His choice of roles may not always be wise,
but Alec Baldwin - the biggest Baldwin of them all - is actually
one of the sharpest men in the movie business.
In that rasp of a voice that is at turns sinister
and seductive, Alec Baldwin is making his case to play the hero.
"I can't stand playing the bad guy anymore,"
he complains. "I want to stop sending that vibe out - I don't
want to be Vincent Price."
His looks, a virtual dictionary definition of handsome,
make it easy to envision him as a leading man. But it's the string
of darker roles - from his intense seven-minute speech in 'Glengarry
Glen Ross' to his menacing turn as a hitman in the otherwise
forgettable 'The Juror' - that has kept his career going
since he surrendered Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series to Harrison
'Ghosts of Mississippi', due out just before Christmas,
he gets another chance to be the good guy - and to resurrect his
inconsistent career. As a crusading lawyer out to nail Byron De
La Beckwith, the racist assassin of civil rights leader Medgar
Evers, Baldwin has his dream role. Part Gregory Peck in 'To
Kill A Mockingbird' - he's even a devoted single father -
and part Denzel Washington in 'Philadelphia', he revels
in the unabashedly liberal ethic of the true story.
Since director Rob Reiner's quest to make the movie
authentic - down to filming at the Evers house, where the murder
as committed 33 years ago - bordered on the compulsive, it's not
hard to see why he cast Baldwin as the prosecutor. When the actor
stands in his trailer on the set of his next movie, Bookworm,
to emphasize a point, he gestures grandly and raises his voice.
His tone turns from forceful intelligence to condescension. His
face is covered by his Bookworm scruffy beard and dried-blood
makeup, making him even more intimidating. And though Bobby DeLaughter,
the man he portrays in Ghosts of Mississippi, is about as easy
to deify as they come, Baldwin manages to find something less
than saintly about him.
"Every once in a while," the actor says,
"there's a glint in his eye like a football player who can't
wait to get his helmet in the other guy's shoulder."
DeLaughter, still a lawyer in the Jackson D.A.'s
office, claims the actor was his personal preference for the part
from the start. But Baldwin is up front about the fact that he
was not Reiner's first choice. "In the end, we're all doing
movies Tom Hanks turned down," he says wryly. "It's
Tom's world. We just live in it."
Actually it was the other Tom - Cruise - whom Reiner
originally had in mind. But the director was not surprised when
Cruise, who had starred in Reiner's 'A Few Good Men', passed
on another courtroom drama. He then turned to Baldwin.
"Alec is one of the best actors in America,
and I know a side of him that a lot of people don't see at the
movies when he's playing the hard, dark, edgy types he's become
known for," Reiner says. "I see an extremely likable
guy who's extremely intelligent. He is also capable of playing
these warm characters."
Reiner had plenty of occasion to get to know him
before casting the movie, which co-stars Whoopi Goldberg and James
Woods. Baldwin, disenchanted with many of his recent projects,
inked his own development deal with Castle Rock Entertainment,
Reiner's production company.
Although Reiner has encouraged him to try his hand
at directing, Baldwin maintains, "I don't like movie-making
enough" - the cameras, lenses, dollies and such - to direct.
His expertise, he says, is in "defining the
sensation I want to create in the audience," making him more
suited to the producer's job of hiring and firing the people who
can bring that vision to light.
He brags that he can sniff out a bomb while still
shooting it. Take, for example, 'The Juror', the Demi Moore
vehicle that didn't come close to meeting box-office expectations.
Baldwin says an unprovocative script made the project a gamble
from the start, but he took the part because he thought the combined
clout of Moore and producer Irwin Winkler made for good odds.
But don't expect him to shoulder any of the blame
for 'The Shadow', 'Heavens's Prisoners' or any of
his other flops. ("I see some of my movies come out,"
he admits, "and I say, 'I wouldn't go see that.' ")
Instead, he rails against the suits - his feud with Disney executives
over 'The Marrying Man' haunted his career for years -
and "novice directors." There are people who run the
business, who make all the decisions," he says flatly. "When
things don't go well, it's their fault."
While he admits he is not exactly docile on movie
sets, he defends his behavior - as well as that of other actors
labeled difficult - as valid. "Nine times out of 10 - and
it's vital you get this idea right - those difficulties are genuine
creative difficulties", he claims. "One of 10 - or one
of 20 - some - one's really an asshole. There are actors and actresses
who are incredibly spoiled little pigs."
But 'Bookworm', he points out, is his 19th
movie, while most of his directors have made two or three. "Let's
face it, most of the movies I make, I know more about movies than
the people I'm working with. So many directors today are paralyzed
to make a decision, so their movies are big bowls of oatmeal."
