I was sitting at the back of a darkened theater—the Ethel Barrymore, to be exact—when my jaw dropped. The play was the 1992 revival of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. The cause of my stunned expression was Alec Baldwin’s riveting performance as Stanley Kowalski. I had seen him in films before; he was, after all, the leading man of the day, a heartthrob of note. But there was something in the theater that night—a mixture of masculine hunger and wounded bravado oozing from the perfect meeting of actor and role—and I never forgot it.
Almost 20 years later, Baldwin, 53, has found another perfect match. Since signing on five years ago to play Jack Donaghy, the savvy network boss on 30 Rock, he has garnered two Emmys, three Golden Globes and five SAG awards, and this past Valentine’s Day, he received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Yet despite the critical acclaim and a slew of recent film roles, Baldwin says this season of the NBC favorite might be his last, and rumors of his aspirations to inhabit the New York City mayor’s office were explored in an August 9 New York Times interview. The actor, it seems, may be poised for a sea change.
Alec Baldwin: Hometown Hero
But to those of us who are lucky enough to call the East End home, Baldwin is simply our good neighbor. Born in Massapequa, he has been coming here for almost 30 years and has owned a home in Amagansett since 1987. We see him at Mary’s Marvelous having coffee, or walking the beach at Indian Wells, or browsing the hardcovers at BookHampton, and his commitment to local causes is passionate and unwavering.
“Alec’s great,” say friends who know him, enunciating with the kind of pride reserved for a hometown hero. One thing is certain: If a move to Gracie Mansion isn’t in the cards, East Hampton will always welcome him with open arms. Just a few days after his return from Rome, where he just finished shooting The Bop Decameron with Woody Allen and on the eve of Authors Night, one of the local events Baldwin cofounded, the actor talks about his childhood memories of the East End, his controversial biography and his commitment to giving back....
Do you remember your first visit to the Hamptons? ALEC BALDWIN: I came here as a child with my father a couple of times. I was very young, so I don’t remember much other than being on a boat in Montauk with fish guts everywhere.
Tell me about coming here as an adult. AB: I came out to Amagansett to look for a rental in the summer of 1982; my real defining experiences began then. When I bought my house in 1987, I slowly began getting more and more involved in things.
So this is home? AB: Yes, this is home. This and the city, but I find the older I get, I’m very happy when I get out here. I can use the quiet.
Historically, the East End has been a community not only of the privileged, but also of artists, actors and writers. Was the artistic community something that drew you here? AB: When I first came out here, I wasn’t really interested in the legacy of the area. I was working in New York and traveling around doing films; I had a pretty tough schedule. I came out here to rest and go to the beach. Over time the artistic mantle of it has grown in importance.
Sportcoat, J.Crew-at-the-Beach ($278). 1 Main St., East Hampton; jcrew.com. V-neck T-shirt, SCP ($38). Scoop Beach, 51 Newtown Lane, East Hampton; scoopnyc.com. Corduroy shorts, Gant by Michael Bastian ($195). Scoop Beach, SEE ABOVE. Vintage plaid scarf, Ralph Lauren ($68). 31–33 Main St., East Hampton; ralphlauren.com. Boat shoes, Various Projects by Eastland ($285). 38 Orchard St., NYC; projectno8.com
Do you like the winter here? AB: It’s a rare breed of people who enjoy being out here in the winter, but I love it; it’s one of my favorite times.
You have always shown support for the local arts and gave very generous gifts to both Guild Hall and the Hamptons International Film Festival. Can you talk about the importance of the arts and arts education? AB: Arts funding in schools and communities is one of the first things to be thrown away in a time of real economic constriction. I think that wealthy individuals who have the resources focus more on medical issues or their alma maters; I keep the flag waving for the arts all I can so that people don’t let it fall completely to the wayside.
Were you always involved with Guild Hall? AB: No, Guild Hall to me was a bunch of men in lime-colored blazers and madras pants and women in yellow sun hats going to events for gardens. But as time went on, I got more involved, and I saw an opportunity. I thought Guild Hall was poised to enjoy a great shift of fortune, because they owned their own property. They did the conversion of the theater, and the facility is great; now the programming is the focus. I love going there.
And the film festival? AB: The Film Festival was something I didn’t want here at first. I didn’t want any more 212. Then I went and was knocked out by what they were doing. Now I host a documentary series called SummerDocs.
You once said that being an actor required saying goodbye to certain parts of yourself. You also said it is a job where you get to learn about yourself. What have you had to say goodbye to, and what have you learned? AB: I think this is a business where you really do sign away your time in a very concrete way. I’ve missed baptisms; I’ve missed confirmations and weddings; I’ve missed a lot of my life sitting in a trailer making a movie. What happens is you get to a point in your life where you want to live your life, not someone else’s on screen. I’m at an age now where I’m far more interested in living my own life. I still like acting; I probably like it now more than ever. It’s interesting how these two things converge.
You are a big supporter of Authors Night at the East Hampton Library. Was there anyone you were looking forward to meeting this year? AB: I adore Dick Cavett. I have the DVD box of his old shows, and I was very happy to go to the dinner for him after the cocktail party.
You are an author, too. In 2008, St. Martin’s published your book, A Promise to Ourselves. AB: I wouldn’t say I’m an author, but I did write a book. To be an author, I believe you need to write more than one book.
Did you enjoy the process of writing? AB: The subject matter was difficult, but I was gratified that I got to write it, and the response that I got from people who had been through the same situation, that was gratifying as well.
Do you think you have other books in you? AB: Probably. I would like to do that once I stop what I’m doing now. That would be one of the first things I’d think about.
How would you describe a perfect summer day? AB: Taking my boat to Lazy Point, a quick swim and lunch at the Fish Factory.