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With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus crisis, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood’s top writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.
While making two remote appearances on Saturday Night Live at Home, Alec Baldwin has spent his quarantine tending to his ever-growing family in their East Hampton home. The actor and TV personality, whose previously taped season of Match Game returns to ABC on May 31, was supposed to be in the midst of filming Peacock’s adaptation of the popular podcast Dr. Death. But for the moment, he’s pretty much just a dad. In between attempts to keep his kids distracted, Baldwin spoke with THR about learning to podcast (WNYC’s Here’s the Thing) remotely, losing friends to COVID-19 and why he thinks Donald Trump, whom he’s played on SNL since 2016, won’t fare well during the upcoming election.
How’s it going?
I think we’re doing quite well, considering. We’ve got four little kids at home, and my wife is pregnant again.
I saw that. Congratulations.
Yeah, we like kids. I guess you could say we’re collectors. And being out here on the island, where we have plenty of land and open space, my No. 1 task every day is to help divert their attention from how peculiar this all is. My older son turned to me the other day and said, “I miss New York.” We love both places. But my kids go to school there. We take the kids everywhere: the museum, this play space, Chelsea Piers and all this other stuff. So we keep them moving. They are getting a stronger and stronger sense of how strange this is, so my job is to keep them occupied.
So you’ll be segueing from educator to camp director in a couple of weeks?
Yeah, when the summer gets here with the warm weather. I started hallucinating that global warming was reversing itself because of the economic shutdown around the world. This is the coldest May I’ve ever seen out here in East Hampton.
Have you been back to the city?
I was all set to start Dr. Death, with Jamie Dornan and Christian Slater, for [Peacock] on March 16. They pulled the plug the week prior and we drove out here on Thursday the 12th. We have been out here ever since. My wife went into the city once in a full hazmat suit to see her OB-GYN. I drove and didn’t get out of the car. My wife was wrapped up like she was doing Silkwood with Meryl Streep. Where are you?
I’m in Venice Beach.
I was working at the Sony lot when it was Lorimar for TV series in the ’80s — a million years ago. I lived on Sunset and Speedway in Venice for five years. This was the only time in my life I lived in L.A. full time, and I was in a cool, funky apartment. There was no building between us and Ocean Front Walk. At night, a guy would sell LSD on roller-skates. He would come roller-skating up to you and ask if you wanted to buy some acid. It was a different Venice. (Laughs.)
You’re still doing your podcast through all this. Has it inspired you to book different kinds of guests?
Years ago, we did one by phone — and it was tragic. We just hated it. I have only done it face-to-face, [whoever is] passing through New York on some promotional tour. The imperatives of the health crisis and of Zoom, I don’t like it, but it has opened up a new world for me. I’m doing a guy in London, Simon Taylor, who founded Global Witness, which is very heavily involved in rainforest protection. I’m also doing people in L.A.
But you don’t care for remote interviews?
I don’t like it, but I do like the opportunity it’s created. I can do whatever the hell I want to do now. That’s great.
The Zoom interviews seem to get easier the more we all do them.
The only whining I’ll do about it is that I have to be on camera and off camera. I have to record the audio on my voice memo on my phone, because the internet signal on Zoom wavers sometimes. Then I take that voice memo file and Dropbox it to my producers, who then put the sound together. I want to join a union now. I want to be in the radio technicians union.
What’s been the most difficult adjustment during all this?
I’ve lost friends. One of them was a colleague of mine, the writer Patti Bosworth. She was on the board of the Actors Studio with me. I’m one of the co-presidents of the Studio with Ellen Burstyn and Al Pacino. We were all getting ready to celebrate the 75th anniversary and Patti was in charge of that committee. We’d been having regular conversations about what she had in mind. Another friend of mine, she wasn’t answering her door. So her friend calls the cops, they come, they go to bang on the door. She apparently revives and crawls to the door, gets up, opens the door and drops dead of a heart attack right as EMS arrives to save her life.
That’s awful. I’m so sorry.
She was the loveliest woman. She worked from home, and she got the COVID — wouldn’t get out of the house and go to a doctor to get help. It all turned very quickly. I don’t want to sit out here and say I’m doing OK, while everybody else is struggling. I feel horrible for my friends who are trapped in the city. They’re really depressed. They’re terrified to go out. They feel like it’s Russian roulette to go out the door and walk around. I’m trapped in a house with a woman whom I’m madly in love with. I am so sickened by what other people have had to live through during this. We’re never going to forget this. It’s is going to change everybody’s lives forever.
I know you have to go, but how are you looking at the fall — as someone who’s passionate about American politics and who’s been so associated with Donald Trump for almost five years?
I don’t want to say the names of the people he mimics because they would be very harsh comparisons, but he is a master at helping people to vent their spleen and to direct their anger and frustration at people he wants to blame for the way things are. He’s channeling their anger. There is nothing more effective in politics than inciting a crowd. Everybody’s got something to complain about, everybody’s got something that they think the government should be doing that’s important. And they have a point.
What’s an example?
Do I want people to own guns? You bet I do. You can have a gun. Do I want people to have to go through the proper checks and keep the guns out of the hands of the people who shouldn’t have them? Yes. We register pharmacists. We register cars. We have background checks on a lot of things. My point is that I agree with some of these people on some things but not the whole package, that we just hand a gun to anybody who wants one on demand.
How are you feeling about the election?
There’s nothing more successful in politics than just inciting the anger of the populist crowd. And yet I do think we will arrive at the election in the fall where the critical mass of people will realize that that’s really all he has. All he has is a gift for inciting anger. Think about it: In New York, he was as insignificant as you could possibly imagine.
He didn’t seem to have much of a public presence in the city.
I’ve lived in New York all my adult life and no one took him seriously. He wasn’t important in any way. Even the people who run the real estate industry, he was never part of that crowd. He was a guy that would go home and get a bag of fried chicken and watch whatever.
Did you ever see him out?
He’d come and do a photo op, but he was never a tablemate at a dinner or a reception or an event. Walk in, photo op, go — the wife in the gown and he’s in the tux. They would go to 21 and have dinner. You never got to know him. He hated socializing. He got elected to this job based on the perception of him from this TV show. I forgot that that thing was on forever.
Fourteen seasons, I think.
People bought that he was a sharp business man from the TV show. In New York, everybody was on to him. I do believe that the veneer he’s created about who he is, what he’s capable of beyond keeping people angry and frustrated, is chipping away — especially because of this. I read an editorial in The St. Louis Dispatch today. They did the research and said that he is a complete, full-blown liar when he says that Obama left him with “empty cupboards,” in terms of this disaster preparedness.
But you’re optimistic?
I think people realize that this could happen again. And all Biden has to do is tell the world, “Hey, guess what? I’m going to take care of you. I’ll bring the supply chain back to the United States. We’re going to make masks. We’re going to make ventilators. We’re going to make pharmaceuticals.” Maybe it’s going to cost us a little bit more money. Who cares? We’re going to start taking care of the people in this country because this could happen again. And who the fuck — excuse my French — wants to go through this again?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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