Last year, Alec Baldwin starred in “The Good Shepherd,” part of which was set at a fictionalized Yale of the 1940s. Yesterday, Baldwin got to see the real thing when he made an appearance on campus.
Baldwin, who recently won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, spoke to about 250 students Thursday afternoon about the film industry and the priorities of contemporary movie stars, as well as the nature of comedy, YouTube and the American government. Nearly 100 students were turned away from the speech in accordance with fire safety laws, but those allowed to stick around said they particularly enjoyed Baldwin’s candor and his impressions of famous film stars.
For the first 50 minutes, Baldwin answered questions posed by Doug Lieblich ’08, the former president of the Yale Record, which sponsored the event.
Baldwin said he entered the movie industry in the early 1980s, a turning point that marked the “end of an era” in which the focus was on serious acting and “the theater was the real work.”
In the movie industry today, Baldwin said, the focus is more on movies and television, and stars’ priorities are in a different place.
“A high percentage of contemporary young actors believe it’s about being seen getting out of a car with Nicole Richie at just the right time, and magazines, and fitness,” he said.
Baldwin said stardom has always been equated with celebrities’ ability to distinguish themselves from the general population.
“[Today] who we pin the recognition of stardom on is about fitness and staying in shape,” he said. “Stars today are the thinnest, leanest, most surgically enhanced people.”
Among recent screen performances, Baldwin said he admired Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry” — “she should have received a double Oscar” — and Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain.”
When asked about his current television show, “30 Rock,” which was created by Tina Fey — whom he referred to as the “Einstein of comedy” — Baldwin said the key to comedy was “looking for the more real, what’s truthful and what’s funny.”
Baldwin’s speech was interlaced with impressions of prominent figures in the film industry, including Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
Colby Moore ’09 said he was most impressed by the “impromptu impressions,” as they showed Baldwin intimately knew the people he was impersonating.
When Lieblich asked Baldwin what he would do if he were president, the actor redirected the question to the audience. Randomly-selected audience members said they would create universal health care, create a consumption tax instead of the income tax, or improve public education.
Baldwin criticized the presidential campaign process, which he said focuses on candidates’ superficial qualities rather than meaningful issues.
“We pick our presidential candidates the way we pick out laundry detergents through TV spots,” Baldwin said. “We don’t find out who they are until halfway through their first term.”
Students said they generally enjoyed Baldwin’s speech, particularly his focus on the work of filmmaking.
“It was refreshing to have an actor come here who actually talked about acting in the movies,” Greta Fails ’08 said.
Moore said he gained a lot of respect for Baldwin.
“I thought he was a very well-read man,” he said. “I respect him more as an actor seeing what he has to say off camera. I never realized how much of a business it is that you don’t see on the screen.”
But students who were turned away from the event, which took place in LC 102, were upset.
Sam Bolen ’10 said he arrived several minutes before the 4:00 p.m. start time but was asked to leave since there were no seats available.
“It’s weird they would put a legitimate celebrity like him in such a small room,” he said. “Perhaps they didn’t realize what kind of turnout there would be.”
Emily Ferenbach ’09, who did get in, said she was happy to simply soak in the moment.
“Just getting to hang out in a room with Alec Baldwin for an hour was awesome,” she said.