18 surprising things Alec Baldwin told us at Chicago Ideas’ Curiosity Series

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Jessica Malkin with Alec Baldwin/Photo courtesy of Chicago Ideas

This past Tuesday night, Alec Baldwin revealed who he is "beyond the screen" to a rapt, sold-out audience at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre. Chicago Ideas’ CEO Jessica Malkin hosted the evening as part of the Curiosity Series, which offers rare opportunities to interact with innovators from every walk of life.

During the hour-long talk which included questions from the host and audience, the larger-than-life actor demonstrated surprising ways he’s very much like us. He’s stunned by the fleeting passage of time. He noted, “I’ll be sixty next year.” Paused. Shook his head. “How did that happen?”

He carries a constant concern about balancing work and family. He does his best to prioritize family time, but also struggles with parenting decisions which are a frequent source of self-doubt. Contrary to popular opinion, he is not in his mind a figure of towering self-confidence. He has a loud inner critic.

There are also the ways he is not an everyday person. He has two Emmys, three Golden Globes, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards for his work as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. Credits also include multiple major film and Broadway roles, and hosting television's Match Game, radio's Here’s the Thing and the Academy Awards, which he co-hosted with Steve Martin in 2010.

Plus there’s Trump! Alec Baldwin is, of course, Saturday Night Live’s eerily, chillingly, hilariously accurate President Trump. On Tuesday night he demonstrated his gift of mimicry with spot-on impressions of the mercurial president, of Lorne Michaels, Tony Bennett and even of his ex-wife Kim Basinger.

But most of all, Alec Baldwin was in town as himself. He has a new memoir, Nevertheless. Every ticketholder went home with a copy. He discussed some of the book’s content Tuesday night, but also shared details, thoughts and opinions that are not in the book and unlikely to be recorded anywhere else. To the crowd’s delight, he revealed himself as a genuinely warm, charming and thoughtful man who appreciates his fans and the city of Chicago.

Here are the eighteen most unexpected things heard from Alec Baldwin on Tuesday night.

First impressions.

As a kid he loved mimicking movie gangsters, especially if he could sound gangster talking to his mom.

Alec’s mom: “Eat those potatoes.”

Alec: “I ain't eatin' no stinkin' potatoes, see!”

Later in the ‘70s, he remembers lecturing his brothers on their TV habits, “I can’t watch no Fantasy Island, seeee.”

He is a passionate reader and advises all kids to be the same.

His advice to all college kids and especially theater majors is to keep horizons broad. Study literature. Read everything you can. What you’re going to miss most when you’re out of school is time to read! With three little kids at home, Alec’s only time to read is 10:00 p.m. to midnight. It was clear he loves being a dad, but also that he misses the freedom to read at any time.

Advice to theater students.

Read! Take all possible work, including student films. If you can’t go to college, get out there and work as much as you can. For all actors, go as long as you can without caring about fame or money. At least through your twenties. When you come out of that tunnel, you’ll be great at your craft. No job is too small. Always work. Don’t worry whether a project will make you look good or famous. Do it all. Also know that part of the work is having doors slammed in your face.

Tina Fey changed his mind about doing television. Shout out to Chicago!

Before 30 Rock, he was hesitant about television. With movies, you get the entire script ahead of time and can immediately assess quality. With a TV series, you’re taking an ongoing chance on the writing. For much of his career, he was skeptical about committing to any TV series because it requires this leap of faith. But Tina Fey’s vision for 30 Rock, her writing, and her talent changed his mind.

In further tribute to the Chicago comedian, he added that his graduations from high school and college never moved him like he thought they should. They didn’t feel like the end of something important in which he’d been fully invested. But when 30 Rock ended, he finally experienced those feelings. “That was my graduation. I’d graduated from the University of Tina.” Here he gave a shout-out to the greatness of Second City and Chicago comedy.

Later, he said that some of the best theater schools are in Chicago and specifically mentioned DePaul’s Goodman School of Drama.

Is there a story Alec wishes he’d included in his book, but didn’t? Yes, there is!

During his marriage to Kim Basinger, the family traveled to Toronto where she was making a movie. They were there for weeks staying at the Four Seasons Hotel. His daughter Ireland entertained herself by decorating the perimeter of their suite’s marble foyer with sheets and sheets of stickers. Removable stickers, he emphasized.  Picture chickens, owls, ducks, fairies, and rainbows.

