Friday, 30 November 2012

Alec Baldwin plays a different side of Santa

CINDY PEARLMAN

NYT SYNDICATE

“IT was time for something new,” Alec Baldwin says.

“Was I nervous? Of course. It’s a big journey that I’m going on.” The 54-year-old actor is talking about his recent marriage to yoga teacher Hilaria Thomas, which – given his tabloid-heaven personal history – is nothing if not an expression of optimism.

Baldwin’s first marriage, to actress Kim Basinger in 1993, lasted for nine tumultuous years and led to a seemingly never-ending custody battle over their only child, now-17-year-old daughter Ireland. Hot-tempered and quotable, he has been a tabloid magnet ever since, and he and his quarter-century-younger bride rarely can escape a pack of paparazzi.

He’s also had to adjust to his transition from a 1980s leading man to a 2000s character actor. It’s been a long time since Clueless (1995), whose teen girls described hot young men as “Baldwins.” Today he’s seen mainly in supporting roles, often comic ones, and is best known as egomaniacal television executive Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, a careerresuscitating role that has brought him two Emmy Awards as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

“What I’ve learned to do, over the years, is to accept disappointments,” says Baldwin, whose latest film, Rise of the Guardians. “In this business you always hope for the best, but you realise that the best-case scenario is rare.

“When I was younger and a project didn’t work out, I was very depressed,” he continues. “Let’s say I made a movie and it didn’t make money or didn’t get the creative reception I hoped for, I’d be sad about it. With age, I think, you learn how to accept a disappointment. It’s about shifting your focus. If something turns out and does well, then fine, that’s great news. If it doesn’t, then you’re not as hard on yourself and you move on.” Based on a book by William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians is an animated film that revolves around an evil spirit called Pitch who plans to take over the world. Opposing him are the Immortal Guardians, iconic figures – think Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the like – who must join forces for the first time to protect the dreams, beliefs, hopes and imaginations of children around the world.

Baldwin voices the Santa figure, called North. Hugh Jackman lends his pipes to the East Bunny, with Isla Fisher voicing the Tooth Fairy and Chris Pine voicing Jack Frost.

And no, Baldwin’s dialogue wasn’t limited to “Ho ho ho!” “The filmmakers showed me that these were going to be kind of an edgier version of the characters we know and how you usually see the Santa Claus figure,” he says. “That’s why I was interested.

“When you see the Santa figure, it’s usually the rosy-cheeked, saintly man,” Baldwin continues. “In this film they have little edgy touches, but they don’t cross the line.” Some of the film’s jokes are designed to fly over the heads of younger moviegoers, he adds.

“I like how Isla’s character was hitting on Chris Pine’s character when she meets him,” he says. “It was real. Of course, they couldn’t consummate their love because of interspecies issues. That is problematic.” Baldwin has done voice work on occasional films through the years, most notably in Cats and Dogs (2001), Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008), and he says that he appreciates the freedom it offers.

“We’re doing radio acting here,” he says. “Someone else is going to render the physical dimensions for us, so we could go places with the vocals and take chances without concerning ourselves with the rest of it.” The only risk, he adds, lay in taking too many risks.

“There’s always a chance to make it very bombastic and strident with the Santa character,” Baldwin says. “I wanted to vary the tone throughout, so I wouldn’t exhaust it.” In real life Baldwin – who grew up in Massapequa, New York, with brothers Stephen, William and Daniel, all of whom also became actors, and a sister who didn’t – admits to having some Santa-related trauma left over from his childhood.

“I remember walking into a room and my sister was wrapping presents with my mother,” he says. “I went, ‘What? What!’ I was 7 or 8 at the time, and they told me what was going on.

“I think they told me because, the more kids my mother had, the more wrapping they had to do,” Baldwin adds.

“When I came in and knew the truth, then I could be enlisted as a wrapper.” His holiday viewing wasn’t as varied as that enjoyed by today’s children.

“I was of the generation where there wasn’t as much programming for children as there is now,” Baldwin says. “I was born in ‘58, and you watched that Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) special on TV and then the animated Grinch (1966).

“When I was young there was no cable and no DVD,” he adds.

“They showed a movie on TV five years after it was released. I remember The Wizard of Oz on TV being billed as a major television event. We were thrilled to see it.” The past year has been an eventful one for Baldwin. Besides his marriage and Rise of the Guardians, he made his first musical and appeared in his first major role in a Woody Allen movie, playing the disembodied adviser to a young man ( J e s s e Eisenberg) torn between his longtime g i r l f r i e n d (Greta Gerwig) and her sexy friend (Ellen Page) in To Rome with Love.

In Rock of Ages Baldwin played the owner of a hot club who finds love when he least expects it. The part involved singing, dancing and sharing a memorable kiss with Russell Brand.

“I’m very self conscious and I know I’m not a singer,” he says with a laugh. “You do a musical and you come to make a fool out of yourself. You know you’re going to play a crazy, over-the-top character.” Rock of Ages failed to click at the box office, but Baldwin – who has not been asked to carry a movie for some years – is unperturbed.

“People need to have an appetite for

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