Where: his dressing room (Barrymore Theatre). 3 pm.
When I went to see Alec Baldwin backstage after a preview performance of the Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, a large mob of around two hundred people formed outside the backstage door waiting to see him. Usually when even a dozen people are hanging around, the folks backstage will tell them that the actors have already left, or won't be coming out, or some other non-truth just to get the throng to dissipate. On other occasions, I've witnessed the people on both sides of the stage door treat each other with the utmost disrespect simply because the admirers wanted an autograph or to take a picture. But that day, my faith was renewed in the star/admirer relationship.
No one backstage flipped out at the sight of so many people. Peter, the stage door gentleman, handled everyone's requests with consummate professionalism and politeness (as he always does), and even the director of the play seemed delighted that all those people enjoyed the show that much.
After Baldwin spoke to me, he went outside to greet all the admirers. At first, I thought things might get out of hand because some people were pointing camcorders in his face and shoving their Playbills at him. But he patiently signed autographs, and said thank you and had little conversations with everyone who wished him well.
Baldwin will end his long, successful run as Stanley Kowalski on August 9th. From the time the production was first announced publicly, comparisons to the original production and judgments were made before even one ticket was sold. Looking back over the months he has spent playing the role that was epitomized by Marlon Brando, Baldwin praises each production for its individual merits.
"When you put on a revival of any production, it comes with its baggage. Such seminal work was done back in '47, and it was so important and powerful. That's the key word--important--because a lot of what you see in the theater and in film is interesting. But, not all of it is important, and this was. So I have a tremendous amount of pride in not just myself and the cast, but everybody involved who decided to take a whack at this, and I thought we did a pretty good job."
For those audience members who saw the original Streetcar and have a special place in their hearts for it, no revival could probably ever measure up. Yet, it seems inappropriate for critics to put forth their ridiculous contempt for Baldwin and other well-known actors who have graced the stages throughout this season. When a letter to Theatre Week magazine attacked an interview that Baldwin had done with The New York Times, he responded with his own letter.
"I took issue with just one thing the guy or woman wrote about all this attention and hype being put on Hollywood movie stars as opposed to serious theatre. And I thought, 'How sad that you can't equate the work of film actors, or maybe just this film actor, with serious theatre.' Broadway was really in the dumps about five, six years ago, and I wrote in this letter that people dreamed of a season like the one we have now. People are having a good time. Money's tight, and people are making that choice to cough it up to go see these shows. And, the shows are good!
"It just amazes me, the critics taking on people because they're famous from the movies. A lot of people come back to do this because they love it. I love the theatre from all aspects. When I saw that Richard Dreyfuss was going to do a play on Broadway, I went, ‘Wow, that’s amazing! That’s great! Good for him! Gene Hackman! Well, isn’t that interesting. I gotta go see that!’ It really caught my attention. I thought, ‘I want to do this. I want to give to that energy. So, I’ll come here for six months, and I’ll do this.’ And it’s been hard. It’s practically killed me physically! I’ve injured myself and torn muscles in my shoulder.”
In his letter, Baldwin stated that “very often the theatre was the flame that drew people to the movies.”
“That’s true in my case,” he says with fond remembrance. “I grew up on Long Island, coming into Manhattan on a bus with school kids, on a field trip to go see Shenandoah with John Cullum. And when the lights went down, and I had my program, it was like part of a ritual, this cultural celebration. I loved that, and I always wanted to be a part of it.”
In addition to finishing up with A Streetcar Named Desire, Alec Baldwin is also on movie screens starring in the film adaptation of the play Prelude to a Kiss. Baldwin found some of the differences from playing the part he originated Off-Broadway at Circle Rep not without their challenges.
“Prelude was tough because of the transition. You have a very specific set of feelings, beliefs, instincts, and ideas that were built around doing the play. Then you go do it as a movie with a different cast and different group of people and it’s like starting all over again.”
If you happen to miss both the play and the film, Baldwin can be seen later this year in another film adaptation of a hit play—David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross--along with a stellar cast that includes Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Jonathan Pryce, Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey. However, there is only one catch that Baldwin admirers should know.
“I have one scene in the whole movie. I play an outsider, and that was true on-screen and off-screen. They had all been rehearsing together, doing scene work and filming for weeks, and I come in for three days of shooting and play this mean, severe guy.
