Alec Baldwin explains how he went into acting to make money—and succeeded

Alec Baldwin as Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross
Image source: New Line Cinema

Speaking to Anna Sale for an episode of the WNYC podcast "Death, Sex & Money," Alec Baldwin is frank about the fact that he didn't get into acting out of love. He got into the field to succeed and to him, as a young man, success meant something simple: money.

Baldwin had no interest in being a starving artist. From the beginning, he tells Sale, he thought, "I just want to succeed at whatever I do." That meant he had to see a return on his acting career pretty quickly and, as it happens, he did.

AB: ... Like if I went into acting for like a year or two, and I was still waiting tables, I probably wouldn't have done it. I wasn't gonna walk around for like a decade, you know, with a copy of 'Balm in Gilead' wedged in my pocket and like, you know, hanging out dressed in all black clothes at McSorley's all night long.

AS: You weren't gonna suffer for the art.

AB: I wasn't doing that.

As early as college, a professor told him, "It's interesting that you're not talking about any dreams you have. You're just talking about how you're going to make it."

Gradually, though, his passion for his chosen field deepened, thanks in part to the guidance of a mentor. From him, Baldwin says, he learned to approach acting as a business of "one for me and one for you," meaning that you "embrace the commercial, embrace those opportunities, but then when you can, you run off and do these other things for your soul."

In this 2011 image released by NBC, Alec Baldwin portrays Jack Donaghy, left, and Tina Fey portrays Liz Lemon in the NBC comedy series, "30 Rock." (AP Photo/NBC, Ali Goldstein)
Ali Goldstein

The commercial opportunities kept coming, but his reaction to what he had thought would feel like success was complicated. For one, he could afford pricey drugs, which he had previously avoided out of thrift, but they nearly killed him.

He recalls that when he was initially presented with cocaine, his reaction was to wonder, "How much does this stuff cost?" and then to recoil: "Oh God, no, I'm not doing that."

Once drugs were no longer, in his words, "cost prohibitive," he overdosed, and he finally had to get help to give them up.

Throughout his career, which spans mainstream and independent film, network TV and commercials, and playing a version of himself as the host of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," Baldwin recounts, he has struggled with balancing projects that feed his soul and those that feed his bank account. He has also struggled with feeling fulfilled.

Even as he accumulated awards and made a lot of money playing the deadpan exec Jack Donaghy on NBC's "30 Rock," he was "unhappy," he says: "I went home and I had a pint of ice cream every night and watched Turner Classic Movies. I was all by myself."

He is no longer by himself. Six years ago, he got married and had three kids in three years ("You know, '30 Rock' was over. I had a lot of time on my hands") and these days his definition of success has broadened. He wants to stay married. He aims to provide for and help raise his children. And he seems to feel a bit stunned but also satisfied by how his life has turned out.

"I'm lucky," he says. "I got very lucky."

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