Sunday 24 September 2017

Good triumphs in Alec Baldwin's touching life story Nevertheless

MEMOIR - Nevertheless, Alec Baldwin, Harper Collins, €20

Alec Baldwin, pictured with his wife Hilaria and daughter Carmen, reflects on his life and career in revealing memoir ‘Nevertheless
Alec Baldwin, pictured with his wife Hilaria and daughter Carmen, reflects on his life and career in revealing memoir ‘Nevertheless
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

Alec Baldwin's appeal has soared since he began his satirical take on President Trump for Saturday Night Live. This newly acquired recognition has almost eclipsed his serious acting talent, but reveals a classic comic intelligence.

He was an Oscar nominee in 2003 and winner of two Emmys for his role in Tina Fey's sitcom 30 Rock. He has three Golden Globes, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards. He rose to fame playing Jack Ryan in the cold-war thriller The Hunt for Red October and Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross but in this candid memoir he reveals the darker, unfunny side to his rise and fall and rise again.

Memoirs can be interesting when they shine a light on a world we have forgotten, or may never have known. They are less so if they are just all about the 'me'. The road from rags to riches has so often been documented that the route is no longer always a surprise in our world of possibilities. If your child dreams of becoming the president of the United States, it should now be eminently possible.

Nonetheless, Nevertheless conveys the possibilities of the American Dream followed by the American Nightmare and the Ultimate Dream. An unhappy childhood in the small town of Massapequa on Long Island, worrying about his exhausted mother - of six - and disappointed father, cloaked Baldwin in sadness. But he recognises that his parents' difficult times gave him a precious gift as an actor - empathy. At nine years old he found solitude addictive, his bond was with his father, who was a high school teacher and made many sacrifices for his children's education.

His mother, who came from a relatively affluent background, is still alive, involved in campaigns to fight cancer, but is remembered in his youth as a woman depressed and overwrought by the demands of an era where housewives were invisible.

Much of Baldwin's time in school was spent day-dreaming. He loved reading poetry, and the piles of magazines and journals that were donated to his mother, covering the kind of lifestyle he could only fantasise about. He made it onto the high school football team much to his father's pride, but was never committed; much of what he achieved was to please his father.

He started his university life in Washington, studying law. It was purely coincidental that he took up a drama course during a break in New York, waited tables and started acting in soaps in his early twenties.

When you see how arresting his gaze was back then, it is hardly surprising that one lucky break led swiftly to another, but success also led to his descent into alcohol and drugs, to copious rage and relationship break-ups. His writing is poignant; his passion for theatre is palpable in his thrill at landing Stanley's role in A Streetcar Named Desire.

While he was happy to be cast in Knots Landing, there were times during the series when loneliness sank him into self-loathing. After one acutely recalled near-death experience - a lonely all-nighter with cocaine and champagne - he pivots on to a new road, 30 years later he still does not drink alcohol or take drugs. Which makes it all the more surprising that he has had a bad rep for hitting out at paparazzi and tweeting homophobic comments.

Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger were the Brangelina of the 1990s. At the start, he found that Kim's 'lack of pretentiousness was like oxygen'. He gives a tender insight into their fragile relationship, and a very sad account of the long, heart-rending custody battle over their daughter, Ireland. Unfortunately, the infamous voice message of 2007 sealed his fate with the courts, for which he has nothing but venom. He penned a bitter account of the divorce court and custody experience in the memoir A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce and declares, in this book, how proud he is that that the first book has helped many get through difficult times.

He is full of gratitude to his agents and fellow actors on his journey and doesn't baulk at attacking the film studios that bailed on him. His memoir is a brave reflection on how he battled his demons.

It is also a deeply honest account of a young boy, who loved waiting up for his father to come home at night to watch old Hollywood movies into the small hours, memorising the lines of his favourite actors.

The loss of his grandparents and his father's death from cancer in his 50s, left an indelible sadness etched on his heart. This sadness multiplied during the years when he flew to Los Angeles every other weekend to spend time with his young daughter. That period dictated his choices in the roles he took on, he avoided anything that would involve him making a movie outside America.

Yet, he is angry with himself for abandoning his instinct to continue his role in Prelude to a Kiss on Broadway and for being seduced into making his first million in a Neil Simon movie, The Marrying Man, in which Kim Basinger also starred. If he had not made that choice, there would be no first daughter. Regrets are wasteful in that way.

Another random choice he made while walking with a friend in New York in 2011 was to pop into a vegan restaurant, a food concept that did not amuse him.

But it was in there that he first laid eyes on the woman who is now the mother of his three young children. Their love story is inspiring, just as Baldwin's memoir is way more than rags to riches.

It is not just inspiring to young actors - that is all about the breaks - it is a lonely boy's belief that good will triumph in the end.

Sunday Independent

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