Alec Baldwin has been getting plenty of laughs with his portrayal of President Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” a show he knows very well indeed -- as he told Rita Braver for our “Sunday Profile”:
Alec Baldwin asked Braver, “What do you wanna know?”
“I wanna know everything. I wanna know the secrets of ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
“You know what’s funny about this show is, no matter how many times you host the show, you are not -- in mafia terms -- a ‘made man,’ a ‘made member,’ unless you’re in the cast of the show!” he laughed.
Made member or not, Alec Baldwin has hosted “Saturday Night Live” a record 17 times since 1990!
He’s earned his place on the “SNL” Wall of Fame. He pointed at his portrait: “There I am, a million years ago, when I had dark hair. Look at how sweet I look!”
“Was that deceptive?” Braver asked.
“No! No, I was so sweet!”
But sweet is probably not how you’d describe the portrayal everybody’s talking about: Baldwin as President Donald Trump:
“I am so excited to live in the White House. I’m even going to have a little pet like all the presidents do. Bill Clinton had Socks, Barack Obama had Bo, and I’ll have Paul Ryan.”
Backstage (“Where Trump is made”), Baldwin showed off the hair and makeup.
“When you do the Trump face, they’re not putting stuff on your face to do that, are they?”
“That’s the face that Trump insisted I make!” Baldwin laughed. “Very angry and very pissed off all the time, never happy, as if he’s constipated.”
Baldwin says he practices a lot just before he takes the stage:
“And I sit in a chair and you think I’m in a mental institution, ‘cause for like 30 minutes I sit there and I go, ‘CHI-na, CHI-na, CHI-na…’”
Braver asked, “Have you gotten mostly a positive response, or do people go after you because they’re Trump fans?”
“Sixty to seventy-five percent of the people that encounter me treat me like I was Jonas Salk and I had cured polio!” Baldwin laughed. “They walk up to me and go, ‘My God, thank you! I can’t thank you enough, that what you’re doing is so important.”
Now 59, Alec Baldwin was just a boy when he developed his gift for mimicry: “I learned all my accents from Mel Blanc.”
Today, Baldwin spends as much time as possible in East Hampton, Long Island. This fashionable beach town is just 75 miles -- but a far cry -- from suburban Massapequa, Long Island, where he grew up.
As he details in his new memoir, “Nevertheless” (HarperCollins), Baldwin was set on making it, not as an actor, but as a lawyer.
Braver said, “You’re very clear that being financially stable was always a big deal for you, given your upbringing.”
“That was, I think, glaringly and clearly the one big problem for my parents. Six children. My dad was a teacher. I think my dad saved his first pay stub from work his first year of teaching. He was paid $4,400.”
Baldwin started out as a political science major at George Washington University in D.C., but decided to transfer to New York University to study acting. “My mother screamed at me for like a half an hour when I said I was not going to go to law school,” Baldwin said. “And when I explained to my parents that going to NYU would cost them less money because of the loans I got from NYU, my father said, ‘Let’s hear him out’!”
He started getting work even before he finished college, and once he started acting, he liked it. “Six months went by and I thought, ‘This is really not easy to do. It is challenging. It isn’t frivolous. And gradually, month after month after month, I became more enamored of it.”
But he also confesses that he became enamored of cocaine and alcohol. And while a cast member on the hit TV series, “Knots Landing,” he hit an all-time low.
On one harrowing day and night in 1984, he almost overdosed and died.
“I did not know that about you,” Braver said.
“Well, I didn’t really talk about it that much. That’s a profound part of my life, that affected my life, was giving up drinking and taking drugs so early on. I was 26 when I got sober.”
But there’s still been plenty of drama. Baldwin’s book delves into his stormy first marriage to actress Kim Basinger, and an infamous voicemail he left for their daughter, Ireland: “You don’t have the brains or the decency as a human being. I don’t give a damn that you’re 12 years old, or 11 years old.”
The two made up long ago.
Then there’s the 2013 incident when Baldwin was accused (falsely he says) of using a homophobic slur when a paparazzo got too close to his current wife, Hilaria, and their baby.
Baldwin says writing about it all was a learning experience.
“And what was the biggest thing he learned?” Braver asked.
“I’m glad you asked that!” he laughed. “That the past is the past. I truly bury my past with this book. I never want to talk about the past anymore.”
But what a past it’s been. Baldwin has appeared in scores of plays, TV shows and films. In the memoir he showers praise on co-stars like Anthony Hopkins (“The Edge”), Michelle Pfeiffer (“Married to the Mob”), and Meryl Streep (“It’s Complicated”).
But he goes after some pretty big targets, too: He questions Harrison Ford’s acting skills, and Oliver Stone’s directing. Is he afraid of making enemies with this book? “No,” he replied. “The better way to frame what you’re talking about, if I may, is that I try to, you know, kiss and slap in equal measure!”
And a lot of those kisses go to the team on “30 Rock,” the NBC sitcom that won Baldwin two Emmys and three Golden Globes. He credits his success to producer Lorne Michaels, co-star Tina Fey, and the show’s writers.
“I might have been funny to some degree,” Baldwin said, “but they were really funny. And they taught me. I learned so much from them. By writing the book, I say, when the show ended, this was my high school graduation.”
But these days, Baldwin says his career takes second place to his family. He has three young children with his 33-year old wife, Hilaria, a yoga and fitness expert, who dropped by our interview with their son, Raphael. “He said, ‘I want to be on TV like my sister, Carmen.’”
Baldwin said of Hilaria, “She’s a lot younger than I am. She could’ve married a lot of different people, But I’m very grateful and very lucky. And we have three kids, and that is the only thing I care about now.”
Baldwin does have another interest: Politics. An outspoken liberal, he’s toyed with the idea of running for office. But would he ever consider running for president?
“No, no. No, no, no, no,” he answered.
“A Baldwin-Trump race would be a lot of fun,” Braver suggested.
“I think it would be a lot of fun, actually. Now that you say that, maybe I’ll reconsider that! But I’ve got little kids and I would never see them.”
And while he says he doesn’t know how long he’ll continue to play President Trump, right now, Alec Baldwin is having the time of his life.
“All you have to do is just go, make the face, and people go hysterical crying,” he said. “Just suggest the voice -- I go, ‘Ladies and gentlemen ...’ -- and people just cackle laughing. So it’s become a big deal, yes.”
“So basically, it’s pretty good to be you these days?”
“Very good!” he smiled.
For more info:
- “Nevertheless” by Alec Baldwin (HarperCollins); Also available in Large Print, eBook and Unabridged Digital Audio Download formats
- “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
- “Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin” (WNYC Radio)
- Follow the Alec Baldwin Foundation on Twitter (@ABFalecbaldwin) and Facebook
- Alec Baldwin on New York Philharmonic Radio
- “The Boss Baby” (Dreamworks)