Billy Baldwin: William Tells
In the nineties, there were so many Baldwins it was hard to keep them straight. Since then, the oldest one has continued to work primarily in television, the youngest became a minister and a fixture on reality TV, and the middle two brothers kind of disappeared. Billy Baldwin had a pretty good run through the first half of the decade. In the August 1995 issue of Movieline, Dennis Hensley asked him about filming sex scenes with a super model, proposing to one third of Wilson Phillips and knocking his mother’s teeth out.
“You can’t give away what happens in this love scene because it’s really amazing.” On a boiling hot airstrip outside Miami, William Baldwin is explaining, in sweat-soaked detail, a sex scene his homicide detective character has with supermodel and film newcomer Cindy Crawford in producer Joel Silver’s upcoming chase movie Fair Game. “The love scene takes place,” Baldwin continues, “on the hood of an automobile in the autoloader car of a freight train.” Usually actors turn coy when they talk about fornicating on film, but Baldwin–whose previous movies include Sliver, Three of Hearts, Backdraft, Flatliners and Internal Affairs, and whom my hairdresser lovingly refers to as “Sex on a stick”–takes to the task eagerly. His hangdog features contort with erotic relish as he turns phrases like, “It melts into this kind of devouring kiss,” “When I put the handcuffs on her,” and “She undid my pants and pulled,” After he’s finished this engaging performance, we’re both a bit breathless, and Baldwin offers me a Marlboro Light.
DENNIS HENSLEY: What was it like to shoot a sex scene that hot?
BILLY BALDWIN: Not bad, actually. A lot of times when you’re doing a love scene you get caught up in technical shit, like you’re blocking her light and all that stuff. What was really nice about this sex scene with Cindy was they let us take our time with foreplay–they let us do whatever we wanted. It’s not the stuff in everyday movies that even I’ve done–you know, like the Sliver stuff which was like, slam her against the pole, and was about fucking. This is more, you know, when you’re on your knees in front of a woman and you pull her jeans down and expose her hip bone and you start kissing her there or you press your face into her stomach. I think that is so fucking sexy.
Q: Do you get naked?
A: Yeah, but if you’re on a train you wouldn’t totally undress.
Q: You wouldn’t want to leave your pants at the last junction.
A: Cindy undoes my pants and they’re kind of pulled down and then she pulls my shirt off.
Q: What about Cindy, is she nude?
A: She is nude in this scene, yeah.
Q: And how are you getting along with Fair Game’s notorious producer, Joel Silver?
A: Believe it or not, I fuckin’ adore the guy. He’s got a rep for being a monster and he’s so fuckin’ great. I have seen the sides of him that people talk about, and we do get in each other’s faces every once in a while, but he’s fighting to make the best picture and I’m fighting to make the best picture and sometimes you’re not always in sync. He’s from Jersey, he’s got that New York edge. Joel’s completely out of his mind, but listen, I mean that in the best possible way.
Q: Did you know Cindy before filming began? You worked as a model before movies came along, right?
A: I could count my modeling jobs on my hands and toes. When I graduated from college, I moved to New York specifically to study acting and I needed to pay the bills and it’s better to make a couple thousand dollars in one day [by modeling] than to wait tables six days a week. I did a catalog for some department store with Cindy, so I knew her before.
Q: Have you seen that male model that looks like you?
A: An article was sent to me about how advertisers are hiring models who look like actors and there was some guy that kind of looked like me. He had a rubbery face and a goofy, crooked smile, which is more like my brother Stephen than me.
Q: When I interviewed Stephen, I almost had him convinced to go into the infomercial business with me, selling the proven Baldwin DNA in the form of sperm samples.
A:You’d have to, like, cross-pollinate the chromosomes in the genes because we’d want to get the best of all the brothers and weed out the bad parts, man–’cause there’s plenty of fuckin’ mutations in those genes.
Q: What would we have to weed out of yours?
A: My conscience.
Q: Wouldn’t we want the offspring to have a conscience?
A: Not until they’re about 25. I was crippled with a conscience.
Q: More so than your brothers?
A: Yeah. No, my brother Xander [Alec] has a conscience. It just depends on where everybody draws the line. With me, I just would prefer to not really give a fuck about things a little more. I’ve gotten a lot better about [not] caring what people think of me. I don’t have time for that.
