How Alec Baldwin Made His Own Rules & Won
Credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger
For the first few seasons of 30 Rock, Baldwin was in a dark place. People loved the show, and they loved him on SNL, and he'd begun to rehabilitate his film career with supporting turns in movies like the 2003 indie flick The Cooler and the two Scorsese movies. But he'd also gone through a nasty divorce with Basinger, after which an angry, embarrassing phone message Baldwin left for their daughter was leaked to the press. Baldwin was spending much of his time in his house on Long Island, feeling demoralized and dispirited (his words), and the only thing he was really doing was working, mostly to distract himself. Baldwin is one of those people who can fool themselves into saying work is play, because the type of work he does can be so much fun and involve frivolous things like going to awards shows.

"And then you get home," Baldwin says, "and you are by yourself."

Baldwin met Thomas in early 2011 at an upscale raw-food restaurant in Manhattan. She grew up in the U.S. and Spain and began competing internationally as a Latin ballroom dancer when she was 13. Baldwin had been in a few relationships after his divorce, including one that lasted for several years, only ending when Baldwin refused to marry. But when he and Thomas moved in together, it was the first time he'd lived with anyone since Basinger, more than 10 years earlier. "I just realized I was happy when she was around," he says of Thomas, "and less happy when she wasn't."

He's not sure what he'll do after 30 Rock. He finds the end of the show terrifying, in some ways, partly because he feels like he's been so spoiled. He doubts he'll do more television – too much work to get a new series up and running – though sometimes he thinks about doing a political show on MSNBC, which people over the years have suggested he try. He does worry about his ability to get back into film. "I mean, it's one thing to do an ensemble film for Woody Allen or play a supporting role in Rock of Ages, but you don't want to do ensemble films your whole career. So we'll see. I've had luck before."

He doesn't mind being thought of as a comic actor now, and says he has no plans to make what he calls the "very common mistake" of chasing after opposite-seeming roles, "trying to go play John Wayne Gacy or something." The characters Baldwin gets offered now, he says, "tend to be the Boss From Hell, something like that. I realize I'm never going to be first on anyone's list. I realize I'm not Tom Hanks, that five other guys have to die or pass on a project before I get the job."

Before he leaves for Cannes, Baldwin calls for one last chat. He wants to stress that none of the above matters. His real goal, after the show wraps, is to take six months off and just figure out what he wants to do next. It might not involve making another film if that means too much time away from New York and his fiancee. He can feel his career ambitions starting to recede. It's not like he's stopped caring about that stuff: trying to get an Oscar or proving to people that he's a great actor. "You're either in the game or not," Baldwin says. "I like the challenge of a difficult role, and the recognition that comes with it. But the most critical thing I can say to you is that my ambition is still real, but now it's competing with another ambition. Making this relationship work is such a goal of mine."

That said, he does have this idea for a Broadway musical. Seriously. He's talked about this to his friend Scott Ellis, a theater director. Listen to the pitch. There's a guy living in Cleveland, in a marriage that's falling apart: kids are grown; they've been together a long time. And out of desperation, in a weird Hail Mary pass, the couple decide to audition for a show at a local community theater. Neither one of them has any musical experience, and they're terrible – can't sing, can't dance. The wife ends up getting the role; the husband doesn't.

And then, over the course of the production, they both start to improve. Baldwin, of course, would be playing the husband, and he'd have spent the previous six months preparing with intensive voice and dance lessons. And at the end of the show, he and his stage wife would come out, having seemed so inept at the start, and just blow the audience away with a truly breath-taking number.

As we know, Baldwin loves a third-act surprise, and he's pretty sure audiences would, too. On the spectrum of crazy Baldwin ideas, the idea of Baldwin becoming Nathan Lane is not as crazy as Baldwin doing a Howard Stern–style morning show or running for mayor of New York, or – for that matter – becoming one of America's most beloved comic actors. "I said to Scott," Baldwin recalls, "'I really would love that challenge.'"