Working under the direction of Reiner on 'Ghosts
of Mississippi' was a welcome departure, "Rob is smart,"
Baldwin says. "Rob is clear. Rob is decisive. He's focused.
He's polite. But ultimately he knows what he wants to do - he's
self-reliant, which is rare in film- making today. Rob trusts
That skill, he claims, is more important to him than
Reiner's impressive record of hits, including 'When Harry Met
Sally' and 'The American President'. Besides, he says,
since the birth of his daughter, Ireland Eliesse, a year ago October,
"All ambition went right out of me." Asked why he continues
to work at all, he responds, "I have to make money. I have
a kid. "I am so in love with my kid I can't even tell you,"
Baldwin gushes, proudly sharing a picture in which Addie, as Alec
and his wife, Kim Basinger, call her, is the spitting image of
her mother. "I keep forgetting billions of people have had
this sensation. This girl, she got on the phone with me and said,
'Da Da Da.' " Other than several weekend visits, the family
has been apart for a few months while Baldwin has been filming
Bookworm in Alberta, Canada. After the movie wraps, they plan
to stop dividing their time between New York and Los Angeles,
as they have been doing for several years, and move to New York
full-time. Baldwin and Basinger have been together almost seven
years - since they made 'The Marrying Man' - and he says
each has changed the other for the better. They are co-hosting
this year's People for the Ethical Treat- ment of Animals gala,
a responsibility Baldwin claims his wife never would have considered
in the past because of shyness. He, on the other hand, has never
been afraid to voice his political beliefs, whether about animal
rights - "Fifth Avenue at Christmas time, if you had a can
of spray paint, you'd be mighty tempted" - or Newt Gingrich
- "You colandre thought the whole country [in 1994] was going
to start goosestepping down the street with this guy."
He still stumps for Democrats, but his desire for
a private family life has convinced him to ditch the idea of run-
ning for office himself. "On the most cynical level, it's
another public life," he says, "and there's no money
in it. "I used to want to be president," he adds. "Now
I want to make my daughter pancakes."
In an industry in which high-powered couplings ignite
and explode with equal speed, Baldwin and Basinger have stuck
it out through some tough times and against all expectations.
He stayed by her side through a costly and embarrassing legal
battle in which the producers of 'Boxing Helena' successfully
sued her for backing out of the project. The case soured Baldwin,
who once planned to go to law school, on the legal profession.
Since then, he has suffered his own courtroom ordeal.
He was tried and asquitted last March of misdemeanor battery charges
stemming from an altercation with a photographer who was trying
to videotape the couple's homecoming with the newborn Addie.
"I've never had a member of the legitimate press
follow me home," he says. "It was upsetting because
my wife and I live in an area of L.A. that is a very residential,
very middle-class neighborhood. You'd never suspect we live there,
which is why we live there."
Facing a civil trial next fall, Baldwin declines
to talk about the case in depth. He does maintain,
however, that he tried to slap the camera away with
his open hand because he thought the paparazzo was going to strike
him with it."If I'd had
a closed fist," he boasts between puffs on a thin Cuban cigar,
"the guy would have been unconscious."
Fed up with the courts - and with lawyers' fees -
he also recently settled a contract dispute with Morgan Creek
Productions. In a case reminiscent of his wife's, Baldwin had
agreed to make for Incognito the company but first delayed the
project, which required a European shoot, and then pulled out
altogether because of his new family. He also didn't want to work
with director Peter Weller, whom he calls inexperienced. When
Morgan Creek threatened to sue him for reneging, Baldwin paid
up, though he declines to name the price.
Filming on Incognito wrapped this fall with Jason
Patrie in the lead role, but, Baldwin says with undisguised pleasure,"P.S.,
they fired Weller." Morgan Creek, which declined to discuss
the Baldwin conflict, replaced Weller coner with veteran director
It should come as no surprise, then, that two-thirds
of the way through the Bookworm shoot, Baldwin is disgruntled
with Twentieth Century Fox. " They live by the harassment
code of movie-making," he gripes, complaining that the studio
is constantly threatening to pull pages from the script because
the movie is behind schedule.
He took the part of a fashion photographer in Bookworm,
he says, because of David Mamet and Anthony Hopkins. Mamet, whom
he calls "one of the most brilliant men alive today,"
wrote the screenplay, while
Hopkins, "the greatest living, working actor,"
signed on to star.
While he expected Hopkins to be all about "ability
and acting technique," the truth is, Baldwin says after working
with him for two months, "he's a movie star. He has that
face. It is so luminous. His eyes are so piercing. Tony wouldn't
have to do anything - his face is so compelling."
