How Alec Baldwin Made His Own Rules & Won
Credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger
Baldwin is an extremely busy man. He literally wrapped up his three-hour interview with Scorsese five minutes before sitting down with me. As soon as we're done talking, Baldwin introduces me to his friend Stuart Suna, who runs a movie studio in Queens. They're going to discuss the film festival they put on every fall in the Hamptons – Baldwin is very hands-on in this endeavor, too, and recommends highly a documentary they're screening this summer called Detropia – and after that, they're heading to Lincoln Center to catch a chamber orchestra.

This is Baldwin's life: nonstop motion through a dizzyingly idiosyncratic range of hobbies, causes, and projects only tangentially related to acting. If his career had taken a different turn – if he'd remained in Los Angeles, chasing and maintaining megastardom – it would have been much more difficult for him to pursue so many of these interests, and he's so clearly passionate about them all, it's hard to imagine what he'd cut out. He serves on the board of the New York Philharmonic and announces the broadcasts on public radio. (It's also his voice that tells you to turn off your cellphone at the beginning of its performances.)

Two weeks before the live 30 Rock episode, he delivered the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center, where he called his work with the philharmonic "without question the greatest creative pleasure I have ever had." Two weeks after, he moderated a panel discussion of Democratic state attorney generals during a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria, where he fluidly queried people like Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto about such wonky topics as state-pension-fund abuse, foreclosure-relief efforts, and overblown right-wing fears of voter suppression. (He also seemed to irritate New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman by suggesting that the state's close association with Wall Street was not necessarily a great thing for its image.)

Later that afternoon, he heads to a recording studio to do some voice-over work for an animated film, and a couple of days after that, he's flying to Cannes to film more interviews for his documentary and also to attend an AIDS fundraiser he's co-chairing with Janet Jackson and Kylie Minogue. What else? Oh, right, there's his public radio podcast, Here's the Thing, in which he interviews people he finds interesting; so far, his guests have included the Republican strategist Ed Rollins, Chris Rock, the economist Joseph Stiglitz, Kristen Wiig, and Erica Jong. Amid all of that, he occasionally acts. This summer, along with Rock of Ages, he stars in the new Woody Allen movie, To Rome With Love. He's committed to do a play on Broadway in 2013 (specifics of the show have not yet been announced), along with another film for Allen and another comedy with Russell Brand, in which Brand will play the nanny to Baldwin's children. (Baldwin says he "adores" Brand, and seems especially impressed that when he's with him, "women would walk by, and you would literally see them buckle. He has an energy to him – I've never seen anything like it in my life. He probably could have had sex with 150 different women a day.")

A few days after his Scorsese interview, Baldwin drops by WNYC, New York's NPR affiliate, to talk about fracking with his friend Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on a local morning show. Baldwin called WNYC and set up the appearance himself, after hearing the New York Times columnist Joe Nocera saying positive things about fracking on the same show. At the end of the interview, the host, Brian Lehrer, asks Kennedy if he's thinking of running for office. Baldwin mentions that he was trying to persuade Kennedy to consider electoral politics when they went on a ski trip together over the winter.

"If Alec decides not to run," Kennedy says, chuckling, "maybe I will."

"I don't think I have time for that now," Baldwin says. "I've got to do the show. I have a real burning interest to do that, but not now."

Baldwin is referring to the chatter that's been going around, for some time now, that he might run for mayor of New York. He's not a fan of Mike Bloomberg – he thinks the city has become lopsided in favor of the interests of the wealthy, at the expense of average citizens – but the race is next fall, and because of his commitment to the final season of 30 Rock, he wouldn't have time to raise funds or prepare a proper campaign.

Ironically, before signing on to do 30 Rock, Baldwin had been developing another TV series, a drama in which he would've played the mayor of New York. He insists this idea came about well before he'd considered actually running for mayor. He saw the character as a fusion of Bloomberg and Bill Clinton, a wealthy businessman with, as Baldwin delicately puts it, "a very complex personal life." Then, less delicately, he adds, "His staff was always going to be worried about him banging the wrong woman. Amoral in his private life, but highly altruistic in office."

Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of 30 Rock, convinced Baldwin to do his show instead. Baldwin has a long relationship with Michaels, having hosted SNL 16 times, more than any other performer. The first time was in 1990, "when I was making a lot of movies," Baldwin says. Michaels continued to invite him back, "in good times and bad times, after my movie career ripened, if you will, and even began to rot in some ways."

The genius of Michaels' pushing Baldwin in the direction of comedy seems obvious now, but it wasn't always. At the start of his career, Baldwin was considered sultry leading-man material – do a Google image search of "alec baldwin" and "young" and you'll see lots of stubble, exposed chest hair, and blue-steel camera gazes – and the secret of older Baldwin's comedic renaissance has been his willingness to exploit the fact that he's now a leading man gone slightly to seed. He's retained his old powers of seduction; just listen to the way he purrs "Lemon," that sourest of words, while talking to Tina Fey's character on 30 Rock. But he's now a seducer who no longer bothers to mask his intentions with subtlety or a disarming smile. It's charm openly brandished as a weapon, and you're never quite sure what he's planning to do with the person he's charming – sleep with them, murder them, maybe some combination of the two.

Played for laughs, this characteristic is very funny.

Of course, Baldwin brought a menacing, aggressive swagger to some of his best early roles: the sales manager in Glengarry Glen Ross, a psychotic cop-impersonating ex-con in the underrated Miami Blues, Stanley Kowalski in an acclaimed Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. And Baldwin's actorly presence, his crisp pronunciations, come with a certain confidence that makes it easier to believe him as a nasty piece of work. His friend Adam Shankman, the Rock of Ages director, has also produced several Oscar telecasts, including the time Baldwin co-hosted with Steve Martin, and he says the great thing about that particular duo was the contrast: Martin brought the "easy wit," Baldwin "a sense of danger." When Baldwin glowers at the camera in a deadpan way, it's never exactly deadpan, because that would imply he's secretly holding back a smile, when in fact you get the feeling he's actually so pissed about something he might, at any moment, lunge.