Why Early Trump Backer Stephen Baldwin Is Heading to D.C. for the Inauguration (Q&A)
"Everything has been the opposite of what we expect," says the actor as he heads to the nation's capital as part of the president-elect’s New York delegation.
Just under four years ago, Stephen Baldwin was getting fired by Donald Trump from All-Star Celebrity Apprentice. On Jan. 20, he’ll be in Washington, D.C., with the mogul’s home state New York delegation to view the swearing in of the president-elect.
"Who would have ever wildly guessed that Trump would win the electoral college and Hillary [Clinton] would win the popular vote? Everything has been the opposite of what we expect in this," says the actor. "I just hope that President Trump — I have to get used to saying that — be given a chance."
Baldwin was an early Trump supporter in Hollywood, backing the mogul primarily because he thinks Trump could help boost the economy. He's gotten into a public Twitter spat with his brother, Billy, over his pro-Trump posts and watched his other brother, Alec, deliver what he now calls a "hilarious" Trump impression on Saturday Night Live.
Stephen Baldwin also is one of the few names in the entertainment industry who's going to be heading to D.C. not to protest during inauguration week, but to take part in the festivities planned for the incoming administration with fellow Trump backers. "Let everybody’s voices be heard," he says. "But I also believe that any type of protest that would be something that is dangerous or damaging or hateful or cause criminal activity and rebellion, I don’t think that’s cool."
From his home in upstate New York, Baldwin shared with The Hollywood Reporter by phone a bit about about his plans. (The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
You are attending inauguration festivities in Washington. What do you anticipate that will be like?
Well, I’m not really sure. With this election being as unpredictable as it has been, I’m hoping that it’ll go as smoothly as possible. Obviously, there’s going to be interruptions. I think it’s pretty amazing that you may have — I don’t know even know the number — 2,000 or 4,000 people light up a joint all at the same time at a specific moment during the inauguration, this is pretty wild what we’re seeing going on here, do you know what I mean?
You’re talking about the group that’s handing out 4,200 joints.
That’s just wild. When I say that, what I mean is: The kind of protests we’re seeing, it's almost like we’re back in the ‘60s. This is just wild. Obviously, the right for all that is completely justified. And, anyway, just like it's the right for us to vote for whoever.
I’m anticipating a Trump presidency here. I live in New York, I live 90 minutes north of Manhattan on a farm with my wife and I’m an empty nester now and I’m a Christian guy and I’m making little Christian movies and trying to do my thing. And all around Trump Tower now, on 5th Avenue, is where they have the boardroom set for Celebrity Apprentice. And that whole thing, that’s near 5th Avenue and 59th Street, it's near the Plaza and the 24-hour Apple store — all of that is just locked up now because this guy won.
It’s kinda like everything’s new now, so you really don’t know what’s going to happen. I would just hope that it’s a mellower day — if I can use that word — and that nothing bad happens with any kind of violence or anything like that. I mean, that would be a bummer. I do think it would be unrealistic to anticipate that it’s not going to be problematic, just like the next four years are going to be problematic for this guy.
In my observation, this is all normal. It’s not normal that a guy like Trump is now the president, meaning in the way that he won. But I think when you go from the Clintons to the Bushes to Obama and now Trump, it’s almost normal in our political history that it swings back left and right over decades and decades and decades. In that respect, I think, this is a new normal, but definitely it’s pretty normal.
Do you have a personal relationship with Trump? When did you first get to know him?
I got to know him during Celebrity Apprentice. I did the first year of the return of Celebrity Apprentice, which they had done it for awhile and then it went away and then it came back and when it came back it was very successful. And then they did All-Star Celebrity Apprentice, and this was a wonderful opportunity for me to make money for my mom’s breast cancer organization, which I did, so that was pretty cool and it was a fun show and Mark Burnett’s terrific. He’s a wonderful producer.
Was I hanging out playing racquetball with The Donald? No. But I got to see him behind the scenes and I chatted with him a few times. And that was the other thing, a little bit, that kinda made me say, “I don’t think this guy really is so much the megalomaniac that people think he is.” Because when I saw him behind the scenes, he was actually very sweet and funny and loving with his kids and things like that, which was surprising to me.
Is there any specific anecdote you have that speaks to his style as an executive?
Not really. I think in a scenario like this, you and I could sit here and go, "What do you think of Warren Buffett?" We don’t know. We don’t really know the guy. We don’t know what he’s like behind closed doors. But I would say that it has been my perception of Trump for several years, ever since he’s been talking about running seriously, I think the guy’s gotta be smart to take a billion and make it two.
Everybody thinks, “Oh, whatever, that must have been luck.” I don’t agree with that. And it’s more than two, so whatever. And I wouldn’t say that there’s any anecdote about that. But what I will say is that as a marketer, and boy, oh boy, have we ever seen one of the most incredible marketing campaigns ever, successfully. I just think he’s a brilliant marketer. I think he’s really smart when it comes to taking risks and seeing what his audience or what the viewer thinks of him.
There's been talk about Hollywood figures boycotting the inauguration or refusing to perform. What's your read on that?
I think it’s unfortunate. Obviously, in the world of content creation with music and entertainment, we haven’t seen this kind of reaction ever. And, again, everybody has the right to be heard. I think that’s awesome. But everybody should feel that this President has the right to be given a chance to succeed. And I think there’s a lot of people, and I commend some of those Hollywood people that are saying, “Hey, listen, I didn’t vote for the guy, but you got to give him a chance, that’s fair, that’s the system.” I think that’s what we’re seeing. I don’t think my trying to convince anybody in the Hollywood community otherwise really matters.
When Trump first announced his run, late-night hosts mocked some of the early Hollywood supporters of the mogul. Now that he won, is there some validation in that as an early backer?
The day after the election, I had 40 interview requests with some of the biggest journalists in the world. And I didn’t do one interview. Because it didn’t matter at that point to me. I’m a guy who supported Trump for one simple reason: I thought that what we’ve been experiencing in the last eight years, as far as the mood of the country, has been more as a direct result of the economy. And again, I’m not an economist and I’m not a political expert.
But on a common sense level, if a new President can come in and make whatever changes that would allow for the economy to improve, that’s going to be something that will allow for people’s lives to improve financially, even if it’s just for the Affordable Care Act or whatever or health insurance or lowering premiums or whatever it is, people are suffering.
Politics isn't the only thing polarized recently, as it seems like media is becoming more so. Where have you been turning to for news?
If I say Fox News I’m a dead man. (Laughs.) I actually tend to try to surf around the web and find interesting points of view from both sides. But I think probably just the internet randomly and CNN a lot and a little bit of Fox News. But even Fox News for me is a little Fox News. How’s that for my answer?
Your upcoming film, Youth Group, is set in the heart of an evangelical mega-church. Does it have any parallels to your personal life?
I would compare it to The Breakfast Club, like if you could do a Christian youth group movie that was like The Breakfast Club kind of in its sarcasm and smarminess and snarkiness, that’s what we’ve done here. We’ve made a movie to allow Christians to laugh at themselves, within a trend right now of a lot of these little Christian indie movies like God’s Not Dead that are succeeding very well.