How Alec Baldwin Made His Own Rules & Won

Alec Baldwin
Alec BaldwinMark Seliger

This feature ran in the July 2012 issue of Men’s Journal

Though these days Alec Baldwin is probably best known as a television comedian, he remains a movie guy at heart. In his home screening room, there is a no-phone rule. You watch the movie straight through, without interruption, and the world goes away. As a young actor, like all of his peers, he wanted to be Brando, “in the back seat of that car with Rod Steiger” (he’s referring to the famous “I coulda been a contender” scene from On the Waterfront) or Pacino, whose career he obsessively studied, watching classics like Serpico and even misfires like Bobby Deerfield dozens and dozens of times. Now, though, looking back, Baldwin wishes he’d been more like William Holden—Baldwin says Bill Holden—who might not have reached the outer bounds of acting virtuosity, but who had perfect pitch when it came to both dramas and comedies, and was such a charming leading man, in classics like Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Network, The Wild Bunch, and Sabrina, that to Baldwin’s mind he certainly “reached the outer bounds of movie stardom.”

Alec Baldwin’s Vintage Audio Setup

Alec Baldwin’s Vintage Audio Setup

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Baldwin, on the other hand, never really did. Or at least he hasn’t yet. There’s still time, though less and less of it, a mordant fact that Baldwin likes to joke about. “I’m entering now, and in the next five years I will be fully into, what I call the Judge Phase of my career,” he will say. “I’m the judge on Law & Order. That’s the only role they’ll let me play.” When the subject of the contemporary Hollywood blockbuster comes up, Baldwin fixes you with those chilling blue eyes. “I get offered to play the superhero’s father,” he says. “His lawyer.”

As much as we love Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, that’s not Bill Holden, 40 feet across and 20 feet high. Still, Baldwin wants to make something very clear. “Everything we’re saying,” he says, “it sounds like there’s a tone of lament, or regret. And if this is written in a certain way, it will sound like I’m looking back and saying, ‘I could have been this, I could have been that.’ And I want to genuinely say, the wonderful thing about the age I’m at now? I couldn’t give a shit.”

The age that Baldwin is at is 54. Incredibly, that’s only four years older than Tom Cruise, Baldwin’s co-star in the movie version of Rock of Ages, a terrible Broadway musical built on eighties pop-metal. The movie is not terrible, mainly because the supporting cast is so amazing—Cruise especially, playing a dissipated, reclusive Axl Rose type—but also Russell Brand and Paul Giamatti and Baldwin, playing an aging club owner. He and Brand duet on Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and, most awesomely, the REO Speedwagon ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” Rock of Ages director Adam Shankman took to calling the pair Tracy and Hepburn on set, though he says he could never decide who was who.

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.”

We’re sitting in the Grand Havana Room, a private club on the top floor of a skyscraper just two blocks north of the actual 30 Rock. Because the address of the building is 666, and because you must take a special secret express elevator from the lobby to get to the Grand Havana Room, you half expect Devil’s Advocate Al Pacino to be waiting for you up there next to the humidor. But it’s only Baldwin, and a bunch of other rich guys of a certain age, sitting in plush leather chairs, enjoying the wraparound view of Midtown Manhattan. Not to belabor the point, but this place: so ridiculously Donaghy! Baldwin is actually on the board of the club. He used to come up here between business meetings, when he’d sit by a window and read the Times or the New Yorker, maybe enjoy a cigar. He’d been a cigarette smoker, but his ex-wife – Kim Basinger, whom he never refers to by name, just “my ex-wife” – made him quit. It seems like women are always trying to fix Baldwin. Or maybe that’s just his preferred narrative. In any event, he never complains about it. If anything, he seems grateful.

Thomas hasn’t gotten him off the cigars yet, and so he flags down a waiter, who hands him a cutter and then lights one up for him with a giant fancy silver lighter. Baldwin the late-period comic actor is a paunchier version of Baldwin the young leading man. That’s part of what makes him funny. He says he’s lost 30 pounds since Thomas put him on his new diet, and though he’s not exactly slim, he retains an impeccable style. Today he’s wearing a suit and tie, and his hair is perfectly shaped. (Lorne Michaels, in a speech, once described Baldwin as the “rarest of animals, a liberal who looks good in a suit.”) Even the fleshier-faced Baldwin has something of the hawk about him, which makes for an appealing tension with the soothing quality of his voice. Whether he’s acting or telling you about his daughter’s wisdom teeth, pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like he’s narrating an audiobook.

Five days earlier, 30 Rock performed an epic live episode (actually two – East and West Coast versions), in which Baldwin not only played Donaghy but, in a series of flashbacks, versions of Jackie Gleason, Dean Martin, Richard Nixon, and Paul Lynde. Today he’s back to work, on a semisecret documentary he’s been making with his friend James Toback, the famously volatile director of the excellent 1978 Harvey Keitel drama Fingers and, most recently, the documentary Tyson. Baldwin calls Toback one of the five smartest people he’s ever met, though he adds a qualifying “probably” and only lists two of the other four, and one of them (the writer Christopher Hitchens) is dead. (The other is Robert Carlock, a head writer, along with Fey, on 30 Rock.) The Toback project had taken various forms but eventually became a documentary that Baldwin says will be their cri de coeur (Baldwin’s phrase) about the present state of the film industry. (Spoiler alert: Shit’s fucked up.) To that end, they’ve been interviewing various filmmakers, including, just now, right here in the Grand Havana Room, Martin Scorsese. Two of Baldwin’s finest middle-career supporting turns came in Scorsese films, playing Pan Am founder Juan Trippe in The Aviator and a police captain (and foil to Mark Wahlberg’s foulmouthed sergeant) in The Departed.

