When good actors do bad things

Alec Baldwin confesses his sins to Rosie and Barbara. Can't we forgive him, after all he's done for us?

Topics: The View, Television,

When good actors do bad things

We all claim to be sick of celebrity culture, and yet few of us can manage to unglue ourselves from tabloid gossip pages and Web sites. Alec Baldwin leaves a harsh and inappropriate message on his daughter’s voice mail, and almost instantaneously the whole world knows about it. Next thing you know, the embattled celebrity is wedged uncomfortably, like a shamed monkey, between Barbara Walters and Rosie O’Donnell on “The View.” Their relationship to him, in this relatively brief moment of television, is unclear: Are they grand inquisitors, soothing mommy types, or sympathetic fellow celebrities? Without ever mentioning ex-wife Kim Basinger’s name, Baldwin makes it clear that, in his view, she’s an unreasonable cow who’ll do everything in her power to prevent him from seeing his daughter. Walters, always the brilliant voice of reason, notes that there are two sides to every story. At home, we all nod in agreement: mmm, yes, two sides to every story. And we huddle in to hear Baldwin’s mea culpa, what he learned from this sorry event, what he plans to do next.

Somewhere in there, Baldwin drops a mini-bomb: He has asked NBC to release him from his “30 Rock” contract, since he wants to spend the next few years concentrating on a subject that, for obvious reasons, has become very important to him, that of parental alienation as a component, or a result, of divorce litigation. (He has a book on the subject, from St. Martin’s Press, coming out within the next few months.) “If I never acted again, I couldn’t care less,” Baldwin said on “The View.” He’s been in the game for a long time, and you need only scan his IMDb listing to recognize that the guy has been working, a lot, for about a quarter of a century. Who could blame this clearly intelligent and articulate guy for wanting to leave a profession he’s good at, when more people have an opinion about a voice mail message he left for his daughter than they do about his actual work?



Celebrity culture has always been with us, and it will never go away: In the old days, movie fans would snap up magazines like Photoplay to find out if Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth were nice people in real life, as beautiful inside as they were on the movie screen. We wanted their lives to be our illusion; if at all possible, real life was not allowed to intrude.

Now real life intrudes all the time. Can a guy who talks to his daughter the way Baldwin did be a good person in real life? We all have our own ideas about that, whether we voice them or not. And if Baldwin decides he doesn’t want to act anymore, who can blame him? He’s tired of it, he wants to do other things, he doesnb

But while I’m sorry that Baldwin said those hotheaded things to his daughter (and I’m sorry that his daughter will probably suffer more from the fallout than any other player here), I’m much sorrier to hear that he doesn’t want to act anymore. Sure, maybe I’d feel “better” about Baldwin if I could believe that he’s a perfect dad. But if I’m suffering through a crap movie — like “Running With Scissors,” or “Along Came Polly,” or “Ghosts of Mississippi,” to name three of many — and Alec Baldwin shows up, I don’t really care what kind of a dad he is. I’m just glad to see him. He’s doing his job, and I, as a moviegoer (or, in the case of “30 Rock,” TV viewer), am doing mine.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about what a terrific, and underappreciated, actor Bruce Willis is, about how he makes good movies even better and is able to elevate, at least temporarily, the truly horrible, stupid ones. She suggested that maybe his on-screen sensitivity and believability is his way of making up for being such an asshole in real life.

I’m sure I’d heard or read somewhere that Willis is kind of an asshole. (I know for sure that I disagree with his politics.) But so what? If an actor I liked were convicted of an ax murder, I’m sure I’d find it hard to look at his or her face. But a pissed-off message left on a preteen’s cellphone? I find it hard to care much, and as articulate and intelligent as Baldwin obviously is, I would rather not have to watch him on “The View,” apologizing, justifying and explaining.

When I go to the movies, I get exactly what I want from Alec Baldwin, as I do from Bruce Willis. I don’t need their apologies, justifications or explanations. I don’t have to be married to them. I don’t have to follow their rules about keeping my room clean or answering my cellphone or doing my homework. I’m selfish about my actors: I just want them to continue to do their jobs, because when they do their jobs well, it makes my job, as part of their audience, so much more pleasurable. I don’t know how much money Baldwin tends to make per picture, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s working cheap. If he wants to leave the profession, even temporarily, that’s his business. But it would make my business poorer.

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>