Alec Baldwin on His Upcoming Western, Filmmaking Post-Pandemic and Onscreen Versatility: "I'm an Actor of the Old School"

Alec Baldwin - Getty - H - 2019
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Seven years after he pitched a film in Cannes for the doc 'Seduced and Abandoned,' examining the festival and the inner workings of the industry, the '30 Rock' and 'SNL' star has a (genuine) project landing in the Virtual Cannes Market.

In his 2013 documentary Seduced and Abandoned, Alec Baldwin — together with writer/director James Toback — served up something of an homage to both the Cannes Film Festival and the film industry, marvelling at the cinematic allure of the event itself while also lifting a comedic lid on the less-romantic wheeler-dealings of the market. 

Through the pretense of trying to find investors for their own project — a loose Last Tango In Paris remake set in Iraq, starring Baldwin — the film explored the contemporary world of the business, where art sits vastly lower down the ladder than profit ("If I make a movie, all I think is, 'what's the profit?," Avi Lerner literally tells the pair) and how cast "bankability" is the sole budget determining factor. In one scene, prolific producer Mark Damon, formerly of Foresight Unlimited, explains that the 30 Rock star — out of earshot — "does not denote a theatrical movie."

Seven years on and thankfully undeterred, Baldwin has a (genuine) film taking part in the latest incarnation of the market, one that will see the SNL regular swap his MAGA cap for a Stetson. In Rust, which was actually among the first projects officially announced for the Virtual Cannes Market, Baldwin reteams with Crown Vic director Joel Souza for a Western in which he'll play an infamous outlaw who comes out of hiding to stop his 13-year-old grandson from being hanged for murder. Highland Film Group will be handling sales of the project, which Baldwin also produces.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter while under lockdown in Long Island, Baldwin discusses saddling up for a rare Western, ponders how film markets may look in the post-COVID world and remembers a classic Cannes moment while shooting Seduced and Abandoned involving Marion Cotillard and an interview that never was.

You’re not exactly well known for Westerns. Does Rust feel a little different for you?

Well, it wasn't obviously something I was setting out to do. I just loved the story. As was the case with Crown Vic, a movie that I made with [Joel] Sousa, I love Joel's writing. Love is a word that is so overused, but I really do love his writing. I was going to do Crown Vic, but the schedule kept changing and I wasn’t available. So I produced and then when this opportunity came up, on another draft of a script by Joel, I was elated. It wasn’t even that I was looking to do a Western, I was just looking for something a little more cinematic with a little less talking. There’s great dialog, but the film is balanced by some really stunning cinematics. Hopefully. We haven’t shot it yet. But in my mind it looks great.

You’re credited as a having helped conceived the idea with Souza. How did that come about?

Joel read a story, which was basically the answer to a question: who was the youngest person ever to hang in the American West? And the answer was a very young kid, I think he was 13 or 14. But literally a boy. We don't have anything to do with the particulars of that case, but that was the seed of where Joel was going with this revenge drama.

How are your gun slinging and horse-riding skills?

They’re always at the ready. I'm an actor of the old school. So if you read my resume — my motorcycle riding, my French, juggling, my horseback riding, my gunplay — is all right at my fingertips at all times.

Are there any other Westerns you would compare Rust to?

I hesitate to compare it to anything because that that that's sometimes as unhelpful as it is helpful, but in terms of tone, when I read it the first thing that came to mind is Unforgiven. That time was filled with some dark realities and some harsh realities.

There's a lot of uncertainty about when and how post-lockdown production might start up again. Do you have any idea when you might start shooting?

I had a year ahead of me, beginning in March, which was quite a lovely schedule. I had one of the nicest years I can recall in terms of the mix and match of the types of material, with three things in a row that were very, very unique and great opportunities. And then everything got blown to pieces. So everything's been affected. Who I'm in first position to now and who I owe my fall schedule to now is being discussed. So Rust is either in the fall or soon thereafter. But it will definitely be within the next 12 months. 

With Seduced and Abandoned, you made a documentary in which you and James Toback tried to sell a film in Cannes. How does it feel being among the first with a film being sold in the digital version of market?

I have no expertise in terms of the festival marche and selling films and so forth. I know very little about that, and I know very little about the realities of this new online technology beyond my own experience. But I do believe that a significant amount of what we're grappling with and embracing now will remain beyond the crisis. I have friends of mine, men with staggering wealth, who confided in me that they’re not renewing the leases on their offices in Manhattan, because they’ve been forced to realize that, for example, the people in the accounts receivable department don’t need to come into the office. There’s a whole quadrant of the company that doesn’t need to come in.

I would vote for the real time “bouillabaisse” of a film market over what we have now. But I also wonder what’s going to happen with the selling and buying… the transaction of motion picture sales and funding. It’s going to get very clean. It's not about me taking you out to dinner and buying you a bottle of champagne, not that there's anything wrong with that. And I think it's going to have interesting repercussions for people. I wonder if it'll stay this way. That only those films that can afford it will fly to France and those that can’t will have digital opportunities they would never have had.

Seduced and Abandoned tried to capture the romance and allure of the Cannes film festival, speaking to directors like Frances Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci and Roman Polanski. You might well have been there this year promoting Rust. Is there anything you’ll miss?

I have two vivid memories of Cannes. One was my wife and I walking up the red carpet, and her dress being so tight around her ankles that I picked her up and carried her up the stairs. I had hip surgery right after, so that may have been one of the last times I could carry a woman — of any size, my wife is very small — up a staircase. So I’m glad they got that on film.

What’s the other Cannes memory?

When we were making [Seduced and Abandoned] we’d been doing interviews, like with Jessica Chastain and those directors [Coppola, Scorsese, Bertolucci, Polanski], and at one point we were on the Croisette — having a late dinner on the dining terrace of the Carlton or the Martinez — and this publicist said, "Marion Cotillard is ready to speak to you."

So I literally sprinted with the camera team, across the Croisette, past all the tents fluttering on the shore, and we go into this one particular tent, where there’s an almost disco-like environment. The people are leading us and beckoning us to go further and further back. We go through a flap and into another tent that’s a smaller tent, a more privileged, elite tent, a tent with people who are less partying and dancing and more talking about movies they’re going to sell. And finally we go to a third tent, which is the "prive" tent. We’d reached the final circle of our destiny.

This is a very small room, maybe the size of a small restaurant. And there are people mingling and talking and Cotillard is at a table, dining with a group of people. Behind her is the flap of that tent to go out to her waiting car. And as I approach her, literally sticking my hand out to shake hers, a security guard stops me, someone taps her elbow and it’s time for her to go to her next event. It’s like a slow-motion dream sequence, with Cotillard the star of my dreams. I've run and hustled my way through the crowd. And she looks at me and goes, “No, I am so sorry.” And they lead her out.