Alec Baldwin back in demand

Once a target for tabloids, actor is making comeback

January 20, 2004|By Joe Neumaier | Joe Neumaier,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Alec Baldwin says he's a new man. After an ugly split from actress Kim Basinger - and a decade of headlines about the couple's acrimonious public spats - he insists he's no longer a tabloid-hating, Republican-baiting, angry tough guy.

"I am changed as a human being as a result of this," Baldwin tells the New York Daily News.

"I don't want any unnecessary conflict, I don't want to take any risks. ... You wind up living a very cautious lifestyle after something like this happens to you."

Now, he claims a fresh role:

Hollywood's new comeback kid.

He's in demand, for sure. There's Oscar buzz around his performance as the thuggish casino owner in The Cooler. He opened Friday as an oafish businessman in the Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston comedy Along Came Polly.

"I feel like Cinderella," he says of all the sudden attention. "Like I'm Jimmy Hoffa, and I've just been dug up out of the end zone at Giants Stadium."

The 45-year-old Long Islander says he has finally settled the financial issues with Basinger. The power couple split three years ago.

Baldwin says the only remaining issue is his visitation rights to their 8-year-old daughter, Ireland, who lives in Los Angeles with her mother.

What about his famous temper - which reportedly landed him in anger management - and the claims of verbal and emotional abuse during the eight-year marriage?

Baldwin smiles behind a cloud of cigar smoke.

"I consider myself a big softie," he says.

"To the people who know me personally and privately, it's absolutely understood that 99 percent of what's said about me is a lie," he says in his raspy purr.

"The problem is, when you're a performer, a public figure, there are the people who know the real you and there's the stuff that's made up about you. It's very tough.

"And when you make a movie like The Cooler, and you have to physically abuse a woman [in the film] and The Enquirer has a front-page story alleging you're a spousal abuser - that's a very, very tough bridge to cross."

Baldwin grew up with two sisters and three younger brothers (Stephen, Billy and Daniel, all actors) in Massapequa, N.Y. His father was a history teacher and football coach, and his mother's experience as a breast-cancer survivor led to the family's creation of the Carol A. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund.

After graduation from George Washington University (he majored in political science), a half-serious application to New York University's acting school resulted in a full scholarship and an eventual role on the soap opera The Doctors in 1980.

In 1990, Baldwin landed the role of Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October. The movie was a hit, but he turned down the sequel, Patriot Games, to do A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway. (Harrison Ford took over the screen role.)

The next year, he met Basinger while filming the comedy dud The Marrying Man, and the couple got hitched in 1993. In the 1990s, he co-starred with many Hollywood heavy hitters, including Demi Moore in 1996's The Juror.

Ireland was born in 1995, and Baldwin, who by then was known as much for his outbursts as for his talent, got into a tussle with a photographer who was trying to take a picture of the couple as they brought their infant home. He eventually had to pay $4,500 toward the photographer's medical bills.

As his and Basinger's relationship deteriorated, Baldwin says, he discovered two things about himself:

First, that he wasn't a divorcing man, and second, that acting was his salvation.

"The word `divorce' wasn't in my glossary. Divorce was not on my menu," says Baldwin, who takes pains when discussing Basinger to never say her name.

"But I was married to somebody who had been divorced before, so it was an answer to her. She viewed divorce as an option.

"For me, it wasn't an option.

"It's been an agonizing experience. But work has saved me. It's stopped me from jumping out the window."

Baldwin returns to Broadway next month opposite Anne Heche in the screwball classic Twentieth Century. He plays airline pioneer Juan Trippe in The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's upcoming movie about Howard Hughes.

He's also dated Sex and the City's Kristin Davis.

But he says he'd like to stop acting when he reaches his 50s - though not to get into politics, despite his strong liberal views.

"I can honestly say that if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would never make another movie again as long as I live," he says.

"It just isn't worth it."

So what would he do?

"I'd write enormously best-selling books about divorce."

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