Interviews

INTERVIEW: ALEC BALDWIN

By • Jan 14th, 2001 •

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Glamorous, sexy movie star Alec Baldwin plays glamorous, sexy movie star Bob Barrenger in David Mamet’s State and Main, but that’s where the similarity between actor and character ends, according to Baldwin. Not that he doesn’t have a certain sympathy for his character, a mega-star with one little problem-an inordinate fondness for teenage girls. His character’s explanation is simple: “Everybody has to have a hobby.” Baldwin’s explanation is “Bob is the guy who had the conscience-ectomy.”

Q: It’s a very fine line to keep your character humorous for an audience when his ‘hobby’ is so legally and morally repulsive.

BALDWIN: In this movie I think that Bob is a victim, quite frankly. If you recall, every indication is that Bob is going to arrive in this small town as the new Bob, the reformed Bob. It would be one thing entirely if Bob came into town and picked Julia [Stiles’] character out and stalked her and made all that happen. But as you well see in the film Julia’s character is prepping for Bob’s arrival. She knows the score, and she doesn’t want the reformed Bob. She wants the old Bob. So Bob was set up.

Q: Did you have any particular actor in mind when you were playing this?

BALDWIN: Yes. What I liked about the person I modeled this on-and the particulars don’t matter, it’s their attitude about it that matters. It’s not the circumstances-a person can medicate themselves from the pressures of moviemaking with drugs, or money, or work. Some people’s marriages collapse and they have all these terrible problems, because their drug is work itself. They do one movie after the other because that’s the environment they feel the most secure in.

And sexuality is a big part of it for some people. Certainly being a movie star is kind of a Faustian bargain, because there’s no shortage of willing participants. And remember that a lot of people who become movie stars today, they get in the elevator and they hit the button and go to the 80th floor in a day, and they have very little to prepare them for it. Whatever they need to do to negotiate that experience and deal with that tension-who cares if it’s money, sex, power, work, whatever.

Some of these people suffer the consequences of that, and some of them don’t. Some make this active decision-there’s one guy in particular whose attitude is ring-a-ding ding, I’m just going to enjoy this while I’ve got it, and I’m not going to break a sweat for one moment. If I make some mistakes along the way, he says, I’m human! He doesn’t expect perfection, he lives his life, he enjoys it, he works, and his attitude is, Fuck it! That’s what I modeled Bob after. Bob is the guy who had the conscience-ectomy. He’s like, why let our conscience get in the way of us-how long am I going to be here?

Q: Was there any element of self-parody in your portrayal?

BALDWIN: I never equated myself with somebody on that level, the monolithic movie star who starred in juggernaut movie after juggernaut movie. My career has been a lot more bumpy than that. So for me it was purely outside of my experience.

Q: How was Julia Stiles to work with?

BALDWIN: Very lovely, very serious. I think about what it was like when I was younger in this business and working with more established people-not necessarily better actors, but more experienced. [These young] people can go one of two ways. They can go in their trailer, drink and take a lot of drugs to manage their insecurity. Or they get very serious about the work and want to focus on the work, and she was very focused, very serious-but very lovely.

Q: Why don’t you do more comedy?

BALDWIN: Sometimes I’ll get some of the better comic material in Hollywood, film or TV, features or independent film. [But with] most films that are comedies, the studios want to make everything easy for the audience-they want people to know that a comedy’s a comedy. So usually films that are big comedies are driven by proven comic talent.

This is true in TV as well-I’ve developed some TV series over the last couple of years, and if you do a half-hour sitcom, they’re happier if the lead is a well-known or undeveloped comic talent, a Ray Romano or Seinfeld-they want the person to have a basis in stand-up comedy. When I go meet with them and they want me to do a TV show, it’s ‘Alec, you’re a lawyer, doctor, cop, it’s a one-hour show, it’s something serious.’ If I wanted to do me and William Shatner are two waiters on a gay cruise line, they just look at me. And I’ve pitched ideas like that. They have no desire to do that.

Q: Are you going to make good on your threat to leave the country now that Bush is elected?

BALDWIN: I hate to burst your bubble. In 1992 I did an interview in which someone said, if Bush senior were to beat Clinton, and my exact words were, in a very offhanded way, that it might be a good time to leave the country. Which by no means was meant as some kind of oath of unpatriotic petulance. So eight years later a journalist interviewing my wife [Kim Basinger] brings up that quote. My wife says I don’t recall my husband saying that, but he might have said it. It’s all what-if and speculation.

So Matt Drudge prints in the Drudge Report, “Baldwin Vows to Leave U.S. if Bush Wins,” which I want to say unequivocally is not true. I never said that. But as I’ve learned, your political opposites, particularly in the media, are totally lying in wait to ambush you and diminish you and marginalize you in any way they can. That works really well for Drudge, Fox, the New York Post, Murdoch-that whole kind of crypto-fascist media arm. What you wind up being is something to incite their people. As soon as Alec says that, the response is let us help you pack your bags, can I drive you to the airport. I got e-mails that said this day after day after day.

Interestingly enough, mainstream media doesn’t bother [about my political work]. You don’t see the New York Times write about my political opinions, you don’t see the Daily News, you don’t see anybody write about it except the Post.

Q: And they can’t say anything nice.

BALDWIN: Sure. If I went out tomorrow and was the sponsor of a school prayer, they wouldn’t know what to do. They’d probably all jump out the window and commit suicide.

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