30 Jul 2017

Review: Nevertheless by Alec Baldwin

From Widescreen, 3:53 pm on 30 July 2017

In his memoir Nevertheless, Alec Baldwin spends a great deal of time worrying about money, says Dan Slevin.

Alec Baldwin at the premiere of Boss Baby in which his voice plays a starring role.

Alec Baldwin at the premiere of Boss Baby in which his voice plays a starring role. Photo: Dreamworks

According to Alec Baldwin, in his autobiography Nevertheless (published earlier this year and now available in paperback), he still loves acting but the business of show – and the degree to which you have to sell your soul for success – means that his Hollywood ambitions have been dulled.

With a young family and stable household coming to him relatively late in life, Baldwin – in the later chapters of the book – talks with enthusiasm about working close to New York, firstly on the seven season run of the comedy 30 Rock, more lately the regular guest spots as President* Trump on Saturday Night Live and, in between, regular gigs as the announcer for the New York Philharmonic’s weekly radio show and his popular podcast interview show, Here’s the Thing.

Baldwin as Jack Ryan (just that one time) in The Hunt for Red October (1990).

Baldwin as Jack Ryan (just that one time) in The Hunt for Red October (1990). Photo: Paramount

He’s still a gigging actor, of course, but now it’s more likely to be cameo and guest appearances that mean less travel, less stress. His most recent above the title role was as the lead voice on the animated movie Boss Baby – another low impact day at the office.

He wasn’t always like this. In the early days of his career – at least in that period between kicking cocaine and booze in 1985 and becoming disillusioned with the business and its fakery around the time he wasn’t asked back to return as Jack Ryan after The Hunt for Red October in 1990 – he was ambitious and dedicated. He tries to brush that rejection off in the book as an example of Hollywood duplicity but he takes quite a while about it – being very mean about Harrison Ford in the process – and the reader is left with the impression that he knows he blew that opportunity and wants the world to think it wasn’t his fault.

Baldwin would have us believe that he is not a difficult character to work with – he’s just a principled and hard-working performer who doesn’t like being taken advantage of – but there are plenty of examples of burning bridges in the book that always seem to the other party’s fault.

The book is strongest at the beginning and at the end. His early life, poor in Long Island with a father who was so dedicated to teaching (and not coincidentally also highly principled) that he wouldn’t take (or wasn’t offered) the promotions that would have taken him out of the classroom and into a more comfortable situation. Baldwin writes beautifully about this period and the relationship between him and his parents – and their deteriorating relationship with each other – and trips to Brooklyn to watch television with his mysteriously unsuccessful grandfather.

Guilt and anxiety around money fuels the first third of the book and you get the feeling it is never very far away for Baldwin. He discovered politics before acting – a failed run for president of the student union at George Washington University in D.C. – and there’s also a thread of old fashioned Democratic progressive politics running through Baldwin’s life, partly prompted by the times in which he grew up and by the scarcity and inequality he saw all around him as a young man.

Nevertheless book cover

Photo: Harper Collins

He talks about an inclination that he still has to run for office, although he fears that his tabloid notoriety would trump his high profile and that his role in public life may end up being as a perpetual fundraiser.

Baldwin is surprisingly inarticulate about the art and process of acting. He’s stronger when he’s being generous about talented co-workers but he can occasionally be dismissive too. In the chapter about working on Mamet’s The Edge, NZ director Lee Tamahori’s second Hollywood picture after the success of Once Were Warriors, Baldwin is scornful of Tamahori’s cutting of Mamet’s dialogue – “He does go on a bit” – when that dialogue was one of the reasons he signed on for the role in the first place. The other reason he chose to go to the Canadian wilderness was to work with Anthony Hopkins, an experience he is a lyrical fanboy about.

I can recommend Nevertheless, especially if like me you are a regular listener to Here’s the Thing and you can imagine that voice reading this book to you. He really does have a singular presentation. Here’s the Thing may end up being Baldwin’s legacy – great guests, time to get to know them and the freedom to spin a few yarns of his own in reply.

                                                          

Nevertheless by Alec Baldwin is published by Harper Collins and is now available in paperback at an RRP of $36.99.

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