Q: What are the good parts of your personality that we’d have to include in our Wonder Sperm?
A: Probably my instincts. They’re pretty good.
Q: What are your favorite films that your brothers have made?
A: I like Daniel’s TV series “Homicide” a lot. Stephen has had quite a few films I really liked: Crossing the Bridge, Seconds, Last Exit to Brooklyn. With Alec, I like the character stuff where he gets a chance to really explore his talents, like in Married to the Mob, Great Balls of Fire!, Miami Blues. I loved Glengarry Glen Ross.
Q: Have you ever based a character on one of your brothers? Like your character in Flatliners, who video-tapes himself having sex–was that anyone we know?
A: That one, no. Sometimes when the writing isn’t enough and you have to substitute, I might think about a circumstance as it relates to one of my brothers. For example, if the screenplay says you have to cry, and if the circumstances in the scene don’t move you enough, then I’ll think about, like, my father passing away.
Q: How old were you when he died?
Q: Was it sudden?
A: My father was a teacher for 32 years who had never had a sick day and the first time he went to a doctor, they told him he was going to die. He was 55 and he kind of died suddenly.
Q: Did you have him for a teacher?
A: No. My father was the coach across town at the other high school. He’d come home and tell me that he had dressed up the tackling dummies–for his defensive backs to hit– in my jersey. He’d say, “You should know that when the number five is embedded in the back of your head, his name was Kevin LaFlare, the hardest hitting motherfucker that ever played football at Massapequa High, because LaFlare has been given one assignment: to render you unconscious.” He was just trying to psyche me out.
Q: Did the Baldwin boys ever render each other unconscious?
A: Are you kidding? By the time I was 12, my brother Xander gave me a fractured skull and my brother Daniel gave me four concussions. I got, like, another 10, but I just stopped going to the doctor after I’d get concussions. There was one brother that always beat me up, my older brother Daniel. He made me tough. I got battle scars all over my body from all the roughhousing. It was a rowdy, rambunctious, Irish-Catholic New York suburban upbringing.
Q: When was the last time you got into it with Daniel?
A: Five years ago. The last time I got into a fight with him, we knocked my mother’s teeth out. That stopped it right away.
Q: Well, that would. Did she have to go to the hospital?
Q: How many teeth?
A: Two or three.
Q: Like onto the floor?
A: Flying out.
Q: If the Baldwins were to go on “Family Feud,” what categories would you excel at?
A: I would think politics, history, arts and entertainment, and sports,
Q: What categories would you suck at?
A: Mathematics. I suck at anything I don’t like or find interesting.
Q: Your driver, Joe, told me he’s impressed with the way you keep in touch with your old friends.
A: It’s interesting he made that observation. When you’re in this business, whether or not it goes well, it can be equally frightening and volatile. My best friend functions in ways in my life that I think he isn’t aware of. His name is Chris Bevilacqua and when I spend time with Bevy, which is all the time; it reminds me of a time when things were OK, when it wasn’t as overwhelming–like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, you know? No responsibility whatsoever.
Q: Speaking of that time in your life, did you get a facts-of-life talk from your parents?
A: No, I learned on my own. It was just, you know, on-the-job training.
Q: [I present Baldwin with a photo of myself and a friend book-ending the ladies of Wilson Phillips, back-stage after a 1990 concert in Tokyo.] I suppose I should probably tell you I had an affair with Chynna Phillips.
A: Chynna, look at her. She looks so great.
Q: What’s she up to?
A: She’s recording, trying to wrap up her solo album, then she’s doing a TV movie with Jason Alexander, and then she’s going to do a Wilson Phillips album.
Q: I’ve prepared a little “W.P.” lyric quiz for you.
A: Uh-oh, I don’t know if I can hang. It you refer to them as “W.P..” then you must be a big fan. Ask Chynna if she knows the dialogue to my movies!
Q: Question one: In the song “Hold On”…
A: You tell me what that song is about.
Q: It’s about, I don’t know, holding on?
A: The expression “one day at a time”–you know what that refers to?
Q: A bad sitcom with Bonnie Franklin?
