Sunday 11 December 2016

How battered Baldwin got to be smart Alec again

Published 06/03/2010 | 05:00

At tomorrow night's Oscar ceremony at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, an unlikely double act will be doing the presenting. Steve Martin has hosted the awards twice before, but will be joined for his third stint by a novice -- Alec Baldwin.

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Baldwin's official role at the 82nd Academy Awards is a sign of just how high his stock is at the minute, and this public endorsement by Hollywood must surely represent something of a triumph for a man whose career has been declared dead more times than Lazarus.

Only a few short years ago he looked to be in real trouble over a phone message he left his daughter with Kim Basinger, Ireland, which was leaked on to the internet in April 2007. He and Basinger have been embroiled in a poisonous and vindictive custody battle over their child since separating back in 2002, and Baldwin has alleged that Basinger has not been above turning his daughter against him.

That may have been the reason for the unfortunate voice message, in which he called Ireland, who was then 11, a "rude little pig" who needed "her ass straightened out".

He quickly apologised, but the Tinseltown pharisees took a dim view, and his career looked set to suffer. However, his boyish and irresistible charm has since won everyone over, most particularly as displayed in his brilliant portrayal of TV executive Jack Donaghy in Tina Fey's hit sitcom 30 Rock. That series has changed Baldwin's life, won him numerous awards and revived his flagging film career.

This latest comeback has also allowed the actor to demonstrate that there's more to him than a high-living bad boy. He's also an art connoisseur, wine lover, classical music aficionado, and highly politicised celebrity who may yet consider running for office.

And it's fairly typical of this mercurial man that, even as his career is booming, he's hinted recently that he might retire from acting altogether. Here's hoping that he doesn't.

Of mainly French and Irish heritage, Alexander Rae Baldwin III was born on April 3, 1958, in the small coastal town of Massapequa, on Long Island. His father was a high school teacher and football coach, and young Alec took his football pretty seriously at both school and college.

His other great passion from an early age was acting, and after studying at the famous Lee Strasberg Institute in the late 1970s, he got his first breaks on daytime television.

In 1980, he was cast as Billy Aldrich in the long-running soap opera The Doctors. This led to another leading part in a short-lived medical drama called Cutter to Houston and a role in the hugely successful soap Knots Landing. Baldwin was at the same time forging a career as a serious actor on the New York stage. He made his Broadway debut in 1986 in a revival of Joe Orton's Loot, and later (in 1992) he would receive much acclaim and a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.

But Baldwin would achieve fame in the early 1990s as a film actor. He popped up in a minor role in the 1988 John Hughes comedy She's Having a Baby, before landing more substantial parts in the Harrison Ford rom-com Working Girl, and in Tim Burton's comic fantasy Beetlejuice.

It was in the role of Tom Clancy's dy-namic CIA analyst Jack Ryan that Baldwin established himself as a box-office player in the 1990 action hit The Hunt for Red October.

Baldwin's screen charisma was obvious, and his salary rate soared. He delivered one of his most memorable performances in David Mamet's adaptation of his play Glengarry Glen Ross in 1992. He played Blake, a foul-mouthed macho corporate thug who gives an assembled group of salesmen a team talk they'll never forget.

After that he seemed set for big things, but a combination of bad luck and bad choices would thwart his rise to A-list status in the 1990s.

In 1992, he turned down the chance to reprise the role of Jack Ryan in the big-budget thriller Patriot Games, which subsequently became a huge hit for Harrison Ford, who replaced him. And Ford again was the beneficiary when Baldwin turned down the chance to play the wrongly accused Richard Kimble in Andrew Davies's hit The Fugitive in 1993.

The films he did star in during the 1990s were no great shakes in the main. The Getaway (1994), a remake of the 1972 Sam Peckinpah road movie that co-starred Kim Basinger, was roundly panned, anda foray into the super-hero genrethe same year with The Shadow was not a success either.

He made a decent wilderness thriller with Anthony Hopkins in 1997 called The Edge, but it bombed at the box office. And by the end of the 1990s, Baldwin was beginning to look an increasingly peripheral figure.

The Noughties, though, were much kinder to him. He received an Oscar nomination and almost universal praise for his portrayal of a Vegas casino boss with a vigorous approach to debt collection in the 2003 drama The Cooler. And he followed it up with solid character roles in Martin Scorsese's films The Aviator (2004) and The Departed (2006).

Then came 30 Rock, an inspired satire in which he continues to shine. And he put his finely honed comic timing to good use in the recent Nancy Meyers rom-com It's Complicated, stealing the show from Steve Martin and Meryl Streep.

Baldwin's career -- and life -- have surely never been in better shape. He was recently voted New York's favourite man, and is apparently free and single again after recently announcing his separation from longtime girlfriend, lawyer Nicole Seidel. His blog in the Huffington Post continues to entertain and outrage.

When criticised a few years back for calling Dick Cheney a terrorist on his blog, Baldwin helpfully clarified. Cheney was not a terrorist, but merely "a lying, thieving oil whore". Amongst his many other talents, he remains a robust contributor to the political debate.

pwhitington@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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