Political Office In Alec Baldwin's Future?

Actor Talks To Morley Safer About His Career, Personal Life, And Possible Future Plans

This story was first published on May 11, 2008. It was updated on Dec. 16, 2009.

The actor activist Alec Baldwin is hard to miss these days: he's one of the mainstays of the television show "30 Rock," will soon host the Academy Awards along with Steve Martin, and is starring in a new movie with Meryl Streep opening Christmas Day.

As 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer first reported last year, Baldwin is an old-fashioned trouper, moving with ease from dark drama to slapstick buffoonery. Off the set he is an incurable political junkie; to the right wing he is the embodiment of liberalism run amok.

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But Baldwin is no shrinking violet - he can be a vicious attack dog, and in fact it is his mouth that most often gets him into trouble.

Love him or hate him, Baldwin is just about the freest spirit you'll find on the stage, or anywhere else.

Pretty early on, Baldwin made a conscious decision that he did not want to be a movie star. "Well, you have to want it more than anything else. And I didn't want it more than anything else," he explains.

Baldwin's star rose in the 1980's with memorable turns in "Married to the Mob" and "Working Girl." And by 1990, true mega-stardom seemed ensured when he starred as "Jack Ryan," the hero of "The Hunt for Red October," the first in a series of Tom Clancy thrillers.

But when Paramount wanted him for "Patriot Games" he said no, and instead chose Broadway and "A Streetcar Named Desire." Hollywood was not amused.

"They kind of look at you like, "We don't ask just anybody to do this, you know?' And when you don't do it, they are appalled. They think you're a moron. And they went and got somebody else to do the movie," Baldwin says.

Instead, Harrison Ford ended up playing "Jack Ryan."

Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan became a multi-billion dollar franchise, and the smart money thought Baldwin had blown it. But he claims he has no regrets.

"You said many of those action movies could be done by your doorman," correspondent Morley Safer says.

"Did I say that?" Baldwin asks.

"Yeah, you did," Safer replies.

"How rude of you to bring that up, Morley," Baldwin says.

His decision to play Broadway brought him a reputation as talented but cantankerous. Things got worse when he starred with Kim Basinger in "The Marrying Man." They actually got married, and both the movie and the marriage were certified turkeys.

Nevertheless, he managed to become one of the more interesting actors of his generation.

In good movies and bad, his scenes have been memorable, like the evil surgeon in "Malice," or his chilling performance as a sales manager in "Glengarry Glen Ross."

But it isn't just that cold blooded menace that defines Baldwin, the actor. He has brought down the house on a dozen stints on "Saturday Night Live," where his slap-stick send-ups of everyone from Robert De Niro to Tony Bennett to a perverted scout master have become cult classics.

And yet it's his off-screen performances that can get in the way of a truly gifted man, and often it's his liberal politics that make him red meat for his critics.

"They hate liberals who can throw a punch," Baldwin tells Safer.

Asked who "they" are, Baldwin says, "They, yeah, this…they. The vast right wing conspiracy that's after me."

Liberal politics has always been his passion. He grew up in a working class family on Long Island, N.Y. He has an impressive grasp of the issues, and spends a huge amount of his time and money supporting causes he believes in, like animal rights, the environment, and the arts.