This story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
At a few minutes after 5 p.m. on March 29 — Good Friday — Alec Baldwin bursts from the stage door of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, where he’s in previews as the gangster-cum-father figure in Orphans. This particular revival of Lyle Kessler’s play is, like Baldwin, embroidered with controversy. Shia LaBeouf was to make his Broadway debut in the three-hander, but the 26-year-old left the production a week into rehearsals in February 2012 over “creative differences.” LaBeouf subsequently posted e-mail exchanges with Baldwin and director Daniel Sullivan on the Internet, like this one from Baldwin to LaBeouf that read: “We start Monday. But I’m so f—ing tired.” When LaBeouf responded with: “I’m a hustler. I don’t get tired. I’m 26 chief,” Baldwin fired back with: “Listen, boy. I’m not your f—in’ chief. You got that? Ha. Hahahahaha. Let’s go.”
But on this day, Baldwin — whose temper and Twitter crusades (many against the New York Post’s Page Six) are legendary — isn’t looking back. Rather, the 55-year-old is happily marching a reporter, his publicist and a photo crew through Manhattan’s Theater District during the evening pedestrian rush. “I have a great idea for a shot,” barks Baldwin as he leads us down West 45th toward Times Square, the busiest swath of concrete in Manhattan.
Dressed in a navy plaid blazer, fedora and baggy black jeans — he has lost 30 pounds thanks to a lifestyle change inspired by his yoga-teacher wife, Hilaria Thomas, who is pregnant with their daughter — Baldwin steps onto a stingy strip of median between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Almost instantaneously, the Massapequa, Long Island, native is surrounded: Paparazzi seemingly materialize out of the smog-choked air, children circle him, and the bridge-and-tunnel throngs gawk at this quintessential New Yorker in his element. Beams Baldwin: “This is New York, right here. This is why I’ll never leave New York!”
The Hollywood Reporter: Do you think your career would have been different if you had settled in Los Angeles?
Alec Baldwin: I probably would have been much smarter if I settled out there. I just think it’s easier. You’re more available; you see people. There’s more surface area for you to connect. My agent once said something funny: “It’s not that people think they want to work with you or don’t want to work. The problem is when they don’t think of you at all.”
THR: New York is a theater town, and you’ve said you enjoy theater more than film.
Baldwin: As a process, it’s more rewarding. Film is a director’s medium — the director makes it into a movie. The actor doesn’t make it into a movie. You’re like an ingredient in a salad.
THR: In your columns for the Huffington Post, you’ve explored the expanding gulf of wealth inequality in this country. You’ve donated more than $7 million to various nonprofits including The Actors Fund, PETA, Waterkeeper Alliance and the New York Philharmonic. And you recently contributed $250,000 to help rebuild New Jersey’s Mill Creek Community Center, destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Do you think there’s a moral way to live as a wealthy person?
Baldwin: [Laughter.] I never thought of myself as a wealthy person. I’ve thought of myself as a person who has had a lot of luck. I don’t have the same stress that other people have, but there are too many things I could have done differently if wealth was what I was after. If I was all about money, I would have lived in L.A.
THR: Were you surprised when Shia LaBeouf put your e-mails on the Internet?
Baldwin: I was, yes. I was very surprised.
THR: Were you disappointed?
Baldwin: We ended up with the people we were meant to do the show with. There are people often who are involved in a process who aren’t meant to be involved in that process. It wasn’t meant to be; he was gone. I’ve seen that happen before. People, on occasion, leave films, TV shows. It’s unpleasant, but it’s unavoidable. He’s going through whatever he’s going through. We’ve all been in that situation when we were younger where we want to tell everyone to go kiss off. We want to be our own man. And, I mean, I’m older now. And there does seem to be an inverse proportion to how much experience you have and how much you shoot your mouth off.
THR: Your daughter Ireland has embarked on a modeling career. How do you feel about her entree into show business?
Baldwin: The business is not as easy, so I hope if she likes it, she hangs in there. But we’ll see. I just would like her to finish college so she has something to fall back on. The thing about my daughter is, she’s very clever and very funny. I always joke and say she looks like her mom [Kim Basinger] and she thinks like me, so it’s a victory all around, you know? [Laughter.] Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that, but I think all men feel that way.
THR: Your brother Stephen is conservative, and you’re a liberal. Do you discuss politics?
Baldwin: His politics have no relevance in my life whatsoever. I don’t say that, by the way, in a mean-spirited way or a reductive way. Ultraconservatism is, to me, so illogical. Everywhere you go, conservatives want to cut, cut, cut, cut — cut money for powerless people. So that’s the biggest problem I have with them.
THR: What do you think about the latest attempt at a Tonight Show transition?
Baldwin: Everybody’s time is up. You know what I mean? The last time this went on, it became such a third rail for NBC. They’re so tense about it.