Once again, Baldwin is stuck playing the bad guy.
Hopkins gets to be the good guy, a wealthy intellectual who, stranded
with Baldwin in the wilds of Alaska after their plane crashes,
begins to suspect the younger man is having an affair with his
much younger wife, Elle Macpherson.
For a few days of the shoot, Baldwin finds himself
in a place ominously known as Deadman's Flats. Signs along Highway
1 on the drive west from Calgary into the mountains warn of wind
gusts and elk crossings, but it is a beautiful autumn day, with
the sun filtering through the dense trees to warm the chilled
air. He was supposed to have the day off, but he has been called
to the set to shoot part of an action sequence involving a fight
with a bear.
Of course, he explains, he will not actually have
to interact with the bear. They will never even have to be in
the same camera shot. But when Baldwin returns to the set moments
later, there- waiting closeup - is Bart, a 1,500-pound Kodiak.
Two knee-high, mildly electrified wires are the only things separating
him from dozens of crew members - and Baldwin. The actor holds
tight to his only weapon, a makeshift spear, and manages to look
scared.. In take after take, Bart obeys, more or less, the hand
and voice commands from his trainer. At "cut," Baldwin
thumps his hand to his chest and laughs that finding his motivation
for the scene wasn't all that hard.
His demeanor on the set is laid-back, as he chats
easily with the crew, takes calls on his cell-phone and flirts
playfully with a pretty visitor, hugging her tightly in front
of her boyfriend, Harold Perrineau, who plays his assistant in
Alec is indeed a Baldwin.
At 38, he is the oldest - and the most accomplished
- of the four acting Baldwin brothers, sons of a Long Island high-school
civics teacher. The brothers - Daniel, William and Stephen - are
competitive. Without much enthusiasm, Baldwin offers his pat quip
that women approach him only to ask him to pass their phone numbers
on to Billy.
"I completely understand that Billy is a younger,
thinner, better -looking version of me," he says.
As for his own matinee-idol looks, Baldwin maintains
he doesn't give them much thought - except in terms of aging.
He jokes that when he hits 40, he will undergo a "face lift,
chin implant, whatever it takes."
If anything, he has a reputation for letting himself
go, and he owns up to puffing up between projects. But he
adds, "In the end, people hire me for what I can do - which
is give some dramatic oomph to a role."
About two months into the 'Bookworm' shoot,
the actor is looking fit. At six feet, he is taller than most
male movie stars, and his appearance is solid, not flabby. Although
this movie is a physically demanding one and he is doing some
of his own stunts - a few days earlier he crossed a waterfall
on a log - he did not undergo a special training regimen. To keep
in shape, he has been running on a treadmill in his rented house
every morning. He sticks to a vegetarian diet, but he still loves
food, munching on microwave popcorn and waxing on about one of
his favorite recipes - popcorn sprinkled with soy sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
He hasn't settled on his next project, but he has
several options. According to Reiner, 'Second Nature',
a science-fiction thriller starring and produced by Baldwin, is
in the final stages of development at Castle Rock. He's also toying
with returning to TV, where he had his start on the soaps 'The
Doctors and 'Knot's Landing.' "I've made enough
movies that don't get seen by many people,"
Broadway, though, probably still holds the greatest
allure. In what may have been the most critical decision of his
career, Baldwin balked at 'Patriot Games', the sequel to
the blockbuster 'The Hunt for Red October', so that he
could star in a 1992 Broadway production of 'A Streetcar Named
Desire'. He snagged a Tony nomination, but his film career
stalled. "If I subtracted economics from the equation - not
thinking about money or movie stardom - I don't think there was
much choice between 'Patriot Games' and 'Streetcar',"
He claims his only regret is his fondness for Tom
Clancy and for the characterization of the hero, Jack Ryan, as
a boy who goes out to sea and comes back a man. "Before he
was taken over by what's- his-name, who's considerably older than
me," he says.
He is not being nasty. Alec Baldwin really cannot
come up with the name of Harrison Ford, one of the biggest box-
office stars of all time, who also happens to have appeared with
him in 'Working Girl' and, briefly, in 'Ghosts of Mississippi'.
"Why am I blanking out?" Baldwin wonders.
"What's his name?"
And as every movie star knows, the worst thing that
can be said "Who?" But that prospect doesn't appear
to worry Baldwin, who insists that setbacks like 'Patriot Games',
'The Juror' or 'Incognito' are not much cause for
depression. "I continue to work and get offered good movies,"
he says, "and make a lot of money."