Sunday Conversation: Alec Baldwin is on a sugar-free high
Alec Baldwin, 53, might just be NBC’s hardest-working employee: He appears in his Emmy-winning role as the bombastic network executive Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock,” which returns with new episodes in January (and can be seen in syndication beginning Monday); he’s also gearing up for another stint as host on “Saturday Night Live” Sept. 24 for a record-setting 16th time.
Let’s talk about your latest achievement: holding the record for hosting ‘Saturday Night Live.” When you hosted in 1994, you said then you could do it with your eyes closed. Does that remain true today?
“SNL” and I are like a well-oiled machine. I find the one issue is to save your energy. It’s an intense week of prep. By Saturday night at 11:30 I just want to say, “Can I just lie down and you can start without me?” But they throw cold water on me and slap me across the face. They treat me like a … I don’t know what -- like a horse, like a carriage horse.
But, no, it’s always been varying degrees of a great experience. Always.
You recently said you gave up sugar. Where’s all that energy going to come from?
When you climb the Himalayas, you can’t pack your backpack full of Twinkies now, can you? This is my 16th climb on the comedy Kilimanjaro, and I will have no Twinkies in my backpack this time.
You’re practically a cast member now.
Well, I do feel very welcomed there. Lorne [Michaels] is a dear friend. I feel comfortable there. I can’t say that I’m never going to do it again -- I’m doing it now. And I have another year on the TV show …. Every time I do it, I say to myself, “Is this it?” I want to make sure, if this is my last one, that it’s going to be good.
It can’t be the last one! What if Steve [Martin] takes your title? (Martin has hosted "SNL" several times.)
Steve is what -- about 20 years older than I am, isn’t he? I’m 53, so Steve is almost 80. I have a few more years, if he does decide to catch up, to reclaim it. I think I have the edge in terms of the clock. I wasn’t going to bring that up, but it’s true.
And he doesn’t have an ice cream flavor to brag about. (Ben and Jerry’s recently launched Schweddy Balls, a flavor named after a Baldwin “SNL” skit.)
I’m sure he’s doing everything in his power to change that. Sure he’s coming up with some banjo-related flavor or some bluegrass bon bon flavor. He’s always thinking.
Did you know you’re a question on those NBC tours of “30 Rock,” because of all the “SNL” hosting? Is that weird?
I’d like to think that I have some place in the fabric of NBC’s history. I’m not Johnny Carson or Katie Couric, but I’ve done [“30 Rock”] for six years and “SNL” a few times. I actually started my career [there] in Rockefeller Center doing a soap opera, so I have a lot of NBC on my resume -- for me to now be a question during a building tour, it makes sense. I mean, I’m not Tom Brokaw or anything.
Do you think the on-your-toes aspect of “SNL” has been good training for your political aspirations?
On a serious note, that’s something I’ve always been interested in doing. And when I do that, it’s almost like you have to draw a line in the sand. Everything I’ve done in my life up ‘til now….When you do a show everybody likes, when it’s successful critically, it’s almost like everyone forgets everything else that you do. A lot of what’s done on “30 Rock” and “SNL” is silly and vulgar and outrageous. When you go into public office, you’ve got to say to yourself, and to the public that now begins the period where what I say is on the record as a public official as opposed to a public figure. When you get paid from taxpayers and you have your finger on a budget that is taxpayer money, there’s a different responsibility than what I do now. If I were to get in politics, I always envision people replaying scenes in an attempt to characterize me and insubstantiate me. You have to kind of scrub all that off you and present yourself with a fresh coat of paint.
Do you think that’s possible?
I think it is possible. So much of what I do is like a congressman anyway. So much of my life -- the glamor quotient, the showbiz quotient -- is very low-wattage. There aren’t a lot of film festivals and screenings. Ninety percent of what I do is raising money for causes and raising awareness for public policy positions of people I support. It’s almost like if I became a congressman tomorrow, other than voting on bills and having an office in Washington, what I’d be doing is essentially the same as what I’m doing now. I think it would be a very natural crossover. It’s not like I’ve spent the last 20 years on a yacht with Richard Branson, drinking and tanning.
I wonder who would play you on an “SNL” skit if you did make it to office.
Oh, God. Jason Sudeikis would just bury me. Please don’t print that cause you’re going to give Sudeikis horrible ideas. Sudeikis alone -- with one sketch -- could kill my entire political career. I’ll have Lorne [Michaels] put Sudeikis on “CSI” or “Law & Order: SVU” and keep him far from the comedy trough as possible to protect my political future.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that while you love acting, you want a different life at some point. Were you speaking solely on a possible career in politics or something else?
I am doing the show for one more year. Beyond that, I want to give myself a period of time to really just think about what I want to do. ’Cause everything has been so predetermined. I had a six-year contract with the show. Before that, I had a career that was exclusively about acting. When I think about the future, sometimes the process is not just A, B or C. I’m allowing for a D, which is “who knows?” I know that acting and being in the public … and having what you do be judged all the time is something I don’t see myself doing for a lifetime. The acting is fun — it’s everything around it that’s a lot less fun. All the things that come with having a public life have become a lot more precarious.
Have your considered staying on “30 Rock” longer, renewing your contract?
We have discussions regularly about it. The show is still a mystery. The show is about to enter syndication … and I’m sure the performance from that will determine if the show will extend beyond this year. I would consider maybe doing some of that. I don’t know if I’d want to do full seasons, maybe I’d do recurring [appearances] in order to help them get to additional seasons. I don’t know. But I think everything remains to be seen.
I think they like you. You should stay.
The ‘It’ guy to me there is [Steve] Carell. I will be shocked and so sad if Carell doesn’t win the Emmy. I know what it’s like to have a career where you’ve given all those years to a show -- I’m sure he’d like to walk away from that having won that award once. I will be absolutely shocked and sad if he doesn’t.
You’re quite talkative on Twitter. Are you more open to putting yourself out there when you’re sort of in control?
Twitter is divided into three things: 1) People who say, “Could you acknowledge me?” It’s a constant cry for shout-outs. I don’t have time for that. 2) People who pass information on to me. I might learn something from them. 3) You dial-in to this party line and chat with people. And to a degree, I don’t know how you do that without sort of being like them by talking about who you are. I’m not really saying anything that’s private. I was talking about my girlfriend one time and one of the reasons I kept pulsing on her was because I didn’t want people to think she was some woman I met who doesn’t have her own identity. Sometimes what you write on Twitter is to counter what other people say. On Page Six somewhere you’re going to read something trivialized about her. The beauty about Twitter is you can pulse little things out there that address that or correct that. I would hate for people to think that the woman I’m dating was my appendage.
You recently tweeted that life is “new and exciting.” What did you mean?
I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for 25 years, and I’ve lived in the same building for 20 years. I’m getting ready to move downtown. I’m moving closer to NYU, where I’m on the board of the Tisch School, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved -- teaching classes, guest teaching. And I’m looking forward to living with somebody for the first time since I was divorced. That’ll be different. Everything’s new. I hate the idea of moving, but we’re moving into a great place and I’m going to share a great home with someone I adore. I’m going to do this year of the show and we’ll see what happens after that. I’m just excited at this stage in life. I’m excited by the fact that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen a year from now and … that really thrills me. I’m looking forward to what’s around the corner.
-- Yvonne Villarreal
Photo: Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy in a scene from NBC's "30 Rock." Credit: NBC