actors dream about doing a great "social drama."
"I was disappointed when the movie did not do well," Baldwin says. He added that Evers, wife, Myrlie, pulled her support from the film before it was released and "ran for the hills and left us hanging…but I'm proud of the movie."
Alexander Rae Baldwin III was born on April 3, 1958, in the Long Island community of Massapequa, New York, the second of six children. His father, Alec, was a local history teacher and football coach; his mother, Carol, was a homemaker. A close-knit group, the Baldwins often did things together as a family. But as the years went by, Carol Baldwin began to show signs of weariness, which is understandable, Baldwin says, "because it must have begun to sink in that she had six kids, and she had a lot on her plate. She just seemed overwhelmed." His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990. She started the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund Inc.' and has been very active raising money for the organization. "She is one of those people who have had a second act in life," Baldwin says, "And, in the smaller world she operates in, she has been very successful. I'm very proud of her."
The memory of his father, who passed away in 1983, still haunts him. "He died so young, and it was so wrong to me and so unfair. He was 55 years old. He had broken his back for everybody. He had six kids and no money. He was a good guy. When he died, the whole town came out to his wake and his funeral," Baldwin says. "I used to ride the Long Island Railroad, and guys would come up to me and ask, 'How's your dad? He was my teacher.' And I,ll tell them he had died, and some literally burst out sobbing on the train." In one important way, he remains attached to his childhood roots and the memory of his father: he has a house in the Long Island hamlet of Amagansett, one of the tony weekend retreats for New York City's elite.
Baldwin also remains close to his three brothers, William, Stephen and Daniel. In an anomaly not often seen in any industry or career, all of Baldwin's male siblings have become actors. His two sisters, Beth and Jane, followed different career trajectories. "Oh, in my family, familiarity does breed contempt," he says wryly. "It's like, 'if Bozo can get on TV, we can get on television.' They watched me do it and then one by one they started doing it." But Baldwin is quick to add that his brothers have made it on their own efforts and talents. "[You] could be the most famous actor in the world, and that may open some doors for your brothers," Baldwin says, "but I'm a firm believer it doesn't get you the job." He acknowledges that while he has had the most successful acting career of the Baldwin brood, all of his brothers are involved in some aspect of the film or television business.
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