Category: Archive

Happy pro

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Since his career skyrocketed more than a decade ago with films like “Flatliners,” “Backdraft” and “Sliver,” the Irish-American actor with boyish good looks has married pop singer Chynna Phillips, fathered three children and moved to Westchester County. Although he has worked steadily, a desire to stay close to home and to act in interesting and varied projects means Baldwin has lately avoided mainstream big-budget features, popping up now and again in small films with limited theatrical, cable-television or DVD-only releases.
“There are a couple of films I did that didn’t have the profile of a big studio film or of one of those little indies that broke through,” Baldwin told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview, assuring fans he has not been wanting for work. “I did this film called ‘Relative Values.’ I did this film, ‘One Eyed King,’ and these are films that end up getting an ‘HBO worldwide premiere,’ and then it goes to DVD.”
The 42-year-old Long Island native says he has been offered roles on different television shows, as well, but turned them down because they shoot in Los Angeles.
“I don’t want to raise my kids out there,” he said simply, revealing he moved his family out of Manhattan after the birth of his 10-month-old daughter because he craved some open space.
“The Squid and the Whale,” which was filmed in nearby Brooklyn, turned out to be the ideal job for Baldwin. Shot in just 23 days, the movie required the actor be on set only six or seven days to film the small but memorable role of Ivan, a tennis instructor who courts a mother of two (Laura Linney,) recently estranged from her husband.
Describing the movie as a “dysfunctional coming-of-age drama about the tortures and torments of divorce,” Baldwin said he thinks the movie deftly moves between comedy and drama and stands out among other family stories because of the way it shows how each character affected by the split deals with it.
“I thought it was really honest and it was different. I hadn’t seen anything quite like that,” said Baldwin, an actor who studied political science at the State University of New York at Binghamton before becoming a full-time actor.
Based on filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s real-life experiences as a child caught in the throes of his parents’ divorce in Brooklyn, circa 1986, the film was a hit at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last winter, where it garnered screenwriting and directing awards for its young auteur. The story of Walt and Frank, two brothers (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline,) dealing with their parents’ breakup was also a critical favorite at the New York Film Festival last month.
“It’s such a pleasant surprise,” Baldwin said of the film’s success.
“I read the script and loved it and knew I was working with a bunch of talented people and thought we were going to make a good movie, but there are so many intangibles,” he explained. “You really need a planetary alignment of the script and the actors and their performances and the editor and the music. And even if all those things come together, you need luck and you need these weird intangibles to make something special and I think we may have done that.”
Asked what appealed to him most about playing Ivan, the actor points to a scene in which young Frank tells his snooty father (Jeff Daniels) he wants to be a tennis pro when he grows up rather than follow in the footsteps of his writer folks.
“And the father says, ‘He’s a Philistine,’ and the boy says, ‘Then I’m a Philistine, too,'” Baldwin observed. “I don’t think this character Ivan was a simpleton, but I think he was happy and I think happiness came fairly easily to him and he was surrounded by a bunch of people who were in the midst of all this chaos and happiness, I think, clearly did not come easily to Bernard, his father, and I think that is part of what had drawn him to Ivan. He just preferred to be around that type of energy.”
In addition to liking the film’s convenient location and the role he was given to play, Baldwin says he was also attracted to the project because of the talented cast of actors Baumbach had assembled.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Jeff’s work, but we didn’t know each other well,” he said. “And Laura and I had the same first agent and I used to see her in the beginning of our careers. We were sort of the incoming freshman class at this agency. It was Anthony La Paglia and Jeanne Tripplehorn and Laura and myself, and we were all sort of coming up through the business together, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for her. She’s just a charming, lovely and talented and extraordinarily bright woman.”
As satisfying a filmmaking experience “Squid” was, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, Baldwin reveals. Since he was portraying a tennis pro, he decided to brush up on his game before he started shooting. A former athlete, but not, he stresses, a tennis player, Baldwin returned home from shooting “Sakura: Blue-Eyed Samurai” in Japan, and promptly hurt himself while warming up for a match.
“My back went out and I was in bed for five days,” he laughed. “When we shot, I was in a back brace and I was on Vicodin for the entire time. I was totally in like a corset the whole time we were shooting. I wasn’t in agony; I couldn’t feel a damn thing. I was in a Vicodin heaven, that’s why Ivan has that stupid little smirk on his face.”
Whatever it took to get that performance, Baldwin and the movie are earning raves from critics and moviegoers, something which might ultimately translate to even more work for the intelligent, articulate actor.
“I have two offers right now on the table,” he said. “And when this movie comes out, I’m sure there will be a couple more coming in. So, we’ll see what happens.”
So, 16 years after he made his professional acting debut as the handsome, but cold-hearted murderer Robert Chambers in the TV movie “The Preppie Killer,” is Baldwin getting the kinds of parts he wants?
“I guess there’s always a sort of ‘the grass is always greener’ [attitude],” he replied. “You go down your check list: I have this, this, this, this and this, but I sure wish I could have these one or two things. But, by and large, yeah, I’m happy [with what is coming his way.] The main thing that is missing is that the budgets of the last five films I’ve done combined were lower than Tom Cruise’s per diem on ‘War of the Worlds.'”
That’s not to say the actor is looking to go back to big-budget studio flicks, he clarifies.
“I like to strike a balance,” Baldwin explained. “I don’t want to make a movie for $85 million, but I’d love to make a movie where the actors can get paid a little something up front. I’d like to shoot a movie that should be shot in 30 to 35 days in 30 to 35 days, not in 20 to 25 days because then it puts pressure on everyone. For me, it compromises and undermines the creative process.”
Now that he is starring in lower-profile films, he says he is less likely to be approached by fans or accosted by paparazzi.
“People in New York and L.A. are so used to seeing celebrities that it’s like they’re not really that fazed or that impressed or that blown away. If I were at some rally on a college campus in Indiana, people get excited to see me, but when I’m walking down Columbus Ave., people see me there every day and they see Matt Dillon and they see John McEnroe and they see Jerry Seinfeld, so it’s no big deal. As far as the paparazzi goes, I’m not Jessica Simpson or Lindsay Lohan,” he said.
Acknowledging there was a time about 10 years ago when Baldwin and his famous brothers — Alec, Stephen and Daniel — found themselves in the paper every time they sneezed, the actor insists media hawks have found other quarry to hunt.
“They’ve moved on to the next generation, but who knows? I’m sure if I had a movie that had just done $150 million at the box office that would change,” he quipped.
No matter how rich or famous he may be, Baldwin said he always tries to stay in touch with his Irish roots.
“I was friends with Richard Harris and I’ve been over there a few times,” he noted. “I grew up in a town — Massapequa, Long Island — and the nickname for the town was Matzoh-Pizza because it was all Jews and Italians and there was this one little enclave of fighting Irish, all cops and firemen. In my hometown, you were Italian, Jewish or Irish, or you pretended to be. I was part Irish, growing up in the suburbs of New York. I don’t wear it on my sleeve, but it’s the biggest part of my ethnic identity because my mother is German and French and, in New York, it’s not sexy or appealing to wear your French culture.”

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