"My character does not exist in the play. It is a character Mamet felt the script needed. This character, his name is Blake, is called in to lecture these men, and he just comes in and excoriates and humiliates these men. I have a five-page monologue where I just try to singe the hair off every one of them, about how useless they are and what cowards and wimps they are as far as getting out there in the jungles of real estate.
"I have a great part, not necessarily a big part. You don't have to have a big part obviously, to make an impression" he says with a chuckle.
With the play ending, Baldwin will be back to work on another film in a few weeks with Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher and Nicole Kidman, tentatively titled Damages.
"It's about a very strange kind of twisted crime--a con job that takes place through a very complicated medical fraud, and I play a surgeon. I love that theme--medicine as evil. That theme runs through a lot of great thrillers and horror films. You have hundreds and hundreds of hours of great films and TV shows of the evil doctor who uses all those great and mystifying talents and complicated knowledge that just escapes all of us, to commit evil, and that's what I'm going to play--" He turns on an icy chill in his voice, "--the evil doctor," then a look of mock dementia shoots through Baldwin eyes before he starts laughing.
A lot of folks have been wondering about the long-awaited film version of the television series The Fugitive, which Alec Baldwin was scheduled to star in, but it seems the fate of the movie is still up in the air.
"The producers and the studio have got themselves kind of in a catch-22. This is just my opinion, but I think they felt that in order to make the movie more cost-conscious, they needed to tighten up and telescope the landscape of where the story takes place. The TV show had many, many episodes to travel the country and do different stories. One of the great things I love about that character is that he is the hunter and the hunted simultaneously, so it really needs to be this pan-American kind of grandeur to it. You just really can appreciate what an incredible backdrop the United States can be and how diverse.
"The movie went from Philadelphia to Manhattan to the corn belt to Reno to San Francisco. And the development costs of the movie, because they paid for like seven or eight drafts of the screenplay, have blown up to an amount that is just so high that I don't know if they'll ever get the movie made. If you start off where the movie costs four and a half million dollars, everything changes. Who's the star going to be? Is he a big box-office name?
"But I read one of the latter drafts. That was the story. That was The Fugitive. It went from the escape sequence into a chase sequence that was as breathtaking and as mind-boggling as anything I had read in my life! The opening twenty minutes of The Fugitive that I read were some of the most startling I've ever read in a movie. The movie had an arc like Witness.
"A lot of people think you have to have a symphonic texture to a movie as far as action goes, where you inlay the action into the time of the movie. Like a little bit here, and a few minutes go by. Then a little bit here, and a few more minutes go by, and you don't want to have any long lapses. Where as Witness was a movie where you had a tremendous opening, then this pastoral, idyllic, highly dramatic and evocative centerpiece, and then you finish with a bang. So, it’s like, ‘Bang!’ and ‘Bang!’ bookend this very beautiful story and this romance, drama, and character development.
“That was what was true of The Fugitive. It opened with an incredibly resounding crashing, banging, booming opening—train wrecks and men jumping over Niagara Falls, committing suicide, but living! Then you get into his journey of self-discovery, and the fact that the only way that he’s ever going to get out of this problem is inside him. No one believes him. He must find this man. He can never turn to somebody and say, ‘This is the truth! This guy did this to me! Go get him!' They don’t believe him. He’s convicted, and that’s it.”
Because audiences have consistently seen Alec Baldwin in many quality film, television, and theatrical projects over the past several years, they are led to believe two things—that he can choose to be in any project he wants and that he is a workaholic. Baldwin clarifies those misconceptions that people have about him and other actors of his status.
“When you get to be a really, really big movie star, whatever you say, people say yes. You say, ‘I’d like to do this movie,’ and there’s a chorus. The community in Hollywood says, 'Yes!' You say, ‘I'd like to have "x" amount of dollars', and they say, 'Oh, yes!' You say, 'I'd like to do the movie when it's convenient for me.' 'Oh, yes, yes! Of course!' When you get to that final plateau where it all goes your way, then it's easier to do things.
"I can't plan things like that. I look at movies that are out there, and there are two or three movies right now that I love and want to do. And if I had my way, I’d do them. But those movies are very expensive movies and very big budgets, and they're not necessarily interested in me at a first glance, and I accept that. Not everything that I want to do is offered to me. People will say to me, ‘Why didn’t you do The Godfather, Part III?’ It wasn't offered to me. My decisions are not as free wheeling as they might seem.
