But whereas Cruise inhabits his role with unbelievable commitment, Baldwin looks like he's wearing a wig in a Saturday Night Live skit. Part of the problem is that you simply can't picture Baldwin even listening to rock & roll, let alone running a hair-metal club on the Sunset Strip. Though he and Cruise are basically contemporaries, Baldwin seems like he comes from another generation altogether, possibly even another era. It's one of the reasons people tend to think that Baldwin more or less is Jack Donaghy. A liberal Upper West Side version of the character, sure, but otherwise, the same guy: sharp-tongued, witty, focused like a laser beam. Arrogant, impatient, Type A. But charming, too, a smooth operator, never without a tailored suit and tie. Retrograde in an appealing Mad Men sort of way.
Baldwin reinforces this conflation of signature character and self in ways large and small. The other morning, for instance, he and his fiancee, Hilaria Thomas, were walking back from a spin class. Baldwin moved downtown last year, to Greenwich Village, when he and Thomas got serious, and as they headed home, Baldwin marveled at all the commuters out on the street, trudging to the subway. He wasn't used to seeing this uptown, where his neighbors got picked up in town cars, and he's so delighted by the scene – "Every day it's something different down here!" he says – that he brings it up a few days later.
This delight is very Donaghian.
Tina Fey, who created 30 Rock, has said she actually wrote Donaghy as a corporate version of SNL producer Lorne Michaels, but always had Baldwin in mind for the part. And you can see why. Think, for example, about the way in which the words Baldwin and spin class together are automatically funny. The reason for the spin class is Baldwin's fiancee, a 28-year-old yoga teacher who has put him on a new health regimen, which he's been happy to comply with, because he's so smitten. Since last summer he's been off sugar and dairy entirely, and the spin classes are meant to be a gateway exercise to yoga. She's also nudging him to kick caffeine, which will be trickier. When he's working, Baldwin might drink 10 cups of coffee over the course of a morning; he needs to be pretty wired to properly deliver his lines on 30 Rock, many of which come rapid-fire. "I think I'm going to need a wheelchair when I give that up," he says unhappily.
Baldwin's relationship with Thomas is the main reason he no longer worries much about his career. He's deliriously in love, for the first time in ages, to a degree that he can't stop himself from talking about it. He says he often pauses to wonder, "Where the hell did I get this woman from?" It strikes him as some kind of reward. "But I don't know," he says, "what I did."