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"THERE ARE A LOT OF JAPANESE guys here..."
It's a painfully sunny December morning in California and from his perch in the back booth at the Beverly Hills Hotel's famed Polo Lounge, Alec Baldwin is surveying the suits playing power games. He pauses dramatically, slowly swiveling his head to take another long look, a shimmer of boyish mischief passing through his lightning-blue eyes.
Leaning into the tape recorder, he brings his trademark midnight rasp down to a whisper: "There are a lot of Japanese guys here."
That's Hollywood — at least in these takeover-crazy times. And Baldwin can't resist yet another jab at an industry and a town that he, throughout his still-young career, has freely trashed in the press. "To do all the bulls—ting you need to do in this town, you need a big breakfast," he says, laughing. "They wolf down their meals and get out there and slaughter each other."
Smartass? Cynical? Honest? All of the above? Alec Baldwin's flippancy and outspokenness — and indeed, his sunny, seductive charm — is the product of his innate confidence, which radiates off him like heat from an inferno. The 33-year-old New Yorker appears to be completely comfortable in his skin. Today, for example, among this sea of haute threads eager to wear success on their sleeves, he relaxes in black jeans and a "Massapequa Chiefs" (his Long Island hometown team) varsity jacket. Glancing over the extensive menu, he orders something that's not listed there: toasted bagel, cottage cheese and tomato on the side. ("You know how they sometimes put the cottage cheese on lettuce?" he says to the waitress. "Please don't do that. I really hate that.") A week later, in New York for a second interview, he will again politely request a custom meal. Both times, he is accommodated.
To a great degree, the strapping, six-foot-tall Baldwin is used to having things go his way. It might explain why the actor's sarcasm about the movie business, which in the past has merely made for lively magazine copy, has begun to border on contempt. His abundant wit, good humor and undeniable intelligence are lost on L.A. And the last year has not been a good one for him professionally. Today, his diatribes against the industry flow forcefully: "With most people in this town, you could rape their mother and set her on fire, but if we close the deal, shoot the movie and it's a hit? 'Hey, let's get out there and sell the picture!' "
Later, he mimics the typical studio hack: "You're a team player, man. So I shot your dog on your front lawn with a bow and arrow and killed it and cooked it and ate it. So what? We've got a hit movie!"
On the surface, 1990 was a breakthrough year for Baldwin; he scored his first leading-man roles (as CIA hero Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October and as a wacky psychopath in Miami Blues} and Paramount offered him a lucrative contract for two Hunt sequels. But both Miami Blues and Red October were completed by 1989; 1990 was the year in which Baldwin was to solidify his burgeoning superstar status. Things did not go smoothly.
Several of the films he was supposed to make fell through: A movie version of the Sixties television hit The Fugitive was put on hold because of script problems; a juicy role in The Godfather Part III, rumored to be set for Baldwin, went to Andy Garcia; and under cloudy circumstances, Baldwin dropped out of the lead in Philip Kaufman's controversial Henry and June. Suddenly, the dazzling momentum of his leapfrogging career — from daytime soapster to A-list screen actor — was stalled. Ten days of work in Woody Alien's Alice was "like sightseeing," says Baldwin. Still, his role as a ghost was slim pickings. So what was Baldwin's best hope for reinforcing his mantle as Hollywood's hottest new leading man? A frothy Neil Simon comedy for the biggest studio in town.
The brouhaha surrounding that movie, The Marrying Man, has been widely reported, first in the supermarket tabloids and then in the February 1991 issue of Premiere. In a nutshell, the set was an unhappy one. Baldwin and his costar, Kim Basinger, fell hard for each other and formed a united front against the Walt Disney Company, whose fledgling Hollywood Pictures was producing the film. Reportedly, the actors were unhappy with the script, first-time director Jerry Rees and the tight budget. Published accounts claim the duo threw tantrums and brought production to a halt several times. Ironically, the tumult on the set is perhaps reflected in the finished film (which is numbingly dull) and in the couple's screen chemistry (which conspicuously lacks heat). Baldwin calls his experience making The Marrying Man "a black cloud." Still, he brings up the subject again and again. Although his caustic comments are mostly made off the record or are veiled in "what if?" scenarios ("This doesn't necessarily pertain to The Marrying Man, but let's just say . . . "), he doesn't mince words for the record, either.