“Movies are like cruise ships. They set sail at a certain time. They get a crew and a passenger list, and they go. Very rarely do they hold the ship for anybody. I never thought that I would lose the sequel to The Hunt for Red October in order to do the play. I thought I would do both. Suddenly, I woke up one day and was forced to choose. And everything goes in a sequence. Having done that and lost all the money from that movie, I now have financial considerations. I've got to get a job and make a living, so I've got to do a movie now. Well, do I call the producers of that movie and say to them, 'Hey, listen. I did Streetcar, and I'm really wiped out. Why don’t we start on October 15th? I need eight weeks off.’ They don’t do that. Everybody's doing what's best for them, and you try to work it out.
"But I am getting better and luckier in so far as I can project down the road hunks of time I'll have off. Ideally, I'll do this movie. The holidays will come at the end of the year. I'll be free for about six weeks. Hopefully, I'll book another film at the start of February. I’ll do that film. I’ll take off all summer next year and do another movie in the fall.
"There are people who are like that, I was talking to Jodie Foster once with the idea of doing a movie with her that never got made, and I was trying to get a sense of the rhythm of her work life. I said, 'It seems like you're taking these big hunks of time off.' She said, 'Yeah, I really don't like to work at a breakneck pace,’ and I couldn't understand that at the time. Now I can totally appreciate and am going to adopt her attitude whereas you just work less and also do less."
Even though Baldwin's work schedule is set, understandably, there simply are not enough hours in the day for him to devote large amounts of time towards his private life. This is especially true for him during this entire run of A Streetcar Named Desire, since people have known that he could be available to go to various functions and support their projects.
"To be really fair about it, this is a highly unusual lifestyle in the theatre. When I do a movie, my answer to everybody is ‘No.’ When you're shooting a movie, you work twelve, thirteen hour days. All I have is my energy to do my work, take care of my body, and go to bed. When you're doing a play, it is the only kind of experience where you allow yourself this perception, and you allow others to have the perception, that you have a rhythm that includes a semi-normal life where you can accomplish things during the day. I've got a couple of hours locked into the middle of the afternoon where I can get some 'biz' taken care of because the banks and the stores and everybody else aren't going to close or stay open just because I'm on Broadway. Then seven o'clock rolls around, and I've got to go to work and do the show.
"This is something that's been very draining for me because I do have a lot of interests outside of this business. So when people say to me, 'We're having a cocktail party for Bob Abrams. Can you be there at six o'clock?' I'd like to be at the theatre by seven. Might take me a half an hour to get here. 'Yeah, I'll be there at six o'clock--for half an hour.' Your schedule becomes very specific and focused if you want to get anything done, and you just accept that and do the best you can."
Those readers who are familiar with Alec Baldwin's decision not to do any more interviews after receiving a stream of negative press coverage may already be wondering how it is that he is featured here. Baldwin gives us the proper version of what his policy with the media is now and explains why he set it aside to let me interview him.
"I normally don't like to talk about that because that gives my energy to something that I just don't want to participate in. I'm sitting here doing this with you right now because I view this as a harmless situation. I don't view you as anybody who has an agenda. I don't see how you could. For one reason, you do this obviously out of love. You have no financial kind of thing riding on this. I doubt you make a dime. In fact, it costs you money maybe. So therefore, I sit and do an interview with you, but I do no interviews with written journalists anymore ever.
"I will do sittings with them and answer specific questions that are submitted to me in advance about a specific project. I will do what's called an 'electronic press kit’ for a movie I do, where they'll bring in a camera crew and have a standardized set of questions that are asked of me. I will approve the ones that I want to answer and the ones that I don't want to answer.
"This is just my opinion based on my experience, but I learned the following--it's very easy for someone to say those kinds of things about me because we know that there are a lot of people who let the whole positive energy of their careers distort and pervert them and go to their heads. But the truth of the matter is, like anybody who is accused of something, you look back and see if this sounds right. What was the person like up until then? I agreed to be part of the situation of making a film with Disney, which was a nightmare, and I turned around and said so. I don't regret anything I did at all. The only thing, and how I'm different today, is that maybe that particular film wasn’t worth fighting all those battles over and having all that stuff being a result of that.
