Alec Baldwin and wife Hilaria Baldwin attend the HBO premiere of "Seduced… (Greg Allen / Invision / Associated…)
Alec Baldwin, celebrated actor, self-congratulatory philanthropist and incurable hothead, is moving to Los Angeles. At least he's leaning heavily in that direction, according to a protracted rant he published in last week's issue of New York Magazine.
Baldwin covered a lot of territory, from family troubles to his doomed MSNBC talk show to the indignity of having to share a Broadway stage with Shia LaBeouf. Mostly, though, he circled around his disgust for the media and, by extension, his disgust for New York City.
"New York was my town," wrote Baldwin, who has lived in the city since 1979.
But no more. Back in the day, restaurant owners politely asked to have a photo taken with a star so they could hang it on the wall. Today, photographers bait celebrities in the hope that they'll make a mistake. If they do, Baldwin wrote, "it echoes in a digital canyon forever."
Of course, the echoes are louder when the mistakes include hurling obscenities at said photographers, particularly obscenities of a homophobic nature, the kind increasingly viewed as unacceptable. Baldwin, despite championing gay causes and showing few signs of active homophobia, has been caught trafficking in such verbal tirades as far back as 1992, when he insulted a horse-drawn carriage driver (and possibly also the horse?). Since then he's leveled similar outbursts at journalists and even a Starbucks barista.
Which makes it rather perplexing that he'd want to leave New York, where acting out on the street is practically an art, for Los Angeles, where pedestrians won't even dare cross the street on a "Don't Walk" sign. Still, Baldwin thinks his family, which includes a new baby, is better off here.
"Everything I hated about L.A. I'm beginning to crave," he wrote. "L.A. is a place where you can live behind a gate, you get in your car, your interaction with the public is minimal."
Like most stereotypes, that one does contain some truth. But gates and tinted windows aside, I've always thought L.A.'s reputation for being a place where you can hide from the world was way overblown. We may not be brushing up against all of humanity on crowded street corners or in subway cars, but we still run into neighbors at the supermarket and walk our dogs in the park and sit around in outdoor cafes. Most Angelenos are perfectly capable of striking up conversations with strangers. We just don't make chattiness the city's calling card.
Nor do we pretend there aren't walls between people here. New Yorkers like to think their subway system is a metaphor for the city as a whole. They say things like "people of all classes and backgrounds are always bumping up against one another." That is a true statement — about the subway. Above ground, at watering holes and social gatherings, the contents of the melting pot start to separate and congeal.
But even those walls only go so far in protecting the famous. You'd think Baldwin would already know it, but L.A. has mad skills in celebrity harassment. I once interviewed a starlet whose fame was at such an apogee that a dozen or more paparazzi essentially lived in their SUVs across the street from her house. Wherever she went, they went. Whatever clothes she put on in the morning were being appraised on gossip websites by noon.
She'd driven herself to our interview but got so lost on the way that she finally had to pull over and ask her paparazzi entourage for directions. She wound up following them to her destination. After the interview, I watched as the SUVs lurched into motion, brakes screeching and camera shutters clicking, the second she pulled into the street.
I've thought about that scene many times since. There was such a lonely feeling about it. If the starlet was cursing at those photographers from inside her car, it was a little like those dreams where you try to scream but no sound comes out. At least on the streets of New York, the paparazzi hear their subjects cursing at them. At least the celebrity knows she's not in a dream.
But, of course, that's Baldwin's whole problem: People can hear him. In that respect, maybe L.A. is the perfect choice. From the bubble of his car he'll be able to unleash all the offensive epithets he wants. It sounds like a nightmare.