On a recent fall afternoon, the actor Alec Baldwin was tossing a football around on the sidewalk by a Marriott Hotel. While the crew of his TV show '30 Rock' were setting up the next shot, Baldwin was clearly the star — the only principal cast member in fact — in this section of Long Island City, Queens. He was light on his feet, laughing and joking with the crew, and happily posing for a photograph with a wandering fan.
September saw the publication of his first book, "A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey through Fatherhood and Divorce." Strictly embargoed prior to publication, the book is an exhaustive and harrowing tale of Baldwin's experience in divorcing Kim Basinger, and subsequently petitioning for joint custody of his daughter Ireland. Though he has laid his experience bare on the page, he has kept press to a minimum – the only print interviews he has granted have been to the New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times, while he will also appear on The View and 20/20 to promote the book. Indeed, gaining an audience with Mr. Baldwin to talk about this work required three months of steady requests, the signing of a confidentiality agreement, and the vetting of this reporter's past work by Baldwin's office.
Finally, an hour was agreed to in the midst of Baldwin's busy schedule, on the set of the television show that has changed his professional fortunes and catapulted him to Emmy nominations and a previously unrealized talent for comedy.
Baldwin tossed the ball far and it bounced off a truck's door. He motioned to the sidewalk in front of the hotel, grabbed two folding canvas chairs, setting them up facing the traffic and fixed this reporter with a smile.
He responded to an initial compliment about the heartbreaking nature of his book.
"Thank you," he allowed. "Hopefully this book will lead to something positive, whether or not it leads to an examination of the family law system is another matter. But I wouldn't say the book is harrowing, though everyone in my life who knows me thinks that the book is very fair," he trailed off with a quiet chuckle.
Trucks roared by on the thoroughfare a few feet from where he sat. An assistant came up to him holding a suit jacket. "You have ten minutes," she said. "You want me to touch you up in there or on set?" Baldwin shrugged. "That's what I thought," she said, lingering. "Hey, I gotta work on my passing skills," she announced.
After she walked away, Baldwin turned back and said, "What was the question?"
It is mentioned that while his book is careful never to insult his ex-wife, it certainly does read as an indictment of the legal profession as it relates to family law, though ironically, in the second chapter of the book, Baldwin turned away two pit-bull lawyers who could have changed the outcome of his experience dramatically.
"It's arguable," he allowed. "It might have been a better strategy to have a visceral lawyer in a high conflict divorce. But I was seeking a lawyer who I thought could mediate the case and resolve the conflict. Little did I know the other side wanted to keep the conflict going forever. I mean, they fired the mediator, they threw us into open court. The most damning thing I can say about the other side is that they have never once recognized my rights as a father. They have sought to deny my visitations regularly. The courtroom was paradise to them. They couldn't wait to get back in there."
But given that the custody case is ongoing, and given the gag order on the case, was there ever a concern that writing a book about the case might cause an adverse reaction?
"I don't expect them to acknowledge or agree with anything I've said," he said.
"They will say these are the reflections of a bitter man. When these things don't go well they just think you're a sore loser. They will say, ‘well you married her.' The lawyers and the judges, they look at all litigants and they hate them and despise them and think you have no one but yourself to blame."
But surely, given that the custody of Ireland is at stake, wasn't Baldwin concerned that the book could have repercussions in his own case?
"I don't really care," he said. "I'm sure individual people like Hersh [Kim Basinger's lawyer] will seize on anything he can, but most people in the Beverly Hills family law system see Hersh for what he is. I'm not the first person to call him . . ."
It is suggested that Baldwin might be the first to call him a cross between Gabe Kaplan and Chuck Norris.
He laughed out loud. "I do like that visual," he said. "But you know, there is a demand for what he does. If you are in a divorce and conflict resolution is not in your interest and you just want to make the life of your ex as miserable as possible, then Hersh is the man to have on your speed dial. He exists to make divorce a form of torture."
There was a long pause, where it appeared that Baldwin had more to say on the subject, but he remained quiet, staring at the steady stream of traffic. He was asked if the circumstances of the divorce and the custody of his daughter was now as resolved as it would ever be.
"Nooooooo!" he said very suddenly. "No! Never! But I am forbidden by the court to discuss the current situation."
Even though he discussed the particulars of the case in minutiae in the book?
"I don't talk about any court orders," he asserted. "I can describe testimony given in Judge Roy Paul's courtroom, I'm allowed to describe events, but I can't quote from the transcript and I can't quote what the rulings were."
The cumulative effect of the book's catalogue of court appearances, mandated counseling sessions and ceaseless frustrations is so all consuming that it is surprising that Baldwin has managed to continue a career at all.
"I haven't been able to turn my full attention to anything but this case," he said plainly. "I've been able to pursue what I normally pursue, but I haven't been able to do it well. I haven't had my best effort in my work for years. I have been completely overwhelmed and derailed by this. And it's still the case today. Its like a tumor, I've just never been able to get away from it. I am in court all the time. I am in court constantly for the enforcement of existing orders."