A: No. Twelve Step. “Hold On” is a sobriety song.
Q: Whose sobriety inspired it?
A: Well, Chynna wrote it. It’s just something she’s seen and been around.
Q: The two of you are now engaged. Where did you pop the question?
A: In a suite at the Carlyle Hotel in New York. Pal, it was awesome. I had this running joke with Chynna where, whenever I would get a paycheck, she’d say, “Great, hon, why don’t you buy me a dress?” For months, she’d say, “When you gonna buy me that dress?” So jump-cut to our engagement night. She thought we were going to a Christmas party, and when we got off the elevator I’d arranged to have the door unlocked, because if I’d had a key it would have given it away. So I knock and nobody answers and she says, “Honey, it’s a party, just go in,” so I pushed the door open and in the archway into the suite there’s this huge Vera Wang wedding dress. And she looks at the dress and looks back at me like. ‘This is a weird party.” And then she just pushed the Vera Wang dress aside and saw that, inside the suite–on the chaise and the grand piano and the couch and the chairs and the drapes and all the molding around the room–there were wedding dresses from wail-to-wall. The whole suite was all different sizes and shapes of wedding dresses, just tons of them. There was like 60 bouquets of flowers, and the lights were off, with 200 candles burning. And there were vines of ivy on the bed and flowing onto the floor, with giant white orchids all over the bed. Really beautiful.
Q: Did she melt into a puddle, never to be heard from again?
A: She just started spinning around, looking at all the dresses and saying, “Oh my God, oh my God, I can’t believe it.” When she stopped, I was standing there with a little box in my hand. She just flipped out. It was great.
Q: Did you get down on one knee?
A: Sure did. Of course I did.
Q: What music was playing?
A: Some Van Morrison, Roxy Music, Seal, Al Green, stuff like that.
Q: Where did the dresses come from?
A: Vera Wang’s [bridal] store is on the ground floor of the Carlyle, so we were able to get racks and racks of dresses. We had a camera and we tried some on.
Q: Both of you?
A: Well, I put them on her. We did it together. Not to say that I wouldn’t look fabulous in them.
Q: Were you nervous?
A: I was having too much fun to be nervous. Quite a few people told me they literally got sick when they proposed. It was one of those moments for me, though, where everything else kind of stopped.
Q: Did she ever stop spinning and trying on gowns and give you an answer?
A: Well, I had ordered caviar and, when it came, there was a box on the tray that said “Billy” on it, I thought it was a gift from the hotel and all of a sudden Chynna said, “Oh my God, that’s right!” Turned out. she’d said to my assistant, months earlier. “I know we’re going to get engaged soon and I know it’s going to be a surprise so I want there to be a gift for Billy.” So she went out and bought this watch months ago and gave it to my assistant. [Baldwin takes off his watch and hands it over.] Read the back.
A: Isn’t that great?
Q: My head’s going to explode. This is the most romantic story I’ve ever heard. Where did you meet Chynna?
A: I met her in the airport lounge at the L.A. airport before we boarded a plane.
Q: Who talked to whom?
A: I went up to her and Carnie and Wendy and said, “Hi, my name is Billy and I’m a fan of your music and congratulations on how well things are going.”
Q: “And here’s my phone number”?
A: No. I got on the plane and faked having to go to the bathroom a few times so I could walk by them and chat.
Q: And the rest is history.
A: We’re going to be together four years next week.
Q: Of course, Chynna and I were finished by the time you met.
A: You had her before me. I heard you broke her heart.
Q: There were three and she wanted me to pick. I love all my “W.P.” girls equally.
A: She probably caught you cheating on her with Carnie.
Q: Sort of. Carnie invited my friend and me up to her hotel room and we had soup, french fries, and diet Cokes from room service.
A: That sounds like Carnie, being in Japan and instead of ordering something indigenous like sushi, she orders fries from room service.
Q: Has Chynna written songs about you?
A: Yeah. It’s nice. It’s scary. I mean, it’s not like “Rosanna’s about Rosanna Arquette.
Q: There’s no song called “Billy”?
