Interview: Alec Baldwin - 'Everyone has a shelf life. If I stopped acting tomorrow I really wouldn't care'

Times have changed for the 30 Rock actor, and he tells Kaleem Aftab why his new documentary reveals some painful truths for ageing film stars

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The Independent Culture

Alec Baldwin knows a thing or two about coming back from a personal crisis. In July, he tweeted homophobic slurs at a journalist who claimed his pregnant 29-year-old yoga instructor wife, Hilaria, was texting during James Gandolfini's funeral. He immediately apologised and shut down his twitter account. It would be easier to dismiss this if Baldwin didn't continually put his foot in his mouth.

There was the leaked voicemail in 2007, in which, during his custody battle with Kim Basinger, he called his then 11-year-old daughter a “rude, thoughtless pig.” In December 2011 he was kicked off a flight for refusing to turn off his mobile phone before allegedly throwing a tantrum in a plane toilet. In 1995, he reportedly hit a cameraman filming Basinger taking daughter Ireland home for the first time. When recently photographed in New York's Washington Square Park after the birth of his second daughter, Carmen, Baldwin can be seen glaring in the direction of the camera. But at least now the lesson seems to have been learned.

The birth of his second child prompted half-sister Ireland to give some public words of advice to baby Carmen, that included the following about parents: “Grown-ups yell. I don't know why, but they do. No matter what your Mom or Dad says or does, simply remember that they love the sh*t out of you.” Baldwin bounced back from his 2007 telephone call by writing a book about the incident and in 2012 he made a credit card advert poking fun at the airport incident.

Now, the 55-year-old is starring in the documentary Seduced and Abandoned, which practically demands an apology from Hollywood for building up careers only to take them away again once grey hairs outnumber the black. The premise is that director James Toback ventures to the Cannes Film Festival in search of financing for a film starring Alec Baldwin and Neve Campbell and, despite the long careers of the director and lead actors, they basically get laughed out of town for being has-beens.

The film they are touting is a long shot. Who wouldn't baulk at backing a film tentatively titled Last Tango in Tikrit, an updating of Bernardo Bertolucci's famous Paris film set in the Middle East, with Baldwin in the Brando role and Scream star Campbell an unlikely Maria Schneider.

Baldwin doesn't even attempt to play down the suggestion that the documentary could only be made by an actor who has long since given up worrying about his career: “I don't think acting is addictive. If I stopped acting tomorrow I really wouldn't care. If you told me that I would have to sell real estate in New York City to look after my family, that would be fine with me.”

The flip side is that such a blasé attitude makes this documentary very entertaining. He doesn't mind admitting that he's no longer a bona-fide movie star. The documentary starts with a quick recap of his career. Alec is the most famous of the Baldwin brothers: four sons of a teacher and a housewife who all became actors. Big brother first appeared on Knots Landing, then hit it big in films such as Beetlejuice and The Hunt for Red October, with stints on Broadway, including Prelude to a Kiss, Macbeth and A Streetcar Named Desire.

How times were different when he was younger and brasher during the 90s. Looking back on his career he tells me, “We all have that moment when we think, 'Hand me that Oscar now – you don't even have to have the ceremony'. You have a lot of optimism when you are young.”

He only ever received one Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor playing a hard-nosed casino boss in The Cooler (2003). His career then took a dive before being resurrected by his turn as a network executive in sitcom 30 Rock. In the documentary one financier, explaining why Baldwin's name isn't worth much, hilariously calls him a television actor.

Baldwin offered to take a pay cut in an effort to stop 30 Rock from ending in January of this year. He talks fondly about his time on the show: “In its second year the show became popular, the third year it won every prize, fourth year, every prize again, fifth year was terrible, we were all going to quit, and the sixth was great again. Then I met my wife, got married and, when you have a happy personal life, it – I don't want to say it dulls your creativity... it stabilises it. You are in a healthy place.”

He says he's never been able to be happy with both his career and private life at the same time. “Then you have the rarest of characters like Meryl Streep, who is capable of both. She would do captivating and powerful work, and the minute they say cut, she would call her daughter. She's a mother with four children. I don't have the capacity to do both. I'd rather live my life off screen and give only a certain amount of energy to the work.”

This decision has partly been taken out of his hands. As Seduced and Abandoned is at pains to explain, the life of a movie star isn't what it used to be. Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain are interviewed, mainly because they are being feted as the likeliest big movie stars of the next decade. But Baldwin sees only sadness around the corner for them: “The day in which you can be James Stewart or Henry Fonda [has passed], having careers like that is very tough,” says Baldwin. “The only one I see having that now is Tom Hanks. His relationship with his audience is so durable, he will be making films for 50 years, for everyone else, you realise that you have a shelf life.”

Baldwin could take more hope from Woody Allen. The actor appeared in the recently released raved-about Blue Jasmine, having previously starred in one of Allen's more minor works, To Rome with Love, in 2012, a film that seemed to confirm that Allen's career had become a mire of clichés. But he sees Allen, who he describes as “the perfect director”, as another special case: “He is such a skilled writer, yet when actors turn up on set, he says if you don't want to say the words, or have any amendments, feel free to improvise.”

Yet it wasn't Allen who made Baldwin sign on for Blue Jasmine. “I wanted to work with Cate Blanchett. She is one of the five greatest movie actresses of her generation. To see her and Allen collaborate on a very idiosyncratic role was truly wonderful.”

Baldwin is now having a bit of a career adjustment. US cable news channel MSNBC has debuted Up Late with Alec Baldwin, a weekly current affairs and culture talk show. His first guest, Democratic New York mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, demonstrated the intent of the show. The tone was much more serious than the one Baldwin took when presenting a regular interview podcast for New York's WNYC, which left many commentators scratching their heads.

In today's entertainment world, Baldwin argues, you have to adapt or die. “When you get shipwrecked on an island and you're writhing on the beach, saying, 'Help me', if you wait for Hollywood and independent film financiers to rescue your career, eventually you think, 'I'm going to make my choice, I'm going to live on the island and learn to be happy'. So even if a boat came to pick you up, there's a chance you'll say, 'No, I'm going to stay, I like it here.”

'Seduced and Abandoned' is released on 8 November