"In my opinion — and please write 'in my opinion' so I don't get sued — I don't think Disney knows s— about making movies," he says bluntly. "They can sell movies, but I think they know less than anyone else in LA about the making of films. It was a terrible, terrible experience making a film for Disney, based on my experience. Of course that's" — leaning directly into the recorder — "based on my experience. I have to throw that in a lot. Credit that to my lawyer."
"I agreed to do the movie if we could make some changes [in the script]," Baldwin says later. "I told them I did not agree to do what was virtually on the page. And everybody said, 'Yeah, yeah, sign the contract.' And we came in and they were determined to get us to make that movie, the one that was on the page, because it was cheaper. . . . We were working against the worst type of nemesis: Businessmen who are deluded into believing that they are filmmakers."
Although executives at the Disney company declined to comment on Baldwin's accusations, Marrying Man producer David Permut concedes: "Every film has its share of difficulties, maybe this film had more than most. But believe me, I've been told by [Disney studio chief] Jeff Katzenberg and Neil Simon that if I'd kept my memoirs on this shoot, I'd have a best-seller." When asked if he'd work with Baldwin on future projects, Permut roars with laughter. "I can't answer that on the record! You know the answer, anyway!"
A few days after the Polo Lounge interview, Baldwin telephones, again to talk about the movie. "I just don't want to make it sound like the movie's not worth watching," he says. "Based on the performers alone, there's a good movie in there. Paul Reiser and Fisher Stevens and Kim Basinger — everyone is so gifted and they're all very good in the movie. I mean," he says, struggling, "I hardly even knew [Kim] when we started, and watching her sing just blew everyone's perceptions away. It's great to see someone have it all click into place as a performer, and this movie's a real showcase for her. That's the one thing that makes it worth seeing."
Actors have been known to protect their costars, but for Baldwin, Basinger is a personal matter as well. That they met and fell in love on the set of The Marrying Man is predictable; that they've been together nearly a year is not. While the couple seems willing enough to appear in public together (most recently at the Oscar ceremony), they're less willing to coo about each other to the press.
"It's not really fair to talk about people's personal lives when they're not in the room," says Baldwin, parroting a similar quote Basinger made in a recent issue of Cosmopolitan. "I'm involved with someone and I can tell you all about them — except their name." He pauses, then laughs loudly, momentarily impressed by the absurdity of his own charade. Still, unprompted, Baldwin brings Basinger into the conversation several times — albeit without mentioning her name.
"You think people really want to know this stuff?" he asks, rhetorically. "Well, I live with somebody who's an actress and who's very successful. And who's not at all what I thought she would be: [she's] very funny, very idiosyncratic, kind of crazy— very crazy. A good person. A beautiful woman. My fantasy."
But are they, as has been frequently reported, engaged? He shrieks with laughter. "No! I have no plans to get married right now. I take it one day at a time with this person and I'm sure that everything that's good is possible with this person."
Then again, Baldwin sounds like, um, the marrying kind. "Sure, I'd like to get married and have kids this very minute. Overall, I'm ready for that — I think. I'm no different than anybody else. But I think when it happens, what changes is you — you don't suddenly find a better woman."
Baldwin was engaged briefly to actress Janine Turner (Northern Exposure) eight years ago and has been involved with actresses Holly Gagnier and Cindy Gibb, among others. "You solve a lot of problems by being with someone in the business," he says. "They understand what it's like. It's about people who jump up at at four o'clock in the morning and go, 'Ohmygod! I've got it!' Non-movie people sit there and say, 'You woke me up at four in the morning to do a scene for me?!' You're crazed. Crazed! You're in love with what you do.
"But there's the other side of it. Let's say I'm an actor. Let's say that I'm living with a woman" — here he goes again — "who's a beautiful sex symbol and let's say that onscreen she has to, like, get it on with every guy she makes a movie with because she's the girl every guy wants to get it on with. Well, that's hard, but you learn to separate that." He pauses. "Suffice to say that, as far as being with an actress, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't."
The actor is similarly philosophical about, if less enamored of, the last 12 months of his professional life. "I had a lot of time off this past year and all I have to show for it is The Marrying Man. That, to me, is a bad year. Movies I did do, didn't turn out the way I wanted them to; movies I was supposed to do, didn't happen at all."