Baldwin, Toback, and Scorsese all found themselves lamenting how badly the film industry needs a new crop of executives. Many of the complaints are familiar ones – kids who watch movies on tiny screens while checking their email, how there are no ballsy producers anymore, that kind of thing – but as Baldwin recounts them, he starts to get worked up. He’s an intense guy, hyperfocused, like many of his characters, and it’s not easy to tell if this aspect of his personality is just a Method thing run amok, something he’s been doing for so long as an actor that it became internalized, or if he’s wired this way. The other thing about Baldwin is, though he’s perfectly happy to talk about himself at length, he enjoys asking questions of his own – far more, at least, than most famous people. Control thing, I think, combined with a natural curiosity. But mostly a control thing.

“Are you a movie person?” Baldwin asks.

Yeah, I say. I am.

“What was the last movie you saw – and maybe this is not a good question. I’m not a reporter, so I don’t know how to ask a good question. But what was the last movie you saw where you genuinely felt you could see it again and maybe get more out of it? What’s the last movie you saw you could see twice?”

I think for a moment. “Well, I just watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the second time.”

“You saw it twice,” Baldwin says. He leans forward. We’re facing each other in giant club chairs. “And you feel it was worth viewing twice. You liked it that much?”

This sounds accusatory to me. Does he hate Gary Oldman? No, of course not, this is just the way Baldwin speaks – answer him! “I felt,” I say, “like it was complicated enough that I’d missed a few things the first time around. Which is rare.”

“Where did you watch it?”

“First time at the movies. Just recently, on DVD.”

“On a computer?”

“No, on a TV.”

He seems to consider this. Then: “So, you watched it again because you thought you might’ve missed something?”

I don’t like the way he stresses the word missed. “I mean, I basically got it, but there was–”

“You thought it was smart enough that there might be more there?”


“So that’s one example. How many more?”

I admit that if I rewatch a film, it’s generally something on the older side.

Baldwin smiles and nods, seemingly pleased with himself, as if I’d spent the previous half-hour insisting that Hollywood had entered a golden age, post-Apatow, and he’d managed to best me in a debate.

“The movies now, it’s a snack food,” he says. “The last movie that I would see a second time . . . I can’t even remember. It’s hard to think of one where I would go out of my way.”

Next question.

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.

The theme music of Here’s the Thing is the Miles Davis jazz standard “So What.” It gives the show an old-school, Playboy Club feel; you imagine Baldwin and his guests smoking cigarettes and sipping from tumblers of scotch while they’re talking. Baldwin has a compelling, whispery radio voice, and he’s a smart interviewer. His chat with Michaels, for example, covers everything right up until October 11, 1975, when SNL premiered, and Michaels is fascinating and engaged, in large part because he’s not being asked about John Belushi for the thousandth time.

Like many of Baldwin’s extracurricular activities, the show is an extension of his social life. Many of the people he interviews are friends, like Michaels and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, and the show’s co-producer is Baldwin’s friend and Long Island neighbor Kathleen Russo, the widow of actor and monologist Spalding Gray. Baldwin says his original idea for his NPR podcast was modeled after Howard Stern – not dirty like Stern, but a proper daily morning show, with a bullpen of regular characters, comics, and writers. One character would have been called the Kid, Baldwin tells me. The Kid would have been given a pocketful of cash and gone out all night and done all the things Baldwin was too old to do now, and the next day Baldwin would ask, “So, Kid, what did you do last night?”

Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a great show. Still, Baldwin loves radio. He says his goal on Here’s the Thing is to get people to talk about the emotional experience behind whatever it is that they do. “I’m always intrigued by that,” Baldwin says. Then he adds: “I’m kind of obsessed with it. Like, I could ask you that. ‘Do you like doing this? Why?'”


“No, I’m asking you.” He’s leaning forward again. This is back in the Grand Havana Room. “Do you like doing this?”

I do, I tell him.

“Why?” he asks, sounding deeply skeptical. “What about it do you like? I could be boring the shit out of you right now. What do you do when you’re talking with someone and they completely disappoint you and bore the shit out of you?”

“Occasionally that happens,” I say. “But most of the time, what I like about journalism is that it allows me to dip into other worlds.”

Now Baldwin looks appalled. “How the fuck are you dipping into another world talking to me?”

I glance around this private club for millionaires, and then out the window at a panoramic view of the penthouse suites of Midtown. But I don’t comment on that. Instead, I say, “Well, I’m finding out about your life.”

