Actor puts the rock in `30 Rock'

When the television script calls for a truly `manly' character, only Alec Baldwin will do

Spotlight

November 19, 2006|By Matea Gold | Matea Gold,Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- These days, if a part calls for someone to play brazen, caustic or swaggering -- in short, a real man's man -- one actor seems to have a lock on the role.

At least that's how it appears from Alec Baldwin's near-ubiquitous presence lately portraying men like Jack Donaghy, the bombastic and preening network executive on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock.

Baldwin calls them "man of authority" characters, "something you need to do sort of unflinchingly," he said during a lunch break on the show's Queens set in New York City, as he wolfed down a plate of rice and sauteed tofu.

Suddenly, he let out a delighted yelp. 30 Rock creator Tina Fey had stopped in the lunch room with her 13-month-old daughter, Alice, in tow. Baldwin leaped out of his chair, gushing over the child and her colorful outfit. (It was Halloween, and Alice was decked out as a peacock, the NBC mascot.) "How are you?" Baldwin cooed, his gravelly voice an octave higher than usual. "I love your costume! Do you like your costume? Do you?"

This is Alec Baldwin, tough guy? "He's more like a small-town theater professor in real life than a dirty cop," Fey, who plays the frazzled head writer of the show's fictional late-night comedy sketch program, said later. "He is this very literate guy who loves the arts and goes to plays and opera and stuff. He's cultured."

After a stint as a leading man in the 1990s (see: Hunt for Red October, The), Baldwin has most recently reemerged as a character actor who imbues the most hard-edged, loutish parts with subtlety and humor. His ability to avoid caricature while playing the likes of casino boss Shelly Kaplow in 2003's The Cooler, a role for which he garnered an Oscar nomination, has made him more in demand than ever.

A medley of macho

"Some people don't want to step up and fill that void," he said, explaining why these types of characters often come his way. "The role demands a certain amount of clarity, a certain amount of forcefulness, a certain amount of authority that other people can't do, quite frankly. And many of them who can do it, don't want to do it. And so people have asked me."

He's currently on screens as a macho, profane police official in Martin Scorsese's film The Departed and a remote, alcoholic father in Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors. Up next month: Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd, featuring Baldwin as a CIA operative.

Lately, however, the 48-year-old actor has been itching to try his hand at a new kind of character.

"In truth, I'd rather do Little House on the Prairie and play Michael Landon's role," he said without a trace of facetiousness. "I want to do something sweet."

That doesn't mean he's looking to play Charles Ingalls, necessarily, but "something that stays with people."

"I want to play what I haven't played," he added, his clear blue eyes fixed intently on his interviewer. "One thing about my career, I've done everything: TV, movies, theater. I really feel like I've done it all on one level. You become very conscious of being duplicative."

That's why Baldwin had some apprehension about signing on to 30 Rock, his first gig as a television series regular since playing Joshua Rush on Knots Landing in the mid-1980s.

"That is the great concern about doing a television series, that you get trapped into playing the same thing 22 episodes/times, however many years the thing winds up going," he said. "You can fall into these patterns where it's all pretty treadmill, you know?"

But Baldwin, who is unsparing in his criticism of the film industry ("We are now in the fully realized age of the no-risk movie"), was willing to take a gamble on a series, in part because television's more consistent schedule would allow him fly to Los Angeles every other weekend to visit his 11-year-old daughter. (He shares custody with ex-wife Kim Basinger.)

Written for Baldwin

Fey actually had Baldwin in mind when she wrote the Donaghy character for 30 Rock, a show loosely based on her experiences as a head writer for Saturday Night Live, but didn't think she had a shot at casting him.

"At the time, I was trying to think of the most masculine actor," said Fey, who had worked with Baldwin on the late-night program during his regular hosting gigs. "He's extremely manly. I thought I would use him as writing template. I never thought we would actually get him."

Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, said that "everybody in town was chasing Alec Baldwin."

"I think he was probably sent every script in town," he added.

In fact, Baldwin was developing his own program for FX about a "Bill Clinton-like" mayor of New York when Lorne Michaels, executive producer of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, approached him about the Donaghy part.

Michaels' involvement in the show, coupled with Fey's writing, persuaded him to take a chance on it.

"It's been a blessing," the actor said. "It's a nice job, and I work with funny people."

On 30 Rock, Baldwin brought with him some definitive ideas of how to flesh out Jack Donaghy.

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