A: No. Well, actually, for my birthday once, she called up my friends and my family and got hundreds of photographs and had them transferred to video and she wrote songs to accompany it. So when I plugged in the tape, the first picture that came on was of my godparents holding me at my christening and I looked at her like, “I know that picture.” And the next picture that came on was of my father in college and when that picture came on, I was down for the count, crying hysterically until the end of the video–to the point where she thought she’d done something wrong and wanted to stop the tape. But it was just that so much effort went into it, and it meant so much to me, and, yes, there was a song she wrote for it called “Billy” that was really good.
Q: Let’s discuss Sliver. What’s the deal with all the different endings?
A: I think Bob Evans put some of the sex scenes back on the international version and it made for a better version of the film, because I get a lot of Europeans telling me they just flipped for it, though I never know for sure what movie they saw.
Q: Originally you were the killer. Didn’t it compromise your integrity to shoot a new ending where Tom Berenger was the killer, when your performance had been based on the knowledge that you were?
A: To be honest with you, yeah. When it all went down I was really upset and I called my people and said. “What do I do?” They said, “Look, you’re young, you’re early in your career, it’s just not in your best interest to …” You know…
Q: To balk?
A: The bottom line is. I had a contractual agreement to do a certain script and I didn’t have to do that if I didn’t want to. I have no sour grapes about it.
Q: Clear up the frontal nudity controversy for me. My understanding is that there never were really any such shots of you, that the male frontal nudes that were talked about in the press were really just an extra playing one of the neighbors glimpsed on the surveillance cameras.
A: Right. The press was talking to [director] Phillip Noyce and he said, “Put it this way. Billy’s a lot more nude than Sharon is,” which was true, I was more nude. But when he said, “Billy’s more nude than Sharon” and then was asked, “Oh yeah, any frontal nudity?” Phillip said, “Yes”–but it wasn’t me, it was for one of the video surveillance things. He was just causing trouble.
Q: Would you ever drop your Skivvies for a part?
A: If it was really necessary then I’d consider it. I mean, I’ve seen actors do it in plays.
Q: I’d think that would be better because once you’re off-stage, it’s over. You won’t have people freeze-framing you on laser disc into the millennium.
A: But it’s harder to walk out into a theater filled with 1200 people.
Q: Which of your films are you the most proud of?
A: I prefer the work that I’ve made a significant contribution to. I’d say I like Three of Hearts, Internal Affairs and Backdraft better than the others.
Q: In the Backdraft scene where you come out of the fire feeling nauseous, what did you use for vomit?
A: Cold Campbell’s mushroom soup, and I had to hold it there. “Hold on. Billy, we’ve got a little technical problem.” It’s like I had a fuckin’ bunch of oysters in my mouth.
Q: Did you do any research for your role as a male prostitute in Three of Hearts?
A: Yeah. I talked to this former Mr. America bodybuilder who started his own escort service and he introduced me to some of the guys who did it. I was curious to get into the head of these people. Some of them were NYU students working their way through college and they can go out on a Saturday night and make enough to pay their bills. Another thing I thought was interesting was what it must be like for one of those guys to be with an older woman, how strange and difficult it must be on the one hand, but on the other, how empowering it would be, I mean, just imagine a 55-year-old woman whose husband is cheating on her, or he’s like fat and doesn’t fuck her anymore, or he’s dead. And here this woman finds, between her legs, this young fuckin’ gorgeous guy with this great body who’s going to, you know, fuck her to within an inch of her life.
Q: If you could be a woman for one day, what would you want to experience?
A: Please, what do you think?
Q: Well, you could go for something enlightening like child-birth, or go for the cheap thrill and get laid.
A: That’s not a cheap thrill, I don’t mean to sound so obvious–I mean that in a very curious way. I guess it’s the curiosity of knowing what it feels like for you, and you wonder. Does it feel totally different for her? Because it’s pretty weird to try and describe what the feeling of an orgasm is; I’ve never heard a guy and a girl describe it similarly. But it’d be tough for me to be a woman because I think if I were, I’d be one of those women who was one of the boys, very sexually active and promiscuous.
Q: And if you could be Chynna Phillips for one day, what would you want to experience?
A: If I could be Chynna, [laughter] I’d fuck Billy Baldwin.
Dennis Hensley interviewed Kelly Lynch for the Jan./Feb. Movieline.