But surely there is an end in sight. His daughter will turn thirteen later this year, so in five years time it will all be a moot point.
Baldwin continued to smile, but he drew in his breath to make an explanation that he articulates with great forcefulness in his book. "There is your time with a child for your enjoyment for the love and the joy and warmth and the happiness of having a family," he said with studied patience. "And then there is the relationship you have to parent a child to teach them and mold them — that's part of your job and that's true for everyone and those two components are the things that you lose, that's the battle ground you fight over."
There was a pause, and then he continued.
"And then they get older, during college and after, and what are the ramifications? What are the long-term effects? Statistically children raised without fathers, particularly women, become more inclined to drug abuse, alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases, promiscuous sexual relationships, teenage pregnancy, and divorce themselves. When they grow up its not over."
Will his daughter read the book?
"Maybe an edited version," he laughed. "Maybe only the bad parts. You know, anything that will turn her against me. I don't know. I don't know what goes on in that mansion. I have no idea. I really have no idea how my daughter is raised. I have no relationship with my ex-wife, which doesn't really matter to me. But there is an authority, and that authority's job is to protect the child. And none of this is now done in the best interest of the child.
"What you have to do now to get a judge to force a mother to go into therapy to get her to stop alienating a child against her other parent, they just don't want to do that. Men's behavior is examined to a fare thee well in the California system and women just skate."
An assistant hurried up to him. "Two minutes," she said.
"What else?" Baldwin said.
He is asked about three moments in the book where he breaks down and cries, the third time being after the infamous phone message he left for his daughter last year.
An assistant walked by with his suit jacket. "Two minutes," she said.
"No, no, I'll put in on in there," he said.
"What?" He said, turning back to the reporter.
The question was repeated.
"Like I have said many times," he said, "If what you did on your worst day was recorded by someone privately . . . " He trailed off for a moment. "The interesting thing about Hersh, and my ex-wife and Levin [Harvey Levin, of TMZ, who aired the tape] is that the electronic or digital property of the minor child is the property of her parents or guardians. They had to have my permission to release that recording. So that was another contempt charge against my ex-wife. They have numerous, numerous contempt charges against them at this point which we could prosecute and we don't.
"Listen," he said, standing up, and putting his hands on the arm rests of his canvas chair, pushing his weight into the chair. "We have a set of orders, they violate those orders constantly. We choose not to prosecute to make things better and it gains us no ground. The other side is angrier than I will ever be, that's for sure. And when what you do on your worst day is broadcast by these people . . . Listen: I think it embarrassed my ex-wife, it made her look like a fool to do something like that, it hurt me obviously, but most of all it hurt my daughter. This is something that someone should have gone to a judge and said, ‘I would prefer that he not leave messages like that.' It could have been done. The world now is so fuelled by mockery and you just get really sad when it's your turn to be taken for a spin. It's really hard."
But it is clear he has bounced back, no?
"To an extent. But I am changed. I'm very changed from the experience."
He let those words hang in there and was about to add to the thought when a crewmember walked by with a tray of Starbucks coffees. Baldwin took an iced mochachino and an extra shot of espresso. He handed the crewmember a $50 bill, which was refused.
He turned back to the reporter and said: "What else?"
"Alec, they're ready for you," said another assistant.
"It does change you!" he said emphatically just as a stranger walked up and asked for his autograph. He signed it then looked at the reporter again.
Had Mr. Baldwin ever heard the expression, ‘is it better to be happy or to be right?'
"Yes," he said, with a look of mild deflation. "I've learned it."
"They're ready for you Alec," said another assistant, the one who had been playing football with him fifteen minutes previously.
"I've heard that over and over," he said. "The first phrase I make in the book is, "I never wanted to write this book." If you go back and think about it, to have any psychic engagement with my ex-wife or her lawyers is just anathema to me. But I do feel like who is going to help other people? To see that nutty, vicious, ex-spouse work you over that way in court – it is agonizing for everybody, there is a lot, a lot, of collateral damage.
Baldwin shrugged and took his arms off the canvas chair, straightening himself. "But what I've learned is I have to promote the book. If you asked me the truth I wouldn't even be sitting here talking to you," he said warmly enough. "I wouldn't do any press for the book. I have no interest in doing this. When my obligatory press turn for the book is over on September 23d, you'll never hear me talk about this again. Ever.
He fixed me with his steady gaze, and looked around at the bustling crew on the sidewalk outside the Marriott Hotel in the middle of Queens.
A much shorter version of this interview of Alec Baldwin by William Georgiades ran in the Los Angeles Times. The Unspiked Files represent Gawker's repository of newspaper and magazine articles which through no fault of their own didn't make it fully into print. Submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.