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There's a lot about Alec Baldwin that may surprise you. To begin with, he'd like to make it clear that just because he's spent years very publicly working on behalf of liberal political and social causes, people should not assume he's not a dyed-in-the-wool, loyal American. "I'm very patriotic," he says emphatically. "I'm an arch-patriot. When they play 'The Star Spangled Banner,' I get all choked up. I love my country."
Which is why playing Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle in this month's blockbuster war epic Pearl Harbor was such a thrill. "I was so honored to get to do it," Baldwin says of the role of Doolittle, the famed American aviator who led a daring retaliatory bombing raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities after the attack on Pearl Harbor. "You cannot heroicize this man enough."
What else is surprising? He may move in the rarified world of Hollywood stars, but the hurt of his impending divorce from actress wife Kim Basinger clearly is of the down-to-earth, heart-wrenching variety. When he talks about it, the pain is almost palpable in his husky voice. "I hope people don't think this is happening in my life casually," he says. "It's anything but casual. It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me..., I mean, I still love my wife more than anybody and I'm sad this has happened and I'm devastated this has happened. People come up and say 'you're young, maybe you'll meet someone else' and I think that's just the most kind of unimaginable thing in the world to me."
He compares Basinger filing for divorce in January, citing irreconcilable differences (just as he was about to begin his first directing job on The Devil and Daniel Webster), to "someone punching me in the stomach as hard as they could right before I had to go run the marathon. It's been tough." Which brings us to another revelation. Was directing something he'd always wanted to do, given how many stars move into that arena? "Oh no," he says emphatically. "I had no desire to do that. But we couldn't find a director we could afford. I was the person who understood the material the most who was going to cost us the least amount of money. It all just kind of happened." Does he plan to repeat the experience now that he knows the ropes? "No, I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's been exhausting."
What's more, he doesn't intend to act for all that much longer. "I don't see myself doing this for a living into my 50s," says the 43-year- old Baldwin. Instead, he envisions himself "writing some books maybe... and the thing I like to do most now is produce. If I could just do that for a while, that would be great."
But for now he's at work on several projects: In addition to The Devil and Daniel Webster, with an expected Christmas release (Baldwin also stars as a writer who sells his soul to the Devil—played by a flame-haired Jennifer Love Hewitt—for fame and fortune) , he has a play he hopes to do late this year or next year. He says he can't talk about it—not even so much as reveal its title—but he wants to bring it to Broadway (where in the past he won a Tony nomination playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire and also appeared in the title role of Macbeth). This year, he's also been producing a series of dramatic readings, City Center Voices! of the American Theaters! New York's City Center.
Beyond his work, Baldwin is committed to his role as father to 5-year-old Ireland, who now resides in Los Angeles with Basinger. Baldwin, who lives in East Hampton, New York, calls his daughter every day and plans to buy a house on the West Coast to make visits easier.
With all the personal and professional juggling he's doing these days, he confesses, "the truth of the matter is—what's going to happen to me? I have less of a sense of that than I ever have."
Baldwin's early life began in much more predictable fashion— and not far from where he's currently living. Born Alexander Rae Baldwin III on April 3, 1958, in Amityville, on Long Island, he grew up in nearby Massapequa, the second of six children. In addition to older and younger sisters, there were three younger brothers—Stephen, William, and Daniel— all of whom eventually went into acting. Baldwin's father, Alexander, was a high- school history teacher and football coach; his mother, Carol, was a homemaker who worked in market research in the '70s (most recently Carol Baldwin, a breast cancer survivor, has become known for her efforts to raise money for breast cancer research).
Young Alec, who then went by the nickname Xander (a derivative of Alexander), was president of his freshman high-school class and early on became schooled in politics—if only as a way to be close to his dad, who had an avid interest in current affairs. "When I was 10 years old," Baldwin remembers, "I was watching [the television news show] Huntley-Brinkley and trying to figure out the French role in Vietnam…If you wanted to speak a language that meant something to [my father], that was the way to do it."
