Alec Baldwin is the world’s most adorable selfish monomaniac—at least on television. Off-screen, he’s saner but less lovable, and he’s hoping to change that. Last year, it looked like his less-than-beloved off-screen persona might overshadow his onscreen career in a Michael Richards type of way: everybody with an Internet connection or a radio heard the instantly legendary tape of a voice mail he left for his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, in which he called her “a rude, thoughtless little pig” for not answering his phone calls. Instead, he’s a newly successful actor who just won an Emmy for 30 Rock, a show whose low ratings haven’t stopped it from being picked up for a third season (premiering on Oct. 30). He’s even turned pig-gate into an opportunity to create a kinder, gentler public image: he gave a humble and uncontroversial Emmy acceptance speech, a New Yorker profile tried to make us sympathize with the pressure he’s been under, and he has a new book out, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce, in which he shares his pain over his much-publicized custody battle with Ireland’s mother, actress and former Batman girlfriend Kim Basinger. The book’s villains include Basinger, a female judge (“with her customary lack of insight into parental alienation”), a female lawyer (“dressed in a garish, Dolly Levi hat”), a female therapist (“like most of the other drones inside the system”), plus the people from TMZ.com who posted that voice-mail message in the first place. On television, in movies, in magazines, and now in books, Alec Baldwin wants us to know that he rants and raves because he has a heart of gold, just like that guy he plays on TV.
We’re all so used to the image of Alec Baldwin as a big, intense, growly voiced man saying horrible things at top speed that it’s almost shocking to remember how many years he spent as a more or less conventional leading man. He was the first person to play Tom Clancy’s all-American hero Jack Ryan (in The Hunt for Red October). But when it came time to make the next Jack Ryan movie, Patriot Games, the part was recast with Harrison Ford. Baldwin claimed that this was because he chose to do a Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire instead, but since the studio only got Baldwin in the first place after Ford turned them down, they probably weren’t too depressed. After that, he seemed to squander his early promise by starring in movies like The Shadow, about a nearly forgotten radio character whose main ability was to make himself invisible (because nothing makes a star like not being seen), or his self-directed remake of The Devil and Daniel Webster with Jennifer Love Hewitt as the devil; Hewitt called him “the best director I’ve ever worked with,” and she works with luminaries of the cinematic art every single week on Ghost Whisperer. But the movie wasn’t released until three years after it was made. By the early part of this decade, Baldwin was known not so much as an actor as part of an acting family; he and his brothers, Stephen, Daniel and William, were like taller versions of the Estevez brothers. Yes, he had that one scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, giving a motivational pep talk that consisted entirely of threats, insults and swear words. But that was only one scene. As an actor, he was that guy who did the one good scene, made a lot of flop movies and hosted Saturday Night Live almost as often as Tom Hanks. But that was before Jack Donaghy.