Alec Baldwin talks a lot.
Sitting in a conference room on the lower level of the Crosby Hotel in his native New York, the 61-year-old actor responds to questions about his latest project, Framing John DeLorean, a hybrid documentary-narrative production about the controversial auto maker, with earnestness and a seeming disregard for time constraints, although he is due to pick up his kids from school for an afternoon together in less than an hour.
“In terms of the production of the film, I was nervous about the stitching together of the reenactment footage with the documentary footage,” he says when discussing the hybrid nature of the production, in which he plays DeLorean in reenactment scenes. “Especially when I talk to the camera, I thought let’s not waste our time with that. [I thought] it was off-putting, too cluttered.”
During one of those talking-directly-to-the-camera scenes towards the start of the film (which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month and will be released in theaters this June), Baldwin notes that, although initially unable to find DeLorean redeeming in any sense, getting into character shifted his perspective dramatically: "All the time I've looked at DeLorean before I thought: ‘Where is he manipulating and where are the peeks behind the curtain of who he really is?,’” he says in the documentary. “And then when you play the person, you say to yourself, well forget about me looking at DeLorean as a viewer on a TV show and saying what’s behind the curtain? You say no, no, no, he's not guilty of anything, he didn’t do anything. In fact, it’s the opposite, he’s a hero. And you have to play that: you have to play who he thinks he is and you present him as who he thinks he is to the world and you let the audience make up their minds.”
When prompted about his commentary in person, the actor takes his thoughts further: “Let’s set aside John’s cocaine charges,” he says. “Let’s say I was the right person to play El Chapo: I don’t want to play somebody who is just a bad guy. John was somebody who started out as a very unique figure but he was somebody who won in Detroit. John was like a producer with a hit movie. You’re given a lot more at-bats after that. I wouldn’t play him if I didn’t think that he had something going for him. John had the opportunity, the skill to be, at least, a competent, if not overwhelmingly successful, industrialist if it weren’t for this hubris of his. He doesn’t want to collaborate with anybody.”
Does it follow, then, that by playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live for the past two-and-a-half years, a role that has earned him an Emmy award, Baldwin has accepted the President’s flaws and has come to understand him more deeply? Does he think Trump has “something going for him” as well?
The question earns a moment of silence before a direct and candid response: “There is no comparison in my mind. None. Not even one molecule,” he says firmly. “DeLorean is a human being who made horrible choices. Now, Trump is what a therapist once described to me as the ‘objective negative value.’ That means [he’s] like lightning, a volcano: it has no point of view on its own, it just destroys things in its path objectively, it doesn’t distinguish this or that. Trump is like a hurricane or a tsunami: he only destroys and ruins whatever is in front of him reflexively.” He ends with: “Trump is not a human being, he’s a tidal wave.”
DeLorean, on the other hand, reminds the actor of another president: “John is specifically like Nixon,” he says. “In assigning other people to do things: here is what I want, you go figure it out.” Throughout our time together, he also compares the auto magnate to actor Clark Gable (“A very striking, handsome guy who is very staid and very calm and very, very buttoned up. Not a lot of silliness and playfulness there”) and to his very own creation, now etched in public memory as “the Back to the Futurecar:” “the car is emblematic of John,” he says. “It looks great on the outside but there’s a part missing on the inside.”
The issues mentioned by Baldwin and explored in the documentary had far-ranging repercussions: although acquitted in 1984, the mastermind of the Pontiac GTO sports car was put on trial for financing a $24 million cocaine ring as a means to save the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC), which he opened after leaving General Motors. “John is a legendary, masterful automotive designer and, when he gets into this company, he decides he’s the boss, he’s in charge, [he’s] going to do everything, marketing, finance,” notes the actor. “[He] starts to come apart when he doesn’t admit what he doesn’t know. [He] needed other partners to take care of these other components of the company.”
Given the grandiosity of his history, the culture-defining car he created and his epic crash-and-burn timeline, it is no surprise that plenty of industry people have attempted to make a movie of DeLorean’s life. As explained in the documentary, none of them were seen through to the end. The subject himself called Baldwin in 2004, asking the actor to portray him on camera: “[He] called me and asked me to play him in a film,” remembers Baldwin. “In that way, you can tell he was reaching for the revisionist take on his legacy, which a lot of people want to do in the #MeToo times era. These guys [don’t want to be erased]: Moonves, Charlie Rose.”
What eventually convinced him to take on the partially flawed personality? “I wanted to play the character as a gifted man who made mistakes, which is more interesting to me,” he explains. “But, at the same time, there need to be some consequences for people who hurt other people. DeLorean destroyed the lives of Irish auto workers, the people who were members of Parliament and supported him and believed him. Everybody who believed in John was let down and hurt by [him] and there needs to be some consequences for that.”
All this talk about revisionist history, a general craving for the truth and a hunger for honesty and justice, especially in light of the #MeToo movement, coalesces into a discussion about the future of the film industry: “I think you’re going to start to see more and more movies about consequences,” he says. “We live in a world now [that is dealing with] global warming. There are consequences coming and anybody who sits there and says ‘let’s burn more coal,’ we need to hit those people. And movies are a great way to do [that].”