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Baldwin with Tina Fey on 30 Rock
Ali Goldstein/NBC
But with a dwindling force in the big commercial tent-pole studio films comes independent-film opportunity, which begets critical acclaim, which begets new offers and ultimately celebrity — which Baldwin hasn’t totally embraced. After all, Baldwin doesn’t surround himself with many of the trappings typical of the celebrity machine: He’s not on Facebook or Twitter, and he doesn’t roll with any sort of entourage. He doesn’t even watch himself on TV (although he admits that whenever he’s on a plane, he’ll watch scenes of 30 Rock that include his co-stars). No, when it comes to the greater thing that is celebrity, the man who has hosted Saturday Night Live 15 times says, “I never think about that. I never wake up and do the whole ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ thing; I don’t go there.”

But if we are going to “go there,” it’s fitting to talk about another of the things people often associate with Baldwin, something emblematic of his reluctant clash with modern-day fame — the now infamous message he left for his daughter, Ireland, which was posted on TMZ.com in April 2007. For anyone who somehow missed it, in the recording (which was not released by Baldwin), he goes on a tirade in which he calls his then 11-year-old daughter (whose mother is Baldwin’s ex-wife, Kim Basinger) a “rude, thoughtless little pig.”

After the message was made public, Baldwin appeared in a spate of interviews where he talked about quitting 30 Rock over the incident, and he told Playboy that he even considered suicide. But Baldwin has moved past — if not compartmentalized — that period in his life. “It was a really bad decision. How I feel, which is really complicated because I’ve moved beyond all of it, I do remember,” Baldwin says. In a broader sense, it proved to Baldwin that these days, nothing is forgotten. “Nothing gets forgotten because of the Internet. It lives in this echo chamber.”

All of this is not to say that Baldwin isn’t totally appreciative of where he is today, and you need to look no further than his description of a typical day in the life of Alec Baldwin, brought to you by the gig that is 30 Rock.

“I go shoot the show at Silvercup Studios, right over the 59th Street Bridge. I play a suit-and-tie guy. We shoot my scenes. We’re done shooting at 7:30 or 8:00 every night. I wipe my makeup off, I keep my wardrobe on, I walk into a restaurant and have dinner with my friends, and I have a life,” Baldwin says. “For the last five years, that’s been — other than the quality of the show, other than the people I love, other than the people I met — the lifestyle that’s this great gift.”

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Baldwin talks with Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, hosting the New Year’s Eve Concert (2009) at Avery Fisher Hall, in New York.
Chris Lee
Brian Williams, the NBC Nightly News anchor, has worked with Baldwin a number of times, most recently during Williams’ cameos on 30 Rock. The impression he gets of the acting legend — even one who’s thinking of turning in his notice — is that of a very grateful employee. “The feeling you get if you spend any time at all with him is how thankful he is. He’s working, and he loves to work,” Williams says. “He knows it’s a great role. He knows he’s a perfect fit. His respect for Tina (Fey) — his appreciation for her talent, her importance in the industry and what she’s done for him — is palpable.”

Baldwin doesn’t argue with any of that, but he drives the point home: that acting is something he did not want to do. “There was something else I wanted to do, and this kind of fell through a hole, and maybe you know people like this, but celebrities work, make a good living, and part of it was helping other people. You become the force that is taking care of a lot of business for a lot of other people. Wife, family. For me, I felt like, if I quit doing this and decided to do something else, a lot of other people would be in trouble.”

But when the show ends, Baldwin, who will be 54, recognizes he won’t have the same equity to burn as a person a few decades younger. “What am I going to do? I don’t know. When you’re older, you really want to make things count. I want to do things that count. Maybe not even for the world, but for me.”