Alec Baldwin: ‘You naughty English could fold sex into dentistry’

Playing the fallen auto entrepreneur John DeLorean, skewering Donald Trump on SNL, Woody Allen, #MeToo Why is it so hard to pin the actor down on anything?

A conversation with Alec Baldwin feels rather like being in a holding pattern above New York. Not that it’s boring: on the contrary, talking with this old-fashioned film star and modern-day sitcom god, this part-time Trump antagonist and full-time schmoozy showbiz personality, is an altogether pleasant experience. You are in business class, perhaps even first, and you are happy and sated and induced. Spread out invitingly below you are the twinkling lights of Manhattan, where the 61 -year-old actor and his 35 -year-old wife, Hilaria, own a penthouse apartment.( They also have an 18 th-century farmhouse in the Hamptons .) And yet a question presents itself , not unreasonably, as the plane circles the city and each new circumnavigation seems to bring it no closer to terra firma: are we ever going to land?

It is something to do with the circuitous nature of Baldwin’s sentences, the style he riffs and waffles and meanders at will. Nothing can interrupt him, apart from his pets. (” Hold on a second ,” he says down the line from New York, and then I hear the words” Daughters! Come !” before he returns to the phone to tell me he was ” only summoning my dogs “.) It is his appearance in the new docudrama Framing John DeLorean that has occasioned our conversation today. In bite-sized dramatic reconstructions peppered among interviews with the subject’s family and colleagues, Baldwin plays the late vehicle executive and discoverer, whose gull-winged car was turned into a time machine in Back to the Future but whose life was destroyed by ambition, idiocy and greed. It’s a obliging story that starts with DeLorean relinquishing his position as group executive at General Motors to start his own company and ends with his naive involvement in a cocaine-smuggling operation exposed in an FBI sting.

Baldwin has said he feels differently about DeLorean every day, so I ask where his head is at right now.” With John- I don’t think I’ve ever said this before- and I’m not just saying this to, um, delight you and freshen up this material for this interview- but lately when I think about him- and I’ve been talking about him a lot- I have friends and acquaintances who’ve seen the movie, and we go out to dinner and discuss it- I find that beyond anyone who’s- oh, I don’t know- perpetrated assassination or they’re a sexuality trafficker- I kind of look at John as a victim .”

I am trying to fathom the” sexuality trafficker” commentary but he has already moved on.” Now, awarded, this sounds like I’m being too colourful. But he’s a victim of his own ambition. He’s an American businessman and that comes with a whole menu of options. American industries have changed the world- they’ve promoted invention on a level that’s unseen- and they’re also responsible for a lot of the horrific pollution and climate change and plastics pollution- I entail, I don’t want to go on and on with that listing- and DeLorean is someone who made a lot of poor selections. His family, reputation, his own health, all fell victim to that soaring ambition .”

Baldwin himself had one interaction with the real DeLorean: a late-night phone call in 2004 in which the drop vehicle giant suggested that the actor might like to play him in a movie.” No one was approaching me from a network or a studio. It was all hypothetical. John’s hand was in this because he was an uber control freak. I never heard from him again, and then he was dead the subsequent year .”

For the film’s reconstructions, Baldwin wears facial prosthetics, a silver wig and a pair of thick black slabs for eyebrows. I bring up the subject of makeup but all this does is prompt one of those ruminations, which ends, with Baldwinian inevitability, in him comparing his treatment unfavourably with that of a more successful actor.” I wish we could have gone further ,” he sighs.” The hair and makeup people said they could do a detailed version that would take three hours to apply. The director said:’ Give us the best you can in two hours .’ I was looking at some stills of Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice– I admire Bale so much- and when you have as much skill as Bale, and they get it just-so …” He trails off, then picks up the think again with a note of faintly smouldering rancor.” Well, I’m sure they didn’t rush him out of the makeup chair .”

Baldwin, complete with fake eyebrows and silver wig, in Framing John Delorean. Photograph: Nicole Rivelli/ Universal Pictures

DeLorean once said that no human without a strong sex drive ever achieved anything, so I ask Baldwin whether he agrees.” What an English question ,” he says, with a booming laugh.” What a naughty, naughty English question that is. You could fold the sexuality into anything, couldn’t you? You could fold the sexuality into dentistry. Listen, I’m not an authority on that subject, but there are men and women who want what they want, and that is a shotgun for them: they want art, they want palaces, they want people, they collect people, they collect children and wives. They have a reality that burns out and then they dust themselves off and start all over again. And then there are people who are laser-like. There’s one thing they want and that’s all they want, whether it’s money or sex or power. And that was John .”

There is no mystery about which category Baldwin falls into. After the wreckage of his divorce from the actor Kim Basinger in the early 2000 s, and the catastrophic fallout when an enraged voicemail he had left for their then-1 1-year-old daughter received its route online( in the recording, he branded her a” rude, thoughtless little pig “), he went through a period of what he has called” staring off a cliff “. And then he did indeed start all over again with Hilaria, with whom he now has four children under the age of 10.

His career has always seemed so diffuse. Who knows what he ever wanted? He has been a theatre actor, a movie and TV starring, hosted a quiz demonstrate and presided over his own chatshows, as well as Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride, in which he dispenses relationship advice to couples from the back of a limousine (” It’s the silliest thing you’ve ever seen “). There existed a podcast, Here’s the Thing, with a slate of guests including everyone from Itzhak Perlman to Sarah Jessica Parker, Bernie Sanders to Ben and Jerry. If he never gives another great performance again it won’t matter: he is having a blast playing Alec Baldwin, a role that, as a younger man, he seemed often to despise.

Following a stint in soap opera in the early 1980 s, he briefly became an actor to be reckoned with, performing David Mamet, Joe Orton and Caryl Churchill on stage, and working with Tim Burton, Jonathan Demme and Mike Nichols in the first few years of his cinema career. But the Basinger era, and his own consuming indignation, came to define him in the public consciousness far more than any of his performances, with the exception perhaps of the shark-like sales executive who dominates the opening scene of the 1992 film of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Then again, that movie wasn’t playing on a loop-the-loop on the front pages of every tabloid at America’s supermarket checkouts, the route his divorce later did.

Watch Baldwin in Glengary Glen Ross

Likewise, Baldwin’s onscreen accomplishments – his Oscar nomination for playing an unscrupulous casino boss in The Cooler or his collaborations with Martin Scorsese( The Aviator, The Departed) and Woody Allen( three films including Blue Jasmine)- have usually been eclipsed by his intemperate comments and showings of aggression. Most performers of his stature and experience stimulate the headlines for winning awards; losing his temper is more Baldwin’s thing. Merely this year he pleaded guilty to harassment and agreed to take an anger management course after an debate over a Manhattan parking space. He has also been arrested for disorderly conduct, had a chatshow cancelled after he employed a homophobic slur against a paparazzo, and been kicked off a flight for refusing to stop using his phone prior to takeoff.

If he is known for poor control of his impulses, he still has principles. He distinguished himself by refusing to join other former Woody Allen casting members( among other issues Colin Firth, Timothee Chalamet and Greta Gerwig) in denouncing the legally exonerated film-maker.” There’s a very small number of people who know what really happened in that situation ,” Baldwin tells me.” Only the people who were in that room can know for sure, but you have testimony for and against Woody from the same pool of people. One daughter is saying he’s a sexuality delinquent; his other son has defended him. I have nothing but the most profound sympathy for anyone who was the victim of sexuality abuse, but I also have a bit of a conscience, if you will, about people who are falsely accused. That’s tragic, too .”

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