Baldwin finds this very funny. “So, are there some really, really intense questions you want to ask me, that we should just leapfrog to right now?” he asks. “Let’s get to the granular stuff. Forget about things you can just get on IMDb and Wikipedia.” “Of course,” I say, slightly offended. “I’m trying to avoid tha–”

“C’mon. Lay it on me. Let’s have a real tête-à-tête here.”

“Well,” I begin slowly, blatantly stalling for time, “the evolution of your film career is one thing that interested me.”

“Go even further,” Baldwin interrupts. “What do you mean by evolution? Spit it out.”

“Well, moving from the period where you could have become Bruce Willis, let’s say,” I begin. I’m referring to that point, earlier in Baldwin’s career, when he played Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October, which was shaping up to be one of the most sought-after franchises of the decade – this was 1990 – and then, somehow, Baldwin ended up being replaced in the sequels by Harrison Ford. I’m trying to be diplomatic. “So, you went from almost becoming Bruce Willis to . . . not doing that. And that not happening for, uh, whatever variety of reasons.”

“So what’s the question?” Baldwin says.

“The question is,” I begin. But I still don’t really have a proper question. I say, “Looking back from where you are now, do you ever want to reclaim that past in some way?”

“It’s too late to reclaim it,” Baldwin says dismissively.

“Yeah, obviously you can’t go back in time,” I say, warming up to my weird nonquestion. “But now you’re loved for all of these comedic roles. Rightly so, I think. But are you content to keep going in that direction, or do you ever want to get back to something–”

At this point, Baldwin interrupts me again and tells a very long story.

It’s not actually a single story, but a series of anecdotes. Baldwin moved out to Los Angeles in his mid-twenties. He’d grown up in Massapequa, Long Island, where his dad coached football at the local high school and Baldwin first became interested in acting. He was the second of six children; his younger brothers – Daniel, Billy, and Stephen –famously followed in his career footsteps. (Michaels, in that same speech, called Alec “the only Baldwin brother about whom no one has ever asked, ‘Which one is he?'”) It turns out that, despite my suspicions, Baldwin was once a regular kid who did listen to rock & roll, mostly British stuff popular at the time, which was the seventies, so, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, the Stones. When he was 16, he and his friends came into the city to see the Who at Madison Square Garden. Back in Massapequa, they’d build bonfires in an undeveloped plot of land near the Baldwin house, even in the dead of winter, and smoke cigarettes, get drunk, and listen to music on a portable 8-track player.

Later, just shy of his 30th birthday, Baldwin was driving around one day when he heard, for the first time, an entire symphony from beginning to end, Sibelius’ dramatic Fourth. He just happened to catch it on the radio. “This is music,” Baldwin thought. It became a world he wanted to investigate. Who was Christoph Eschenbach? What was a pathétique? He found himself obsessed, and mostly stopped listening to rock from that point forward.

The Fourth is a dark piece, and some have speculated that it has to do with the fact that Sibelius had recently given up drinking. When Baldwin first heard it, he’d been sober for three years. He was living in L.A. at this point. With crucial support from his father, he’d transferred to New York University to study acting and then moved out West to work in television, after a two-year stint on a New York–based daytime soap opera called The Doctors. Shortly after he arrived in L.A., his father was diagnosed with lymphoma. He died 18 months later. Baldwin hated L.A., missed his family, couldn’t process his dad’s sickness and death, and so he began partying hard, taking every drug imaginable, mostly at house parties – “orgies of debauchery” (Baldwin’s words), after which he’d too often find himself behind the wheel of a car. This went on for two years. And then one day, he woke up and said, “I can’t be doing this anymore. It’s got to stop.” And he just quit, and hasn’t had a drink in 27 years.

And so later, when he did Working Girl and The Hunt for Red October, and the people around him started saying, “You do exactly what we tell you to do and you’re going to be the next Kevin Costner,” he began to get nervous. He felt like he was on the deck of an aircraft carrier and planes were taking off all around him, and the people in charge were saying, “You’re next. We’re going to put your helmet on and strap you into the seat and blast you off.” And he realized he was expected to do certain things to chase a specific type of fame. And he found himself thinking, “This is just another addiction.”

“It happened almost all unconsciously,” Baldwin says. “Beat by beat, day by day, month by month, project by project, offer by offer: I’d be sitting there going ‘I don’t want to do that.'” The biggest betrayal of the system came when Baldwin opted to go back to New York to do Streetcar on Broadway rather than the sequel to Red October. “Once I did that, they went, ‘He doesn’t get it,'” Baldwin says. “My agent and I, we tried very hard to salvage both. But we were disinvited to the other party. In a way, it was a great failing of mine. The thing I regret is, I probably could have done it better, have [made] a compromise between the two. In the end, whatever happened to me, I made peace with.” Warren Beatty once told Baldwin, “Until you take full responsibility yourself – write, produce, direct, edit, do the whole motherfucking thing one end to the other – you’re going to live in a constant state of frustration.” Beatty meant that if Baldwin remained in Los Angeles and continued to chase stardom, he’d best take control. But Baldwin knew he didn’t want to write or direct, and that if he stuck around, “success” would all come down to luck.

“And so,” Baldwin recalls, “I said, ‘Fuck luck. I want to go become a good actor.'”

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.'”

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