THR: So you think it’s a good idea for Jimmy Fallon to get The Tonight Show?
Baldwin: I think that Jimmy’s going to be the greatest talk-show host, along with David Letterman and Johnny Carson, ever. Talk shows are many different colors, but you have to be indefatigable, ceaseless in something. Letterman is ceaselessly witty and funny and sharp. Jimmy is clever and funny, but Jimmy also has tremendous warmth. He’s got so much energy, and he’s happy. He’s got that gift; when he’s out there, there is nowhere else he’d rather be. And when people turn the TV on, they get that. Not a lot of these other guys seem that way. They didn’t seem that way ever, maybe even less so now. Jimmy is the next guy. I love Jimmy. He’s going to be great.
THR: So what’s your opinion on NBC’s Today situation?
Baldwin: It’s the same thing. First it was Bryant Gumbel, then Matt Lauer. It’s not going to last forever. You want to make sure when you go, you just do it as gracefully as you can. I’m the kind of person who does not want to be anywhere that I’m not wanted. So if I had the slightest whiff that they wanted me to go, I’d say, “Well, how can we orchestrate this?” The problem is, great jobs in this business are tough to come by. Those jobs that are very highly remunerative — network, high-exposure kinds of jobs — they’re diminishing.
THR: You co-hosted the Oscars in 2010 with Steve Martin. What did you think of the reaction to Seth MacFarlane’s performance?
Baldwin: The Oscars is a completely thankless job. It’s really tough.
THR: So you wouldn’t do it again?
Baldwin: No. Never, never, never. And I enjoyed doing it. What the Oscars absolutely, unequivocally should be is a show with a little bit of entertainment and a very reverential overview of movies of that year. And that show would last about two hours, and it would be a very tight show with a lot of serious, cineastic appreciation. But the Oscars is also a television program that raises 90 percent of the Academy’s budget for the year in a single night. When the Oscars is three hours — when they bullshit you and say that the Oscars is running long, and that’s a problem — that’s not a problem. They’re making more money. So ABC and the Academy, they have no interest in doing a tight, better-produced show. They are forced, because of economic constraints, to have a flabby, tired show.
THR: And everyone who does it gets raked over the coals.
Baldwin: They need to gamble on the show, and they’re not gambling. I am a member of the Academy, but everyone who has done it lately has been crucified. So they’re not going to get anybody who is reasonably talented or special to take that chance anymore. They don’t pay you any money; the Oscars pay you like chicken feed. It’s all about the honor of helping to extol film achievement. But they’re going to have a tough time. I’m dying to see who they get to do it next year. They’re going to have to go dig someone up from a cemetery. They’re going to have to go dig up Bob Hope.
THR: Is there a living person you think would be good at it?
Baldwin: Ellen DeGeneres. She would work. Everybody likes her, and she can be edgy without being too edgy.
THR: You do a bimonthly podcast on WNYC. What made you want to take that on?
Baldwin: Because it’s a chance for me to do an interview the way that I have always enjoyed being interviewed. If you find a way to let people talk about what they want to talk about, then 20 minutes go by, and they’re telling you everything that you wanted to know. You’ve allowed them to make it their choice.
THR: Would you ever host a talk show?
Baldwin: It depends on the format and who it was for and what the schedule was like. Those guys that do talk shows have that terrible condition where they have to pretend everybody’s special. I don’t know if I could do that.
THR: Are you a little nervous about becoming a dad again at 55?
Baldwin: No. It’s really like a dream come true. Because as much as I have struggled as a divorced parent — and God knows I’ve had my ups and downs — the only thing that I regret was that I missed so much of my daughter’s childhood because of this contentious situation. And that wasn’t at all what I wanted. So I find that now I have another chance. I can honestly tell you I am blown away. When I met my wife, I thought, “I have to marry her because I’ll never be this lucky again.”
THR: Are you learning to turn the other cheek in your battles with Page Six?
Baldwin: Page Six is kind of a stiletto for a rabidly conservative political operation. You know, Fox News, Rupert Murdoch — killing people of a certain stripe, that’s their goal. And I just happen to be the recipient of an abundance of that.
THR: Do you think if you were a conservative they wouldn’t target you?
Baldwin: If I was a conservative Republican, I doubt it.
THR: You’ve been relatively controversy-free on social media of late. Is that a conscious effort?
Baldwin: It depends. On any given day, I have other things to do, typically. But every now and then, spitting on Murdoch, Fox News, the New York Post and Page Six. ... I feel like I was born to do that.
THR: You’re good at it.
Baldwin: But that’s rare — that’s only certain days. Then there are all the rest of the days of your life where you have other things to do. And now that I have my daughter coming and my wife, I just want to get as far away from that as possible. You’re probably going to be one of the last interviews I ever do.