Concerned about preserving memories of Ireland’s childhood in their peripatetic circumstances, Kim instructed Alec to find out how much it would cost to cut out the foyer’s marble floor and ship it home to Los Angeles.

Alec went to the hotel manager who was Swiss and also appalled at this apparent case of a man being pushed around by his wife. Alec asked the question and the manager looked at him like (imagine a Swiss accent), “You poor man. Idiotic question.” Alec said, “Really, we need a price.” The manager suggested $75,000, thinking he was doing Alec a favor by deterring the whole scheme. But Alec said, “Do it.” The manager came back later, again perhaps trying to do Alec a deal-killing favor, with, “I spoke with my engineer. It will be $175,000.” Alec brought that estimate back to Kim who conceded, “I guess we can’t do that then.”

This story was sprinkled with unexpectedly on-point impressions of his beautiful southern belle ex.

When Lorne Michaels’ first suggested he play Trump on Saturday Night Live, Alec Baldwin said …

At the time, Alec was in negotiations for a movie part. But Lorne Michaels said, “I want you to come on the show to play Trump.” Alec’s reaction: “Who the hell wants to be Trump? It’s such a dead end. It’s so boring. He’s such a douche bag!” Then the movie deal fell apart and he went back to Lorne Michaels, “I’m Trump!”

Has playing Trump changed his perspective on the president?

“No, it has not!”

He is a family man.

He bends his work to fit his family-not the other way around. He once told a movie producer that he would take a job, but he had to be finished by August 1 because his wife Hilaria was about to give birth. The producer insisted he could not be done before August 10.  Alec turned down the job.

He wasn’t naming names, but he has observed that actors and writers who “selfishly indulge in their art” to the exclusion of their family often achieve ultimate success in their field, but end up with damaged marriages and children.

He gets a kick out of New Yorkers who usually give him space when he’s out with his family, but mouth things at him from a distance like, “Thank you!” and “I love you.”

When asked what’s next he said anything he does must allow him to be with his family. He does not want to be the guy who’s just sending home a check.

He’s currently thinking of ideas for projects, like a weirdly cast, quieter version of the late night talk shows, or a one-man show based on American history since World War II. Anything he considers must allow him to be home with his children.

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Alec Baldwin on Tuesday night/Photo courtesy of Chicago Ideas

If he weren’t an actor, what would he want to be?

A conductor (of music).

If he could have anyone’s voice, whose would he want?

Frank Sinatra’s.

Favorite actor?

Gary Oldman.

Favorite things about Chicago?

The Ambassador East Hotel (now The Public) and Rosebud’s Restaurant. When he was married to Kim Basinger, she would insist he get Rosebud’s tiramisu when he was working in Chicago and bring it home on the plane. “If you come home without that tiramisu ...!”

Favorite character he’s ever played?

His favorite was Jack on 30 Rock because of the people he worked with on the show.

What is he afraid of?

“I was afraid of being a husband and father again … I fear my choices as a parent.” He questions whether he is making the right decisions about everything from how much his daughter should be on her iPad to whether he should be raising his kids in New York City.

Is writing or directing in his future?

He may write another book. No interest in directing! He did it once and didn’t enjoy it. He doesn’t believe he has the director’s knack for endlessly surveying every detail. He recalled a conversation with Mike Nichols who, while in conversation on-set, would simultaneously assess everything going on around him. A trick he learned in theater school is if you want to appreciate a director’s work, watch films (he recommends The Godfather) with the sound off. The director’s touch is apparent from the actors’ facial expressions, the lighting, and every other choice of detail.

Is there a role he has always wanted to play, but hasn’t yet had the chance?

He would love to originate a character on Broadway. He has been cast in revivals, but would like the opportunity to create a role in a new play.

Career advice for Sean Spicer:

“Try to keep in mind when the Jewish holidays are. If you’re going to fuck up your history lesson, try to remember when the Jewish holidays are, okay, Sean?!”

Trump’s essence.

“Trump is a man constantly searching for a stronger, better word and never finding it.”

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You can watch Alec Baldwin's entire talk here.

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