Alec Baldwin has racked up eight Golden Globe nominations and has won two — both for his scathingly funny portrayal of GE executive Jack Donaghy on the NBC comedy "30 Rock."
But Baldwin won't be at the Globes ceremony in Los Angeles tonight. "Oh God, no," he says, calling from somewhere deep in the canyons of Manhattan. "I have to go to a memorial service for a very dear friend of mine."
It's not surprising that Baldwin would choose loyalty over being lauded. Last year, when he received a cool million dollars for making a commercial for the Internet TV service Hulu, he turned around and gave the money to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, which he credits for opening the door to his 30-year career. "I feel some debt to them on a metaphysical level," he explains.
And it's not surprising that Baldwin, 51, should be feeling magnanimous. After all, this is a man who's at an age when many actors in his cohort are wandering a wilderness between "The Hangover" and "The Bucket List." They're not young enough to be hip, not old enough to be a beloved old geezer; Baldwin has managed to be both hip and beloved.
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Over the past few years he has survived all manner of thorns (from "The Cat in the Hat" to That Phone Call) and emerged not just unscathed, but coming up roses. His latest movie, "It's Complicated," is a hit (thanks in no small measure to his own fearless display of male middle-aged flesh); he's due to co-host the Oscars show in March; and with the midterm elections heating up, he's even giving serious thought to a political run.
Timing has been everything in a career that began with Baldwin being hailed as a commanding dramatic actor with smoldering bedroom eyes, and has steadily grown into a case study in endurance, flexibility and the importance of flawless comic delivery (preferably in a leonine purr).
From occasional comedic forays in legendary guest shots on "Saturday Night Live," Baldwin has become one of the most reliably funny actors on the screen, big, small or iSized. And this particular second act started with a show Baldwin initially didn't want to do.
"I never wanted to do a TV show. Never, never, never," he says of "30 Rock," now in its fourth season.
But once he did the "30 Rock" pilot and a few episodes, he says, he realized, This is fun.
"The reality of filmmaking is, you think things to death," he says. "You're doing a movie and someone says, 'Should you say the line and THEN sip the tea? Or sip the tea and THEN say the line? Or should you do part of the line and then sip the tea and then finish the line?'
"Whereas with TV, and Tina (Fey) and I have talked about this many times, you don't have time for that. You develop these muscles to make quicker choices. But at the same time, what I learned at NYU is still true, 30 years later: You relax, you do your Stanislavski relaxing exercises and you remember there's no place else you'd rather be. If you convey to the audience that you don't want to be there, they'll pick up on that."
Those principles clearly served Baldwin well in the most uproarious scene in "It's Complicated," when he's shown in the generously girthed altogether on Meryl Streep's bed, with only a strategically placed laptop for a fig leaf. How exactly did that sequence come about?
"That certainly wasn't my idea!" he cries.
"I have read scripts where I say, 'I'd rather see this movie than make this movie.' But the fact that Meryl was the other lead, I couldn't say no. So I read the script and I didn't really think about it in terms of the humiliation factor (until) they were shaving the hair off my body and spray-tanning me for that scene."
Have he and "It's Complicated" co-star Steve Martin been hatching any plans for co-hosting the Oscars in March?
"Oh yeah, we've had several meetings," he says. "The big thing to remember is that the show is two things. One is the show for the audience at home, and the other is the show that plays for the audience in theater. There has to be an entertainment quotient for the live broadcast ... but we also want there to be a reverence and a focus on film."