ALEC BALDWIN was rushed and soaked with sweat as he entered the Upper West Side home of a photographer for a portrait shoot and an interview. He closed himself in a tiny air-conditioned office, decided not to be photographed on account of the heat and made a long phone call. The words "Democratic Party" and "$600,000" floated out.
The next morning he would receive his seventh Emmy nomination, his second as lead actor in a comedy for his role as crazed mercenary network honcho Jack Donaghy on the NBC comedy "30 Rock."
"I'm not an awards-driven person in anything. Anytime you do get caught up in that, you usually end up getting whacked." We were then nearly knee-to-knee in his newly commandeered headquarters. "I'd like the show to win an Emmy," he went on. "Individually, I couldn't care less."
"30 Rock," a much-beloved if less-watched romp about the production of a weekly TV sketch show and its nutty network, should do just fine at the Emmys. It has done fine for Baldwin too. His character, and his guns-blazing deadpan performance, rehabilitated his public image (there was a bit of tabloid scandal in spring of 2007 when an angry voice mail he left his daughter became public). He entered a period of well-executed crisis PR management. He offered to leave the show; NBC declined. He stayed put and sold a book about the traumas of divorce, to be published in September.
Sitting in the room, Baldwin discovered the photographer's computer. He played Chopin through iTunes. "A man turns 50 and he has a funeral for the skills that he never had," he said. Baldwin just had that birthday in April. "He says goodbye. I'm never gonna be a cop, never gonna be a professional baseball player, never going to play the piano, a ballet dancer, the leading rusher in the NFL. All those things gone. But! There's other things to do. The world is run by men in their 50s. So I'm trying to decide what to do when I quit this business."
Politics, perhaps? "What would I run for?" he asked. He has a smart squint when he asks questions. Comptroller? He barked his loud laugh. "Yeah, I do have to find another career," he said. "I don't want to do this. . . . I don't."
IT'S NOT that he's unhappy with "30 Rock" necessarily. Maybe he's just feeling that 50-year-old's itch to start something new. Then again, as he fusses over the computer, it could just be the uttering of a capricious thought.
He found the browser and went to ArkivMusic.com. "I love this. Isn't this great? Couldn't you just sit and do this all day? I'm looking for 'Ultimate Chopin.' What could be more worthy than that? Ah! The complete collection of Rachmaninoff. Complete recordings!" His face darkened and a little swearing ensued. "This is Dutoit with the Montreal! What is the problem? You lying . . . ! Ultimate collection. Well, we don't see Ashkenazy." This went on for a while then a phone rang. "Can't you see I'm listening to Chopin?" he said, in a put-on accent. "I can't be bothered with this. . . ."
He doesn't watch much TV. Also, he cannot sing. "The people who can sing are the ones that move me the most. I would give anything if I could sing. I'd never do anything but that again. I'd do a show on Broadway every year and no more ditzy sitcoms.
"It's just that what you do, it doesn't have as important a place in the lives of people now," he said. "The world is in a really tough spot. And you can make people laugh and do a TV show and that's important to them but . . ." he breaks off mid-thought to marvel over Chopin's Nocturne No. 1 in B-Flat Minor. And then he's back. "How long does that last, that effect? How long do you take their mind off other things? And the second question becomes: Should you be taking their mind off other things?
"Television, the ratings are the king," he said. So why aren't more people watching "30 Rock" to take their mind off things? "I'd like the show to build this year," he said. "The show isn't like what's popular now."
He explained his fondness for the writers. "I know this sounds like I'm being handy, but it's handy and true at the same time, which works quite well. The networks have to do it clean. I love 'The Sopranos'; I love everything on the cable stations where it's much more hard-edged, salty, more adult. The networks, we don't have that luxury. You can't go blue. You've got to keep it clean. That's harder to do. The fact that we have a smart show with nothing that caustic or harsh is a miracle. To talk about what I want to do to Condoleezza Rice sexually without saying something really, really anatomical -- that takes a lot of doing."
He talked a little about his early TV venture on "Knots Landing" and how networks need to give shows more time to build their audience. Then he suddenly stood up and said, "Lemme go find out something, hold on" and, inexplicably, went to lunch.
The room was suddenly empty of a consuming, marvelous, anxious energy. The apartment had been like a bay full of tall chop, his wake pushing everyone around unexpectedly and then after, without him, it was boring and flat, but something of a relief too.
Begin text of infobox
THE OTHER CONTENDERS
Lee Pace, "Pushing Daisies," ABC The show and Pace are delightfully charming, but the academy probably will let the nomination be enough for now.
Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men," CBS He's had an interesting year personally. But is that good news for a win or bad?
Tony Shalhoub, "Monk," USA He's won three of his last five nominations. Even he would have to agree it's time to spread the love.
Steve Carell, "The Office," NBC He plays the boss from hell so well. Is that what's stopping him from taking home the gold?