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Alec Baldwin sets his record straight

MEMOIR

Nevertheless

By Alec Baldwin

HarperCollins

274 pages, $28.99

Whether Alec Baldwin entertains, infuriates or makes you laugh, chances are you think you know him.

After all, he has hosted “Saturday Night Live” 17 times (more than anyone in history) most recently being a staple with his spot-on Donald Trump impersonation, which began during the presidential campaign alongside Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton, skits which brought SNL back into the public conversation. His acting roles may come to mind, Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock” or his breakout role in the film version of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

You may be familiar with his liberal politics, his infamous run-ins with the tabloids, his turbulent divorce from Kim Basinger or his raging 2007 recorded phone message to his young daughter Ireland.

But even those of us who think we know Baldwin may be surprised by “Nevertheless,” in which he tackles all of the above and more. He explained in a recent interview that he wants to put some of these subjects to bed so he doesn’t have to address them any more -- after the book tour.

Baldwin is upfront in the book's opening about the fact that he agreed to the book deal for money, and that he has made a number of critical career decisions for the same reason. After reading about his childhood in Long Island and the family's financial struggles, this is understandable.

Kate McKinnon as Kellyanne Conway and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump during the Dec. 3 "Saturday Night Live." (Will Heath, NBC)

Baldwin’s father was a dedicated and beloved high school teacher and while his colleagues were working extra jobs to advance their families’ finances, Baldwin’s dad would arrive home exhausted after advising clubs and coaching and let Alec stay up with him to watch "The Late Late Show." After his dad falls asleep minutes in, Baldwin memorizes the lines and imitates the classic character actors.

He chooses George Washington University because it offers him the most financial aid. After one year, he visits a friend at NYU, auditions for their drama program and gets in, much to the dismay of his mother. (His father approves once he finds out if will be less expensive than GWU.)

Not long after that, he is sitting in The Drama Book Shop in NYC when a woman approaches him saying that her friend is casting a soap opera and “you seem like just what she is looking for.” And so it begins. His name is quickly changed from Xander Baldwin to Alec, after his dad, and he begins a role on NBC’s “The Doctors” taping at 30 Rockefeller Center.

This section of the book, when he begins his career as a young actor, is fascinating and reads like the rags-to-riches movie script as he navigates his way among agents, projects and women by the seat of his pants.

He repeatedly mentions that some of the best times of his early career were in the company of older gay actors who have taken him under their wing, especially David O’Brien, his “Doctors” co-star. He was so at home with this group that he states several times in the book that his life may have been different had he been more open.

Because of this, the accusations of his using an anti-gay slur when attacked by a photographer were especially hurtful to Baldwin; even in light of his long relationship with NBC, he has not appeared on “Today” since he felt the show treated him unfairly in the reporting of that story.

There are some stretches in the middle of the book where the reader loses interest and it seems Baldwin does as well.  He goes into great detail about losing the role of Jack Ryan to Harrison Ford, after doing good work in Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October.” But then he describes a number of his films in a single paragraph, even “The Cooler” for which he received an Oscar nomination.

Baldwin is passionate about the causes he supports. He helped to create a breast cancer research fund at SUNY Stony Brook in the name of his mother, a breast cancer survivor and women’s health advocate.  It is hard to imagine this after the book’s opening, where she seems overwhelmed by her children and an unhappy marriage.  This turnaround after her children were grown is an inspirational story -- Baldwin may want to consider penning her story next.

His generosity has also been seen here in Buffalo, where he has made several appearances to support Road Less Traveled Productions and its founder Scott Behrend. It is easy to see why as he describes the role theater has played in his life: "Whenever I arrived at a place where the film business felt uncomfortable or downright unsafe for me, the place I often returned was the theater. Onstage, we trust that the materials works, we assume all of the actors are genuinely talented, and the work itself is the focus, unencumbered by the (expletive) that often interferes the moviemaking."

Those who have read Baldwin’s previous book “A Promise to Ourselves,” or have heard him in interviews will not be surprised that he is an talented writer. He now hosts his own podcast on WNYC, “Here’s the Thing,” in which he delights in inviting guests he admires and where he has complete artistic control.

Alec Baldwin is a fascinating, complicated and sometimes controversial guy but newfound domestic bliss with his wife and three young children and a loving relationship with his daughter Ireland have given Baldwin a certain measured maturity as he looks back on his life. The book includes his look back on the 2016 election, as well as his own flirtations with running for office.

As he sums up his life and career, he explains that of everything he has done in his career, “the most rewarding” may be my job as radio announcer for The New York Philharmonic. A classical music aficionado as a result of hours stuck in LA traffic, Baldwin explains that if he had to do it again, he says he would have studied piano and become a conductor.

"In the audience, I have been disappointed countless times at the movies, less often at the theater, but never at the symphony, where the orchestra brings to bear the remarkable talents of men and women who exist in the own aerie atop the performing arts. With all my heart, I urge you to visit the symphony in your town or nearby. Afterward, you just might be renewed."

Nothing controversial about that.

Kathleen Rizzo Young is a veteran contributing critic to the Buffalo News.

 

 

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