Rumors persist that Baldwin was to be cast in The Godfather Part III. "Oh, really?" he asks brightly, feigning complete surprise. "Who thought that? Certainly not the people who made the movie." And what about the dotty, erotic Henry and June? Miami Blues costar Fred Ward replaced Baldwin in the title role of author Henry Miller at the last minute. "I can't talk about that, but off the record . . ." CLICK! He turns off the tape recorder — something he does with practiced precision and great frequency.
The chaos and frustration of the last year are still fresh in his mind. Even when reflecting upon the lessons he has learned, Baldwin sounds angry. "I waited around for a bunch of things and now I don't wait for anybody anymore," he explains. "I don't give a s— who comes along and wants me in a role. If Coppola wants to do Godfather IV, forget it, it doesn't matter. I learned if you wait around, you're dead. I'm going to find projects I like and come hell or high water, I'm gonna do those projects.
"Things did not go the way I wanted them to in a major way, and I learned a lot about myself. I reacted with 'I'll kill you, motherf—er!' kind of reactions," he says with menace, visibly tightening his sturdy frame. "I go [into meetings] and I just want to kill people. I want to punch their faces in, I want to physically hurt them." He relaxes and smiles. "But you've got to cool it, you know? This is a long life. I've got a lot of stuff ahead of me and I can't blow it all out in one situation."
BALDWIN IS CHARGING DOWN COLUMBUS AVENUE ON Manhattan's Upper West Side. A long, black reefer coat and sunglasses ward off the weather and chance recognition by passersby. This is Baldwin's turf— in addition to a cottage in Amagansett, Long Island, he owns a condo in the neighborhood — and he talks it like he walks it. A running commentary on how the present recession is affecting the area and lamentations about the lack of films being made here can't disguise the euphoria of being home. "I always thought my name was too long," he says suddenly, as if the non sequitur made perfect sense. "When I was first starting out, I really wanted a two-syllable name, something that would really stand out." Like? "Joe Cool!" He roars happily. "Joe Cool!
Baldwin can be entertaining about things outside of show business. It is a side of him that is perhaps easier to experience in New York. When his made-to-order lunch — linguini and plain tomato sauce — arrives smothered with grated cheese, he asks the waiter to have it "decheesed." Watching the waiter confront the chef sends Baldwin into a mock panic. "Uh-oh, this guy's gonna spit in it, I know it," he says excitedly. "Yeah, he's definitely gonna spit in my pasta!" Baldwin leaps up and tears across the restaurant floor to appease the chef, practically wringing his hands in apology. The startled cook, of course, is utterly charmed.
"In New York, let's talk about positive things," Baldwin requested before leaving Los Angeles, and he seems determined to do exactly that. He's virtually goofy with enthusiasm and energy. "I'm really looking forward to this year. I'm really psyched — more than ever. This year is my opportunity to do movies I really care about, good movies where my contribution will make a difference."
In April, he began shooting the screen adaptation of Craig Lucas' heralded stage play Prelude to a Kiss, a romantic comedy that Baldwin performed to raves off-Broadway. By year's end, he should get one of the Hunt sequels, Clear and Present Danger, under way and possibly squeeze in The Fugitive. There are more films waiting, as well: Patriot Games, the last of the Hunt sequels; Buddy Boys, a cop thriller based on newspaper reporter Mike McAlary's book); and a potential serial in which he'll play a bayou detective named Dave Robicheaux (Baldwin's production company at Orion bought the rights from author James Lee Burke).
Baldwin, the boxing buff, starts jabbing the air in front of him and slides into perfect jock-speak. "I can't wait, man! I'm real ready! I got a total psycho mentality now," he says, shifting side to side in his seat, slipping invisible punches. "I'm feelin' good, I'm feelin' good, I'm ready to work!
