What is it about Alec Baldwin? Why does he capture our imagination? Because he is a mouthy, insouciant rascal with a great shtick. He’s a cheeky rogue, a high-octane provocateur with a penchant for publicity, and a passion for getting his way and spilling his guts, especially on Twitter.
With sharp tongue, a keen mind, and an insatiable desire to tweet, he has evolved into a modern-day Samuel Pepys, a prime gossip, a master of social media—carefully scrutinized by more than 800,000 devoted followers who devour his frequent salvos.
Within the last couple of weeks, the petulant 54-year-old has revealed that he was engaged, stalked, and enraged.
First he made news by announcing he would tie the knot with his Spanish-born girlfriend, Hilaria Thomas, a comely yoga instructor 26 years his junior. Then a French-Canadian actress, Genevieve Sabourin, was arrested for stalking Baldwin, saying she loved him and they had had an affair. In a fury, Baldwin denied the allegation, stating they had dined together at the request of a friend in “a strictly professional manner.” A media blitz ensued.
To express his angst, he began tweeting at odd hours, going so far as to suggest he might quit his role on 30 Rock because of the crew NBC dispatched to stake out his apartment.
This only added to the brouhaha, and like many of Baldwin’s more heated remarks, it was eventually rescinded. By the end of last week he seemed to have regained his cool and flew off to Italy, fiancee in tow, to attend the opening of his latest movie—Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love.
From there he chirped, “What a great trip to Rome with HLT,” and admitted “People attack me every day. I try to roll with it. Some days, I do better than others.”
Monday he landed in Washington, D.C., to deliver The Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy Center for Arts on Arts Advocacy Day, and to speak at a National Press Club luncheon.
In a rambling speech, he pleaded for more federal aid for the arts and excoriated reality-TV and silly-news shows. He also made fun of his expulsion from an American Airlines flight last winter. “It was an amazing scene straight out of a Michael Mann movie,” he recalls, parodying an airline employee asking him to collect his belongings and get off.
On a more somber note he confessed, “It was bad luck for me that day.”
Dressed for the day in a conservative navy-blue suit, enduring back-to-back interviews and stoically posing for pictures with a gaggle of female admirers, he seems to enjoy much of the banter and conversation.
During a short interview before his press-club appearance, Baldwin made it abundantly clear that he thoroughly dislikes and mistrusts the media, and tweets in order to speak directly to his fans and get his message out, unfiltered.
“It gives me the chance to bypass people like you,” he says, staring at me with a smirk. “My anthem is to bypass the legitimate press, and I’m developing a better sense of what to omit and what to include.”
About half of his tweeting, he says, is devoted to marketing and promoting his various professional, political, and charitable interests. The rest is simply what is on his mind and what he chooses to divulge. “It’s an exercise in freedom of speech,” he explains.
The world, according to Baldwin, is divided into three groups. “One third really gets it. They read what you write and understand. One third read the polar opposite, and one third exists in the middle.”
He is trying to learn to live with all of the above.
His detractors and attackers, he says, are basically “white Christian males who want to become rich white Christian males and play golf.
“They don’t understand I have other interests and opinions.”
At the top of his list of interests is his relationship with his 16-year-old daughter, Ireland. After famously calling her a “rude, thoughtless little pig” on a phone message, Baldwin says their relationship is now back on track—“great, normal,” he says, adding that as a busy teenager, she “little use for either parent.”
Though Baldwin and his escapades have gotten him much unwanted attention, in reality the newly sleek (he’s lost 30 pounds), good-looking (despite stiff, spiky, sprayed hair) Long Island native is far more than tabloid fodder. He is an accomplished actor with an impressive list of stage, TV, and film credits. He describes his new movie with Penelope Cruz, To Rome With Love, as “a sex farce and a home run. When Penelope walks into a room, the air changes. She really is one of the most beautiful women in the world.”
While Baldwin is best known for his onscreen performances, but he says his fondest memories are of the theater. One of his most acclaimed performances was as Stanley Kowalski in the revival of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, and subsequently on TV. Nominated for both a Tony and an Emmy he wept as the curtain came down closing night.
He is also a skillful satirist, often playing himself—a character in his own comedy of manners. The narcissistic TV executive Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock is a prime example. For his performances he has garnered two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globes and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards. He has also hosted Saturday Night Live 16 times, more than any other individual.
But he does have one unfulfilled wish. “If I had my life to do over again,” he says, he would be a classical musician. Baldwin says his favorite gig has been as the announcer of the New York Philharmonic, where he’s had the opportunity to hang out with classical musicians. “I really enjoy my time spent as a guest in the musical world,” he says.
As the interview comes to a close, Baldwin is flummoxed by two final questions. How does he want to be remembered? What does he want on his tombstone? He looks surprised, laughs, and shakes his head. He has no answer.
When you tell him Rodney Dangerfield’s memorial reads, “There goes the neighborhood,” his competitive juices rise. He thinks for a moment and finally comes up with, “Here lies Alec Baldwin. He died trying.”