In a few weeks Alec Baldwin is planning to say goodbye to Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan and the rest of his pals on the critically acclaimed comedy 30 Rock, pick up a stack of books and head for his boat to contemplate the next chapter of his life.
Somewhere off on the horizon might well be a political career (more of which later). But, for now, Baldwin wants to put his feet up and relax. “The TV show is ending and that’s a big change,” he says. “I want to work less and do different things.”
Such as? “Well, maybe make films for a little while, but not too often. And I’ve been thinking about going back to school. That’s a big fantasy for me. I’d like to study English literature – something that’s good for my soul.”
As he points out, he’s worked virtually non-stop for more than 30 years, and the last seven have been dominated by the rigorous demands of making a primetime TV show. Now, at 54, he wants a rest.
On 30 Rock, Baldwin plays the suave Jack Donaghy, the network boss who often makes life hell on comedy sketch show TGS with Tracy Jordan, especially for chief writer Liz Lemon (Fey). The show is fast, funny and occasionally brilliant, and it’s bowing out leaving its fans wanting more.
“Everybody is sad that 30 Rock is ending,” he says. “We’re due to finish filming the last series in mid-December and that’s it, it’s over. Gone. We’ve had a lot of success and it’s been like a long distance race at times, with ups and downs – but mostly ups.”
“We did season five and it dipped and everybody thought, ‘let’s go home, it sucks.’ But we went back last year and it did well and we all loved it again. In our hearts we could have kept going for another couple of years. But it all has to end eventually and you have to move on.”
It is, then, a year of big changes for Baldwin. A few months ago he got married for the second time, to ballroom dancer-turned-yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas, who, at 28, is 26 years his junior.
His nine-year first marriage, to the actress Kim Basinger, ended in divorce in 2002 and led to an increasingly bitter, and public, custody battle over their daughter Ireland, now 17. He said afterwards that he would never marry again. And then he met Ms Thomas at a vegan restaurant in New York and clearly changed his mind.
“Now I’ve finished the show I am going to be doing a lot more yoga,” he jokes. “And not just to get her off my back. Honestly, it’s great.”
“Hilaria was a competitive Latin ballroom dancer for many years, until she was 22, and worked all over Europe and a lot in England, on the circuit. She wants to have a family, she wants children and maybe when the show is over we’ll see. But first we’ll do a bit more travelling because I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would have wanted to.”
Baldwin started his career in TV as a regular on the daytime soap The Doctors and later played a preacher on Knots Landing. He’s worked in theatre and made films: some good – The Hunt for Red October, The Departed, The Aviator, It’s Complicated – and some not so good, as he candidly admits.
“Twenty five per cent of the films you do are good or very good, and 25 per cent are disgusting and horrible, and then there’s the 50 per cent in the middle,” he says. “I’ve had a very average film career but I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve always enjoyed the people, working with great actors like Anthony Hopkins and Meryl Streep. People that I admired.”
These days, it takes a lot to tempt him to make a film. “This is a great time in my life. I’m happy. I don’t need to work, I like to be by the pool with my favourite yoga instructor, eating fruit and taking in the sun. So when someone knocks at the door and wants you to get up and go to work and invest a lot of time into making a film, it’s critical who is doing the knocking.”
Rise of the Guardians (in cinemas from Friday 30 November) is a good example, he says. It’s an animated film from DreamWorks, the studio responsible for favourites such as Madagascar, Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, and one of the bosses, Jeffrey Katzenberg, called Baldwin personally to ask him to join the all-star voice cast, which also includes Jude Law and Hugh Jackman.
“In this genre, Jeffrey stands alone, so when he asks you to do a film of this nature with that incredible team he’s got there, you immediately pay attention. When it’s Jeffrey Katzenberg doing the knocking, it’s a completely different imperative.”
In the adaptation of William Joyce’s successful book series The Guardians of Childhood, Baldwin voices Santa Claus. But North, his burly, Eastern European-accented action man, is hardly recognisable as that nice old Father Christmas, and heads a band of childhood legends (the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, the Sandman) to fight off the threat of wicked bogeyman Pitch (Jude Law), who plans to spread fear across the globe and rob kids of their dreams.
Baldwin is one of six siblings born in Long Island, New York (and the oldest of four brothers, all of whom became actors). He studied politics at George Washington University and planned on becoming a lawyer (and, ultimately, a politician) before he got the acting bug and won a place at the famous Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York. “And I had a different life as a result,” he says.
But he is a committed Democrat (“Romney would make a superb ambassador to Switzerland” was one of the many tweets he sent during the presidential campaign) and has long flirted with the idea of going into politics. He considered running against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will be up for re-election at the end of next year. “But that wasn’t possible because I would have needed to start raising money this year, and I was working.”
He wouldn’t be the first actor to run for office either – Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger and, most significantly, Ronald Reagan all made the move. Even so, Baldwin knows that there would be a lot of cynics waiting to pour scorn on him if he declares himself a candidate.
“If you step up to the microphone and you speak about politics and you are the head of a big corporation or a bank and you give your opinion to Congress, no one asks any questions, even if you are there to try to influence trade decisions, regulation, business for your company and profit.”
“I have never taken one position in my entire life that lined my pocket. I spoke about campaign finance reform, gun control, the environment, and not one of them put a dime in my pocket or raised my stock prices.”
“But the minute I open my mouth in my country, people go, ‘shut up!’ There’s no self-interest, there’s nothing self-serving about it. But they are constantly criticising you. Conservative critics are like, ‘why don’t these actors shut up?’ Well, I’m never going to shut up.”
And it must be said that Mayor Baldwin has a nice ring to it.
Rise of the Guardians is out in UK cinemas on 30 November