After high school, Baldwin headed for George Washington University in Washington, DC , where he majored in political science At that point, performing had been a small part of his life—he'd been in plays in high school and taken an acting course in college—but law school was his destination But after three years of college, he decided it was time to take a chance on a different kind of future…' I went to audition for the acting program at NYU at the urging of a friend of mine and I got in and they gave me a full tuition scholarship I was blown away."
It wound up taking Baldwin 13 years to get his NYU degree, thanks to the professional acting jobs that began coming his way almost immediately. He received his diploma in 1993—his final thesis was a 65-page paper on Al Pacino and method acting. While working as a waiter and lifeguard at a health club, Baldwin was cast on the soap opera The Doctors in 1980. That was followed by appearances on Knots Landing, and in the films Working Girl, Married to the Mob, and Beetlejuice. In 1990, he starred as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October, and then came The Marrying Man, the film that changed his life.
Baldwin—who was once briefly engaged to Northern Exposure star Janine Turner—met Basinger when the two began filming Marrying Man in 1990. I fell in love with Kim when I worked with her be cause she really was unlike anybody I'd ever met in my life. Kim is a very unique person and she has a very unique outlook on life.
"She did what she thought was right,' he recalls. "She had a very strong moral center, and she was fun to be with." With emphasis he adds, "She s a one-in-a-billion person ."
Among other things, Basinger helped Baldwin decide to adopt her vegetarian lifestyle. "She pulled me through that doorway,' he says. "Actually, she didn't pull me, she invited me. I went through the process gradually—I used to come to the house with wrappers from the In N-Out Burger hidden under the seat of my car so I wouldn't get busted." (He went full-time vegetarian in 1991.)
The couple married on August 19, 1993, in a sunset ceremony on a Long Island beach; daughter Ireland was born October 23, 1995. While bringing newborn Ireland home from the hospital, Baldwin got into a scuffle with a photographer who was persistently trying to take pictures of his new baby. Prolonged litigation followed, and Baldwin ultimately was ordered to pay $4,500 in medical bills for the photographer's broken nose.
Together, Baldwin and Basinger were one of Hollywood's best-known activist couples, campaigning for political candidates (including a Democratic fundraiser at their home featuring then-President and Mrs. Clinton) and causes such as animal rights (they even rallied for Central Park carriage horses) and the environment. There's no question, he says, that being so outspoken and political cost him both roles and fans. "There are people who would rather choke than go see my movies. They write me letters all the time."
Still, since The Marrying Man, Baldwin managed to appear in 16 films, including Glengarry Glen Ross, Prelude to a Kiss, Malice, Ghosts of Mississippi, Looking for Richard, Netting Hill, and State and Main. He was nominated for an Emmy for a 1995 TV version of A Streetcar Named Desire and received a Golden Globe nod for the 2000 miniseries Nuremberg. As for his willingness to play both heroes and villains, and both ensemble and leading parts, he has explained, "I've always been happy to play a role regardless of how it reflects on me. I didn't always have to play the hero or good guy." He's even voicing a canine named Butch in the upcoming movie Cats &Dogs.
Yet his favorite role to discuss is dad to Ireland, whom he clearly dotes on. The pair love to watch films together ("Ireland and I are movie people; I think I've watched That Darn Cat! maybe 200 or 300 times—and Mary Poppins is another one") and his voice grows enthusiastic just describing her. "The thing I love most about Ireland," he says, "is that the only thing she's spoiled for is attention. She's not covetous of things. She's not crazy about toys or clothes, she's not gluttonous about eating or candy or sugar or things like that. She [just] wants all your attention. So if I'm sitting with her watching a movie and I sit and don't move a muscle, literally, for 45 minutes, and I look at the clock and realize I have to make a phone call and I make a call while she's lying there, she'll turn to me and say"— and he starts laughing—"'you're always on the phone.'" In his spare time, Baldwin likes to read, particularly biographies ("I'm addicted to them"). He just finished Ron Chernow's Titan about John D. Rockefeller and says the best biography he ever read was Scott Berg's Lindbergh ("unbelievable, mesmerizing"). As for ways to relax, he's decided he needs to go on his first vacation in several years, maybe to Hawaii.
"Some of the things I've been dealing with lately," he says simply, "have been rather stressful."