ORLANDO, Fla.: He’s got one of the most famous voices in showbiz — a low, whispered growl that can be played for menace, or laughs. But as anybody who has caught Alec Baldwin on “30 Rock,” “Saturday Night Live” or even “Inside the Actor’s Studio” can attest, he’s more than happy to hide that. A gifted mimic, he’s taken down everybody from Richard Nixon to his “30 Rock” co-star Tracy Morgan with his killer impressions.
But he’s rarely asked to be “just a voice” in a movie or TV show. And when he was asked — for the new DreamWorks animated holiday comedy “Rise of the Guardians,” opening Wednesday — he knew he wasn’t going to play it straight.
“Jeffrey Katzenberg called and said he wanted me to play this — how can I put this in politically correct terms? —a complicated, competitive Santa Claus,” Baldwin recalls. His guardian character, called “North,” is macho. They had suggested a version of Santa that was someone from the Siberian wilderness.
“A lot of times, your initial take on what they want is the best idea. You can think these things to death. I’ve done plays and films where we’d have dialect coaches come in and they would teach you how to nail an accent, get it truly authentic. But sometimes, that makes the character hard for the audience to understand. So they ask you to homogenize it so people can understand it ... So I fell back on my stock ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’ Boris Badenov accent here. Saturday-morning-cartoon Russian — that’s what I went for. I think that’s still funny”
Baldwin, 54, knows funny. Ask Jerry Seinfeld. When the veteran comic was casting people to pick up in vintage cars for comic riff-offs in his new web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” he called on Baldwin straight away. Baldwin protests that “I’ve imitated a comic for a while. But that’s about it. Jerry, like (“30 Rock” creator and star) Tina Fey and most of the people on ‘30 Rock’ and all of the people on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ write their own material. The ‘comic’ label for me implies people who write funny things that they then perform. I don’t write. I’m lucky enough to perform funny lines that other people gave me.”
A two-time Emmy and three-time Golden Globe winner for his turn as a smooth, understated and cunning, yet politically and comically tone-deaf exec Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock,” Baldwin was singled out by the New York Times Magazine as one of “Eight Actors Who Turn Television into Art.” But those days are coming to a close. “30 Rock” will end its run after its current season, despite Baldwin’s efforts (he says he offered to cut his salary) to keep it on the air.
But the onetime narrator of TV’s “Thomas the Tank Engine” is happy to be doing a children’s animated film. “Rise of the Guardians,” he says, may be the best way for an actor working today to guarantee his immortality.
“Kids’ movies go in five-year generations. You’ve got the ‘Little Mermaid’ generation, the ‘Pocahontas’ generation, kids who came up on ‘Shrek’ and then kids who were the first to see ‘Madagascar.’ A couple of years go by and there’s a whole new crop of kids comes along, and they’re going to see these movies not in theaters, but at home on DVD.
“So that’s what you remember when Jeffrey Katzenberg and Dreamworks calls. Every good movie like this has a chance to access generation after generation of kids. There’s nothing else in film that can make that claim.”