NEW YORK -- Alec Baldwin's voice is the auditory equivalent of hot chocolate.
Soothing, delicious, a bit soporific.
Eventoday, when he's a little hoarse, his manner of speaking ismellifluous. Tell him that he's probably heard this before, and Baldwinshrugs, smiles.
"I never really think about it," he says.
His award-winning, career-resurrecting stint on 30 Rock and headline-worthy antics aside (Words with Friendsand American Airlines, anyone?), Baldwin is at least as known for hisphonetic proficiency as his on-screen work. He hosts public radio's Here's the Thing specials and New York Philharmonic This Week broadcasts. And he voices the most iconic of all the holiday notables, Santa Claus himself, in the animated film Rise of the Guardians, opening Wednesday.
"Alecknows his voice like a concert violinist knows his Stradivarius. He canget so much variation from his voice," says director Peter Ramsey. "Wewanted him to do it because our version of Santa is kind of a wild man.We wanted unpredictability and an impish sense of humor. Alec really hasthat. He can go into a squeaky voice. He's extremely playful. And yethe's an imposing guy when you meet him. I thought he was perfect forthis warrior with a heart of gold."
In every sense, the film represents a tipping point of sorts for Baldwin. His NBC show is in its final season. And he views Guardians as a chance to connect with a younger generation.
"Istarted doing the TV show in 2006 right after my 48th birthday. Now I'm54 years old. That's six years, a long time in my life," he says. "NowI'm doing a children's movie that's going to reach out to a whole newaudience. You realize that these movies, the children's audience, is inmany respects the audience. This movie is a good movie. I really likeit."
Hislife, too, is in a good place, following years of headline-makingturbulence. There was the ugly divorce from actress Kim Basinger. Theeven uglier custody battle over daughter Ireland, now 17, culminating inthe voicemail heard around the world. But 30 Rock was agame-changer for Baldwin, giving him stability, clout and renewedrelevance. This year, Baldwin married yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas,and in the spring, he returns Broadway inOrphans.
"I'm ina weird spot. I think in terms of what I want to do, I'm figuring itout. The television show, in terms of lifestyle, was a real harbor forme at a time when I needed something more familiar and simple. I'dgotten divorced. I was in this really tough custody battle. I neededsomething to be really smooth in my life," says Baldwin. "This was thesmoothest job I ever could have had, in terms of the way I wasaccommodated with my schedule. The TV show has been being tied up in theharbor. Now I'm going out in the open water. It's tricky. It'sthrilling but tricky."
His choice to do theater again was noaccident. "The play is always, I find, it's the reset button for me.When I'm coming out of something and I don't know who I am -- I've donethis TV show and when it ends, you've been rolling down a hill and youhave to hit the breaks. The play is the best way to go. It'stherapeutic," says Baldwin.
The last time we sat down with theactor, he was promoting what would turn out to be his Oscar-nominatedperformance in the 2003 gambling drama The Cooler. Baldwin was,back then, tightly-wound and tense. Today, he's relaxed, confident anddebonair. Unlike most actors, he doesn't have a publicist and manageshis schedule himself, painstakingly reviewing what's ahead for him thisFriday.
"He is really an incredibly intelligent guy with a verydry sense of humor. He's very precise. He wants to know the reasons whyyou do something but he ultimately delivers gladly. He wants tounderstand the context," says Guillermo del Toro, who produced Guardians.
Baldwincredits much of his newfound balance to his wife. Baldwin, prolific onTwitter, sends her sweet Tweets and checks his phone constantly duringthis interview. "I'm married and I'm happy again. Truly. I'm happy, Ilove my wife, I love being around her -- she's like the sunshine," hegushes.
He's also half his size, a sleek, polished version of theman formerly known as Alec Baldwin. When told that he looks good,Baldwin barks out a laugh. "I look less bad than I used to," he retorts.
Before, Baldwin would go through pints of ice cream every night after shooting 30 Rockwhile watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. His diet, he says, consisted of"sugar, sugar, sugar." Baldwin says he reconfigured his lifestyle after adoctor told him he was pre-diabetic.
"When they put it to me interms of being ill -- I drink soy milk now -- and they said to me thatyour problem is that you're pre-diabetic and you're never going to loseweight until you embrace that sugar is a toxin for you, everythingchanged overnight. That Tuesday, I think May 12 or 13, it was over," hesays. "I've eaten sugar in some fruit. I just try and eat berries.Candy, gum, mints, ice cream, cake, pie, that's all gone. I lost 35pounds."
Even Ramsey was knocked out by having a real-life Biggest Loseron his payroll. "Over the span of our work with him, which was threeyears, he met his wife. And he transformed. It seems like 20 yearsdropped away from him. He's so quick and sharp in person. It's like hehas a comedy writer living inside his pocket," says Ramsey.
Baldwinis disciplined about what he eats, but he also cheats, noshing ontortilla chips during this interview. Mostly, though, he's diligent.
"Youbecome really knocked out by how much you want to be around people wholive the way you want to live. My wife -- I'm very lucky they can't havemy wife because she's mine -- is a very wise beyond her years anddisciplined person. She's helped me," he says. "Food is for fuel. We tryto access food that is good and that we enjoy. A lot of people go homeand close the door and the person they're spending the evening with issomeone who's just as challenged as they are. They have a tough time."
He'shad that as well, at least when it comes to press coverage. Moststories tend to focus on Baldwin's at-times-outrageous antics, likegetting booted from American Airlines for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends.What's gotten somewhat lost in the mix is his good work. Those CapitalOne commercials? Baldwin gave all the proceeds to charity.
"I gotmillions of dollars from them. These guys gave me a lot of money. Ihave a very tough schedule. They were very accommodating. I gave amillion dollars twice to the Philharmonic and twice to NYU, and thensmaller amounts to other groups. It was a great feeling and I wish Icould continue. I think about what it would be like to be Bloomberg.What a great feeling to give money to people that makes a difference intheir lives. I wish I could do more," he says.
Work aside,Baldwin spends his time with his wife and seeing his daughter, who liveson the West Coast with Basinger. Could he ever fathom Ireland enteringthe family business? Sometimes, because she's expressed interest.
"Mydaughter is someone, who, both of her parents are in the business. Ifshe's out and about with her parents, it's a very vivid reaction you getfrom people. Her mother is as signature-looking as the Eiffel Tower.She's lived it. Right about now, she's hitting the place where sheunderstands, through both of her parents and her associates, that it's ajob," says Baldwin. "It's funny and unique and interesting. You're atyour friend's house and your dad comes on TV. It's work. It's hard toget there without some degree of effort. It's impossible to stay therewithout some degree of effort. To stay and have some longevity fordecades is a tough thing to do."