Not two weeks after superstorm Sandy, Alec Baldwin is sitting in a Manhattan hotel 36 stories up, looking at a panorama of the unscathed Upper West Side. He's here to talk "Rise of the Guardians" -- an animated sequel of sorts to William Joyce's children's books about a superheroic Santa Claus and Easter Bunny (among others) -- but his mind is on Massapequa.
"My brother Billy stays in some regular contact with people from back home," the actor says of where he and his five siblings were raised. "He's involved with a charity there, the Massapequa Community Fund. And he emailed me a clip to a TV piece where [the reporters] were down in the very neighborhood I grew up in, Nassau Shores, and they were all just aghast. That whole bay-front area got hammered. When I was a little kid, until about '69, we lived on Greatwater Avenue, and then we moved a little north of there, and that [Greatwater] area got buried."
It certainly makes the travails of Baldwin's latest film character -- a tattooed, scimitar-wielding Santa Claus who goes by the name North -- pale in comparison. Within that fictional world, North and his reluctant compatriots, the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the young and impetuous Jack Frost (Chris Pine) and the silent Sandman, must prevent the nightmare king Pitch Black (Jude Law) from destroying the wonder of childhood and replacing it with fear.
A much-less-benevolent Jack Frost did that in real life, bringing wind and snow on the storm's heels. Baldwin says he plans to donate to impromptu emergency centers like the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor, which has a generator and provided charging stations, Internet access, warmth, community and books to help the displaced pass time while awaiting assistance.
And as the region's strong box office over the past two weeks has shown, people still crave the respite of entertainment -- in which case "Guardians" comes at an opportune time for weary kids who will enjoy Santa's comic Russian accent.
"When I did theater in the '80s, you'd have dialect coaches trailing you throughout rehearsal, and dialect notes every day," Baldwin, 54, recalls. "So they'd teach you all this stuff, and then they'd ask you to back off from it -- because, they said, if you did an authentic Cockney accent, people wouldn't understand you. They said you have to homogenize it for an American audience. So [for Santa] I did my 'Rocky and Bullwinkle,' " he says, laughing. "It was pretty Boris Badenov. But that's fine with me. It was a choice." It's also more nuanced than Boris, whatever Baldwin self-deprecatingly claims.
Baldwin has suffered some highly publicized personal storms throughout the years. He has been rightly praised for both his comedic and dramatic talent -- from his Emmy Award-winning role as Jack Donaghy on "30 Rock" to his much-quoted scene in the movie of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" -- and for his good works. Yet his temper has sometimes tempered his career.
"I often think, if I had it to do over again, were there things I would do differently? For years I would reflexively say yes to that. And now I hit the age I'm at now and I'm actually thinking no, I wouldn't. Because how I feel now -- which I have to assume is a result of that path -- is very happy," he says. "When I turned 50, I couldn't get out of bed for two days. It hit me really, really hard. That's why I went on this health kick and lost 30 pounds and gave up eating things that were killing me. My wife is vegan, so she's had a profound influence on me. It's always great when you have a healthy partner.
"But apropos of that, I just said to myself, 'How much time do I have left? What have I not done?' Having a happy home was really a big priority for me. And now I'm just as happy to stay home and play with my dogs. And if I get to do some work every now and then, great, but it certainly is not the priority."