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Enough kneecapping already, he wants to play the good guy

Though he's typecast as a heavy, Alec Baldwin is ready for something a little more nuanced.

December 26, 2003|Hank Stuever | Washington Post

Alec Baldwin would like to star in a remake of the 1968 adaptation of John Cheever's classic short story "The Swimmer."

The original starred Burt Lancaster, age fiftysomething, as Neddy Merrill, who, upon perhaps losing his mind, gently trespasses into the backyards of a pristine suburban archipelago, swimming from pool to pool to pool, trying to make his way toward his empty home, to a wife and children who, it turns out, have left him.

Baldwin, 45, is looking for the writer-director who can help him solve the problem of what "The Swimmer" might be in modern times.

"We want to make it a little more contemporary, a little crazier. The thing to figure out," he says, "is what does a nervous breakdown look like in the year 2004?"

Baldwin might have a hint of what could cause one -- his career and home life have occasionally teetered near the edge for the better part of a decade.

Another problem: "People have a lot more security in the modern world. Can a guy actually go from pool to pool? What about safety fences?"

Also: Is Alec Baldwin ready to do an entire movie in a swimsuit?

His chlorine-blue eyes squint happily at the suggestion.

He'd do it right now on a dare, all that middle-aged beefiness proudly displayed.

Alec Baldwin is almost always available whenever someone needs an Alec Baldwin type.

If you require his services for a supporting role in a movie, he will be there. Or if you need him at your slightly wan red-carpet event. Or when they need him to again hilariously host "Saturday Night Live." Or if they need him to raise money for a day-care center on Long Island by briefly occupying a corner slot on "Hollywood Squares."

You can sometimes spot him in gossip items, or pressing the flesh at a fundraiser for Howard Dean. If you need someone to bad-mouth the Bush administration, oh boy, he becomes a soda fountain with free refills.

Having missed out on superstardom as an action hero or a romantic leading man in the 1990s, he has instead aged gracefully -- and a bit thickly -- into utterly appreciable Alec Baldwinness.

People no longer talk much about him running for political office. He is swimming his way through the midlist of fame.

Even his semi-famous baby brothers -- Billy, etc. -- all seem to have fallen off the map, though not before collectively bringing the term "Baldwin brother" into the lexicon.

Baldwin makes a more-than-decent living because the world will always have a walk-on need for a debonair Mafioso, a wicked neighbor, a fatuous egotist or, in the case of "The Cooler," now in theaters, a vicious but morally conflicted Las Vegas casino boss.

As Shelly Kaplow, head of the foundering Shangri-La Casino, Baldwin has received critical praise for a role that advances the Vegas cliche of violence and the usual goonish pitfalls.

Shelly is desperate to keep the always unlucky Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) in his employ. As Shelly's "cooler," Bernie's mere slack-jawed presence on the casino floor can somehow turn any gambler's good fortune into a bad run.

When Bernie falls in love with a cocktail waitress (Maria Bello), his luck changes, the casino loses money, and he announces his intention to leave Las Vegas.

Shelly kicks into temperamental nutcracker mode. In trying to intimidate Bernie, Shelly barges into a motel room, beats the waitress and smashes her into a mirror.

"And that's what I call the 'kill page,' " Baldwin says of his initial rejection of the script. His movie characters are frequently bad guys; Baldwin feels he has been boorish enough in these parts for a lifetime of bad karma.

"I want to do something different now," says Baldwin, wearing a silk sport coat, dark trousers and a white dress shirt.

He is on the set of NBC's surprisingly successful new drama "Las Vegas," guest-starring in an episode in which he plays a security expert about to betray his old friend, a casino boss played by James Caan.

The TV series, which has done well with elusive male viewers, is like an issue of Maxim magazine come to life, says one female on the show's crew. ("It's got gambling, it's got women, sex, money. It's easy to watch. You know.")

Baldwin says he has mellowed, and if Hollywood could bless him with big money -- just once or twice -- he'd take it and quit. (Lawyers are still hammering out the protracted dissolution of Baldwin's troubled seven-year marriage to Kim Basinger. As part of a complicated custody arrangement, the details of which also made gossip pages, he was ordered into anger management counseling.)

"I certainly never made the kind of money that the biggest names in this business have made," he says.

In his fantasy world, he'd get cast in a good Broadway play every year or so and never leave Manhattan or the Hamptons.

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