Tuesday 20 March 2018

Alec Baldwin's Hollywood memoir offers more than rags-to-riches tale

Autobiography: Nevertheless, Alec Baldwin, HarperCollins, hdbk, 288 pages, €28

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live
Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live

All things considered, Alec Baldwin hasn't had a bad old career at all.

He's a solid ­performer, but as he admits himself in this memoir, he was never gifted enough to be, for example, offered the lead in a Martin Scorsese movie. The matinée-idol good looks of his youth have all but vanished. He has few enough major hits on his CV - and money, as Baldwin reminds us more than once, rules over everything else in Hollywood.

Yet, as I say, he's had a pretty decent run so far (he just turned 59), outlasting several peers who might have been expected to enjoy a more stellar career than Baldwin. And his current turns as Donald Trump on US entertainment show Saturday Night Live have brought him to a whole new audience.

His story begins in Massapequa, a small blue-collar town on New York's Long Island. Born Xander, of Irish stock, he was one of six children - his three brothers also went on to have acting careers of varying success, though Alec says, near the end, that he is closest to his sister Beth.

The Baldwins weren't poor, as such, but didn't have a whole lot in terms of possessions. His father was a teacher, his mother a housewife. Both lived in denial to some degree about their disappointments and frustrations. Baldwin's father threw himself into work and extracurricular volunteering; his mother withdrew from life to a large extent, depressed and lethargic.

Xander went to college in DC, studying politics, then acting in New York, where he became Alec at the urging of a casting director. His is the typical backstory of a movie star: as a young man, he was insecure and unsure of what he wanted to do; his family life was unstable and often turbulent.

Acting offered a way out, but more importantly, a way into a world of creativity and imagination, energy and passion, excitement and fun, and even love. (Baldwin jokingly confesses his habit of "falling in love" with co-stars, colleagues, even mentors.)

For a guy I always considered more of a "movie star" than an "actor" - if you know what I mean - it's striking how much the theatre means to Baldwin. As far as he's concerned, this is where the dramatic art and craft are most fundamentally expressed.

Being on stage is immediate and honest and true. Making a film, while not always unenjoyable, seems to involve a lot of travelling, a lot of waiting around and a lot of politics. Hollywood, for Baldwin, is full of snakes and charlatans; trust nobody and expect nothing, seems to be the message.

Nevertheless (that title is explained in a rude but funny story right at the end) also details Baldwin's personal travails and triumphs. You remember his marriage to Kim Basinger, I'm sure. You also remember his acrimonious divorce from Kim Basinger.

These days he's happily married to Hilaria, with whom he has three small children - he appreciates the whole age thing - and seems relatively happy, in himself at least. He's flaming mad about Trump's election, though I must admit to reading that part with half an eye elsewhere: politics is just as tedious from a Hollywood star as anyone else.

Usually I find memoirs fairly boring - something to do with the chronological order in which the story is generally told, I think - but Nevertheless is a well-written book, as these things go. And Baldwin's a likeable guy; you mightn't care that much about him one way or the other, but unlike many of his peers namechecked here, you don't actively wish ill on him either.

Besides, you'd have to feel well-disposed towards any star who decks a paparazzo - more than once. It shows, if nothing else, that a real human being remains inside the construct of celebrity.

Darragh McManus's novels include Shiver the Whole Night Through and The Polka Dot Girl

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