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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Baldwin says he has had a lot of good and bad experiences during his career. "I have some movies that were less than wonderful," Baldwin said. "But those you tend not to remember. The ones that weren't any fun, I've forgotten them already."
Baldwin thinks the dynamics of an acting career have changed in the last 25 years, and he divides Hollywood stars into two categories: pre-1980 and post-1980. He argues that before 1980, the only way for people to experience an actor's performance was by going to a movie theater or a playhouse. "Now you have DVDs, VHS, Pay-Per-View, and HBO and "Entertainment Tonight," and actors and their personalities and their essence are stuck up the ass of the American public like a suppository all day long," Baldwin says. "It's a different ball game. And I find it kind of harrowing that some people will have these combustible careers for like three years and then burn out. They are stars and then they are gone.
"To have a career that lasts 20, 25 years has become increasingly difficult. But that's what I want to do. I want to work in films and television and then come back and do [things like Twentieth Century]. I love doing this. It's the ultimate lifestyle."
The often-criticized actor still has high praise for some of his post-1980 acting peers who've become stars while remaining dedicated, serious actors: Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey, Sean Penn ("a lot of A-listers would love to have his weight as an actor") and Gwyneth Paltrow. He also says his "enervating second-guessing" has given him a different attitude about some actors who've done it right, like Tom Cruise. "I look at Tom Cruise, and he is a fucking genius. He's like Tiger Woods for me. He hits the ball, he knows what to do and he knows how to play it…. When he did Magnolia, I thought to myself, 'Oh my God, look at him.' He was wild. He was great. Tom is a good actor. But he knows that's not always what's called for," Baldwin says. "He's worked very hard for his audience, rewarding that audience and pleasing that audience. It's the overwhelming part of what he does. Other actors have tried to mix it up, but it doesn't work. They go back to what works, which I understand."
He also recognizes that the days of megastardom may be past for him, even with the success of The Cooler. "There are some different kinds of phone calls coming in now," Baldwin says. "But in the end, I say to myself, it's never going to be the same. I had to make a choice, or I perceived that I had to make a choice, and I said to myself that I had to make a choice between [whether] I wanted to be an actor or a movie star. It sounds corny, and I'm gagging hearing myself say it…this is nothing against action stars, and leading men of that ilk, guys who star in spectacles.
"After all, we're in an age when the studios are going for films that reach a big demographic, that are going to sell a lot of tickets. They make snack food. They are like McDonald's, and they make French fries," Baldwin says. "And that's OK…but I look into that world and I don't see a table reserved for me anymore. I'm going to come and go and come and go, but I won't be a permanent resident. I'm not going to get tenure in the movie industry anymore."
What he does hope is that his Oscar nomination opens doors for him; for movies, plays and other projects that he yearns to do. He recently finished shooting The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's upcoming biopic about Howard Hughes starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the legendary recluse and lothario. Baldwin portrays Pan Am Airlines founder Juan Trippe. It's a minor role that amounted to less than a week's worth of shooting, but Baldwin took it mostly to work with the legendary director. "It was a great honor to meet him [Scorsese] and to work with him," Baldwin says. "He's such a genius, and a gentleman at the same time."
But at the top of Baldwin's dream projects is Simply Halston. The pic, which is in development, is about the life of Halston, the fashion designer who died of AIDS in 1990 and who was most famous for designing costumes for Liza Minnelli. "I'm fascinated by this guy's life," Baldwin says. "It's so far away from me…but when you read the script, and it's a great script, I want to do it. His life straddles such a beautiful time in history. But I don't know if they are going to raise the money."
Or course, just when Baldwin is back on the radar screen of every movie mogul in Hollywood, where is he? On Broadway. "There's never a good time to do theater," Baldwin says. "It's like women who have a baby; they say there's never a good time, so just do it. For people who want to have a movie career and who want to be in theater, there's never a good time. Like now, after all the good fortune that has happened to me with the movie business, and I'm on Broadway." He laughs, but he explains that he was working last year on "pursuing some plays," including a revival of Equus, and he went to a reading for Twentieth Century, the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play from the 1930s that was made into a movie with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, and then reprised on Broadway in 1950 with Jose Ferrer in the Jaffe role.
Baldwin went to a reading with Jane Krakowski, a well-known Broadway performer and former "Ally McBeal" costar, who played Garland and "everybody fell on the floor laughing." Baldwin adds, "So I jumped off the ledge and said, 'Let's do it.' I signed and committed and we agreed to do it." The play opened on March 28 at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway.
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