Alec Baldwin on GW theater and the rigors of Hollywood

It’s a good thing for Alec Baldwin fans that the actor transferred from GW when he did. Otherwise, he may have been a wannabe politician surrounded by horrible actors.

Baldwin, who attended GW in the late 1970s, majored in political science and even ran for Student Association president in 1979. He held a position on the Program Board, took some acting classes and reamed on the administration for taking the students’ money – seems like a typical GW student of today. Except that he went on to become a film, television and theater star.

Baldwin definitely worked with a few talented performers while in college, but those actors were far away from classes he took in Foggy Bottom. Baldwin said he remembers a GW “Acting for Non-majors” class where the other students were simply “horrible.”

“At GW, everyone in the class was really bad,” said the Long Island, N.Y., native. “If you could put a few polysyllabic words together you were considered (actor) Laurence Olivier.”

On a whim, Baldwin applied to New York University’s acting program and was accepted. He said he had been visiting a friend in New York and decided to try out.

“I (only got in because) I was the only guy large enough to pick up a girl in ballet class,” Baldwin joked.

At 5-feet-11-inches with a large frame, Baldwin is not someone you’d want to mess with. Known for his hot temper, Baldwin’s gotten into fights with paparazzi; his attitude is rumored to be a reason he and former wife Kim Basinger split up.

But at a recent Screen Actors Guild Foundation event, the ruggedly handsome actor was a perfect gentleman, except for the occasional curse word thrown in when he talked to fellow actors for about an hour at New York’s American Academy of the Dramatic Arts.

Baldwin has played a variety of characters during his 20-plus-year career. In his most recent films – “The Cooler,” “The Cat in the Hat” and “Along Came Polly,” Baldwin was a casino owner, a children’s book character-turned movie star and a New Yorker who owns a risk management firm and sneaks a peak at Ben Stiller’s private parts. All were done convincingly and his performance in “The Cooler” earned him an Oscar nomination.

The success of “The Cooler” and awful reviews of “The Cat in the Hat” were a real surprise to the casts and crews, said Baldwin, who thought the opposite would occur.

“The budget for ‘The Cooler’ was the budget for Altoids for ‘The Cat in the Hat,” Baldwin said. “(We thought) ‘The Cooler’ was fun (but would go) straight to video or Showtime. Like an orphan child, we wish you well. (Have a) bright future and bon voyage.”

The small, independent $3 million film ended up being loved by critics and audience members alike. “The Cat in the Hat” wasn’t so lucky.

The oldest of the three Baldwin brothers, Alec has a calm, soothing tone to his husky voice. He talks about his success humbly and says it really takes work to “make it” in Hollywood. And most hopeful actors will do just about anything to get a part or please a director.

Baldwin said the largest difference between acting in college or other classes and making movies is that you’ll get encouragement while studying, whereas in the “real world,” directors are working on a limited budget and only have a certain amount of time to shoot their scenes. Baldwin said directors can’t afford to take the time to go through actors’ motivations or give advice. They need quick response time.

“The world of high-paying studio acting is not a game,” the Hollywood veteran said.

If a director wants an actor to feel pain, the person will go into the parking lot and smash his foot. Others take steroids and drugs to keep up the Hollywood image, he said.

But the harsh realities of Hollywood are well suited for some people, like Baldwin. He said two types of people should go into show biz, and offered advice on how to find out if you’re one of them:

“Look in pictures of magazines, and if you see yourself in the magazine, go to Hollywood. If you don’t see yourself (in the magazines and you think producers) are waiting for you to arrive and fill a slot, go too.”

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