“I’m not the first person that this has happened to. There are people who have come in and expressed their opinion, and who continue to express their opinions. Dustin Hoffman is somebody that they say, ‘He’s difficult.’ Well, what does ‘difficult’ mean? I think that the bottom line is that ‘difficult’ very often means that you have an opinion.
“But what I’ve learned now is I pick my battles a little more carefully. I avoid situations. I will not do certain entertainment press like Entertainment Tonight, E Channel or Premiere magazine. One of the reasons why I avoid contact with them is because—and nothing against them—when you have this proliferation of purely entertainment media, then what happens is you’re constantly trying to search for and prop up and manufacture what is special and what is talent.
“It’s like the old line, ‘When everything is special, nothing is special.’ So, I like to do publicity with people where entertainment is not deified and god-like. I think people are a little too carried away by the entertainment world and movie stars and actors. The business is just so hyped too death right now, and the marketing is so in your face. Every breathing minute of the day you’re being told, ‘YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE! AND IF YOU DON’T, YOUR LIFE IS MEANINGLESS!’
“Therefore, I avoid written journalists and magazine interviews because I don’t think it’s really worth the gamble to allow someone like that—most of whom have an economically-determined or politically-linked agenda in the business—to interpret who I am. You present them with a set of facts, but they don’t always regurgitate just the facts.”
Discussing all of this is certainly not something that Baldwin or anyone in his position enjoys doing. Yet, it is important that the public understands not why rumors are started about stars and whether or not they are true, but how it makes them feel and the affect it has on their lives. Only then can we begin to put an end to our “fascination” with hearing about the low-points of other people’s lives.
“One thing I’ve done with you this afternoon that I wanted to avoid was getting into my spiel about what happened to me because it’s all water under the bridge. I look forward to the future. It has changed me, and that’s a good thing because it’s helped me to see what my perspective is and how this all fits into my life. This business is not as important to me as it was two years ago. It can’t be. That’s the danger. Everybody else is playing a game in Hollywood of ‘It’s the most important thing, and you’d kill your grandmother to get ahead.’ And when you step in, and it’s not as important to you, people get really freaked out.
“It’s like you and I walking out and playing a game of touch football, and some guy came and flattened you right in the middle of Central Park. And you got up and went, ‘What the hell is going on here?!’ That’s what it’s like. That’s a very high stakes game, and that’s okay. Those people want to do that kind of thing, and I learned my lesson.
“But, I never lied to anybody. I never stole from anybody. I never hurt anybody. I did two things—I expressed my opinion, and people didn’t want to know about it. They didn’t really care. And number two, so long as you don’t do what people want you to do, and you don’t do what’s in their interest, they hate you. They want to destroy you. They try to make it in your interest. They say, ‘Don’t you want to do Patriot Games? Don’t you want to make millions of dollars doing the sequels to these movies? Don’t you want to be a big, big, big movie star and really have all the stuff in your life be great?' And I guess the answer was 'No.' at that time. I wasn't really clear whether I wanted that or not because I chose to do this play, and I had two dreams. One, I wanted to have that kind of power and control and be a movie star. But, the other was I wanted an opportunity to prove what I was capable of as an actor.
"So, I've done my best to leave all that behind now. I'm well-aware of what was said. No one was more aware of it than I was, and it hurt me a great deal because it was a misrepresentation. I used to be very bitter and sad. I was the saddest and downtrodden I've ever been in my life these last two years. Now what it's taught me is those things that I wanted in a more superficial way in this business--the stardom, the acclaim, the hype, and everyone in Hollywood kissing my ass—even if I had that, it wouldn’t matter to me.
"This business used to be the most important thing to me in my life. It isn't anymore. My own personal sanity, my own integrity, my own health, my relationship at home with my girlfriend, my relationship with God, my family, my political and charitable work, and all of my own private realities, is either far more important, or at least as important, as my work in the movie business.”
The most immediately noticeable result of Baldwin's experience is that it has given him a sense of wisdom and maturity that is leaps and bounds beyond his thirty-four years. So if the old sayings "Everything happens for a reason," "Something good always comes with the bad," and "If it don't kill you, it just makes you stronger" are actually true, then the world is now a better place for Alec Baldwin. AAA
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