"I want to be the Joe Namath of the movie business," he says gleefully. "Did you ever see those pictures of him where he's trotting off the field holding his finger up in the air?" Baldwin raises his forefinger high. "I just want to trot off that field waving my finger in the air after grossing, like, $100 million in four weeks. I want to be Joe Namath. I want to sit at the bar and say, 'We'll beat the Colts — I guarantee it!' "
"Alec's a constant ball of energy, I've never seen him tired," exclaims megaproducer Mace Neufeld (No Way Out), who had a happy working experience with Baldwin on The Hunt for Red October. "He plunges right in, he's constantly in motion, he's got a lot of high, nervous energy, which I think makes a lot of his characters so appealing. Certainly, he's nobody you can ignore onscreen. He works very, very hard."
Baldwin's work ethic began at an unusually young age. The second of six children born to a housewife and a school-teacher/coach, perhaps he came by his discipline naturally. The neighborhood was nice — a lot of the other kids there had cars and boats and pools in the yard — but money was tight in the Baldwin household and if you wanted anything extra, you had to hustle. In the fifth grade, he washed cars for pocket change; in sixth grade, he earned $60 a week mowing lawns. Although he claims to have had no interest in acting until he reached college, Baldwin used his modest earnings to satisfy a youthful obsession. "The one thing I bought was this little, red plastic-body Panasonic TV," he recalls. "And I sat in my bedroom and watched every movie that was on. Really, that was what my life was like then: I watched movies in my room."
A sharp student, he enrolled at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he studied political science and immersed himself in student government. A bid for the presidency of the student body failed, however, and Baldwin hightailed it to New York University and acting classes at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute.
"It was the closest possible election," remembers Baldwin's former classmate and pal Mark Weinberg. "Since I managed his campaign, it was basically my fault [he lost]. But I wasn't surprised when Alec left school. He was and is interested in politics and public service, but he was also interested in acting and film and theater."
Baldwin, a liberal Democrat who manned phones for the likes of Tom Hay den and who attended the 1988 Democratic National Convention, has alluded to political aspirations in the past, though he "passes" on commenting now, insisting that the press has "trivialized" his interest. However, Wein-berg, a former press secretary to Ronald Reagan, thinks his friend may still enter the arena some day. "He really cares," say Weinberg. "There's a passion and maybe even an anger about some of the things that are wrong in this country — the disparity between the haves and have-nots. He gets angry and morally outraged when the government doesn't meet its responsibilities to its citizens. I think the energy he would bring to government would be well received and effective."
In New York, Baldwin had yet to finish college before landing the role of nasty Billy Aldrich on day time's The Doctors in 1980. Three years later, Hollywood called and he was signed to a few disastrous pilots before creating Knots Landing's Bible-thumping evangelist, Joshua Rush. (Asked, facetiously, if he ever cut himself on costar Lisa Hartman's spiky hair, he jokes, "I resent that! Lisa is a wonderful girl. But, yes, she does have tough hair, optically speaking.") Two seasons of nuttiness later, his character jumped off a building to his death.
After a featured role in the miniseries Dress Gray, Baldwin returned to New York to do his first stage play —Joe Orton's Loot — for which he won a Theatre World Award in 1986. As things began to happen for him professionally, he was taking stock of his personal life. "I'd drink and party," he says of those days. "I did what everybody does when you're young and you have time. But the key is to realize when that era in your life is over." Not only did he quit the partying (and recently, smoking, at the request of "the woman in my life"), he also scuttled the brotherly advice business, which he took up after his father's death in 1983. "When I was younger and more insecure, I felt that the answer to my problems was to solve your problems. I have three younger brothers," he says, referring to Daniel, Billy and Stephen, all actors, "so I was constantly saying, 'What you ought to be doing . . . ' I was really windy and full of bulls— advice. I stopped pushing it on them and they're all fine."
In the late Eighties, film directors started taking notice. Suddenly, Baldwin — with his good looks and wicked charms — was the hottest supporting player in town. John Hughes cast him as Kevin Bacon's sublimely smarmy buddy in She's Having a Baby, Mike Nichols directed him as Melanie Griffith's libidinous boyfriend in Working Girl', Jim McBnde converted him into Jimmy Swaggart for Great Balls of Fire!; Oliver Stone dressed him up as a frustrated station producer in Talk Radio', Tim Burton turned him into a deceased naif in Beetlejuice; and Jonathan Demme employed him as a horny gangster in Married to the Mob.
"Things for me in this business went in a steady progression," Baldwin explains. "Do you want to be in a TV show? Yes. Do you want to be in the movies? Yes. Do you want to be in this movie by John Hughes? Yes. Do you want to be in a movie by Jonathan Demme? Yes. Mike Nichols? Yes! Do you want to be the lead in a movie? YES! My answer was always^."
However, it took more than being a yes-man to get his foot in the door. "He's talented, he's good-looking— a man with a kind of macho, sexy image — and he's smart," says ex-fiancee Janine Turner. "And if you hang in there long enough, that combination will get you there."
"There are only a handful of leading men who have the ability to play a number of different characters and Alec is one of them," adds Neufeld. "He's got real versatility, he's a character actor behind a very good-looking face. He's much more chameleonlike than Kevin Costner, for example."
On paper, his career arc looks brilliantly plotted, but Baldwin insists it's just not so. "People think, 'Calculated,' but none of it was calculated," he says, heatedly. "There's a whole bunch of movies out there and you lay them in front of you and, hey, you do the best you can. You take your pick from what's offered to you. It isn't calculated with any audience in mind. It's calculated with my landscape in mind.
"I mean, I want to do great acting roles for me. I don't give a s— what Mike Ovitz thinks of me. I care what Mike Ovitz' gardener thinks of me. The point is — there's an actress I'm very close to — hint, hint, hint — who's really helped me with this — there's a whole other f—ing world out there that you want to appeal to."
As if suddenly reminded of his resolve to keep the conversation upbeat, Baldwin starts rhapsodizing about writer/ director Walter Hill (48 HRS.), who he hopes will helm The Fugitive, and future projects. "I love Walter. I've got five movies I'd like to do with him!" He grins mamacally. "This is making me so happy, you know, saying these words: 'I LOVE WALTER!' But I have to stop and hear myself because there aren't many times I've been able to say that lately. But, yes, indeed, there are times I work with people I love. And with Prelude, ljust think we have a great cast and I think [director] Norman Rene is a brilliant guy. . . . There I go again!" he says, laughing. "ljust love people!"
There's no stopping Baldwin now. He's off and running on a variety of subjects.
Of his immediate plans: "I'm going to become incredibly vain and self-absorbed. I wanna become, like, one of those men who get facials, one of those eternally youthful types, not a wrinkle on my face!" Addressing the tape recorder: " 'He said facetiously.' "
On his idol, Marion Brando: "I'd be scared to death to meet him because I'm afraid I'd pull a gun on him. I'd kidnap him and make him talk to me and tape-record everything. I'd have a gun right on his gut and I'd say, 'Marion, you're gonna answer these questions or I'm gonna blow your f—ing ass all over this room!' Then I'd carry the tape around and I wouldn't play it for anyone but myself."
On Basinger's fave, Spike Lee: "Spike Lee is a great film-maker, but a lot of people don't get nominated for Academy Awards who should. So when Spike makes a movie and it's not well received, he ought to consider the fact that maybe it wasn't that good. That's just my opinion, though."
On why he hates toy stores: "I have seven nieces and nephews and I try to buy them different things — ski clothes and lift tickets and stuff like that. I hate toy stores; every time I see one, I want to, like, blow it up. All those toys just getchucked out every year and end up in landfills. It's criminal."
Thoughts of family bring Baldwin full circle. He frets that all the negative vibes that have come through in the past few weeks might be misleading. He's concerned that his anger and cynicism might brand him as another jaded actor who doesn't appreciate just how good he has got it."I never want to misrepresent this feeling that I have that I'm the luckiest person in the world. I am," he says, slamming his hand on the table. "I mean, I have everything. I have someone I love and trust, I have success in the material plane. I have all of my desires and hopes and a really good opportunity to be able to implement all those things. What more could you ask for?"
Wrapping himself in his long overcoat, Baldwin gets ready to leave. He hesitates, though, before donning his impenetrable shades. The look of mischief is back, passing through his eyes quickly as he adopts a mock-serious tone. "As I go into 1991,1 see tremendous opportunity for myself on many levels. And my quest, careerwise, let's condense it down to an analogy with, let's say, the Super Bowl. I would like to say, on the record, 'We're gonna beat the Colts — I guarantee it! "
Baldwin smiles brightly and heads for the door, no doubt fighting the urge to wave that finger in the air.
US, May, 1991