The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faithby Stephen Baldwin, Mark Tabb
Stephen Baldwin reveals his unbelievable change from a hardcore party boy to a hardcore follower of Jesus Christ. The core of his message: "You must be willing to try faith God's way, not yours, and when you do you will find a life beyond anything you could have dreamed." See more details below
Stephen Baldwin reveals his unbelievable change from a hardcore party boy to a hardcore follower of Jesus Christ. The core of his message: "You must be willing to try faith God's way, not yours, and when you do you will find a life beyond anything you could have dreamed."
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The Unusual SuspectMy Calling to the New Hardcore Faith Movement
By Stephen Baldwin
FAITHWORDSCopyright © 2006 Stephen Baldwin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCELEBRITY VS. REALITY
People constantly ask me for details of my "Damascus Road" experience (see Acts 9) that made me give my life to Jesus Christ. Most assume I hit bottom and had nowhere else to turn. They're wrong. Nothing in my life made me say, Oh God I can't live like this anymore. I can't do this, I'm going to kill myself. Help me! I've got to admit, my life was pretty awesome. When I woke up one morning and realized some studio had just paid me eighty times what my old man made a year to play Barney-freaking- Rubble, how could I not pinch myself and say, "Is this a great country or what!"
Don't get me wrong. There were things about who I was that I didn't like, and these things caused problems for me that I didn't want to face. I had a reputation as one of Hollywood's bad boys and living up to it led to behavior that was seriously questionable for a married man. But that didn't make me turn to Jesus. Overall, life was good. I just didn't realize it could be better.
Yeah, but you had it made, Stevie B. No argument here. I did have it made, at least according to the world system. You name it and I've been there, done that. Being a celebrity opened doors for methat were beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I've been on 250-foot yachts. I've hung out with billionaires and flown around on their private jets. I've been all over the world and experienced things 99.9 percent of people have never imagined in their wildest fantasies.
Of course a lot of guys assume I've done even more. They come up to me and ask, "Hey dude, by the way, in all those sex scenes in your movies, were you really doing it?" If they only knew what it takes to film those scenes they would understand how funny that question is. Movies are all about creating an illusion, and that is especially true of the sex scenes. But guys still want to know if I had sex with all the starlets I've worked with. The short answer is no, but I could have with a lot of them. The Hollywood life is a place that gives you license to do anything you want. Once you are in the club, celebrity gives you an allaccess, no limits pass in the physical world. I could go wherever I wanted and do pretty much anything I wanted, and the hilarious part is that most of the time I didn't even have to pay for it.
But even as I let myself be swept along on this ride, something deep down inside me kept telling me none of this really made any sense. For me, celebrity was never reality. I thought, okay, I'll take the money and I'll have a good time while I do this acting thing. I wanted to see how far it would take me, but even as I did, I knew I didn't want to become part of the fabric of the Hollywood "reality." Deep down I was never completely comfortable in that world. Of course, that didn't stop me from diving pretty deep.
GROTTO A GO-GO
How far did I go? Deep enough to know which steps on the spiral staircase down into the wine cellar at the Playboy mansion would trigger the silent alarm. When you know that, baby, you're in pretty deep. I didn't learn this little secret until my third trip to the mansion. The fact that I made it there once was a really big deal. There are producers and a bunch of other studio execs that can't get in, so when I was invited there for the first time it was one of those moments in my celebrity life that made me say, "Hey baby, I've arrived. I'm legitimate because I'm going to the Playboy mansion."
As the youngest son of a social studies teacher, the mansion was awesome, not so much because of the decadence of the place but because of the mystery of it. Growing up I looked at enough Playboy magazines that I should be blind, so to be invited to the Mecca of the whole empire was unbelievable. The fact that I was a married man didn't keep me from going.
I remember walking into the Playboy mansion the first time and looking around and thinking to myself, "Wow, this place is crawling with sexy chicks," but I could feel something else deep down inside. I felt the presence of evil. Of course, most anyone in Hollywood would have responded to my little observation by saying, "Yeah, so? What's the problem? Enjoy it, man."
Keep in mind I wasn't anywhere close to becoming a Christian at the time. Yet even then I could sense the true nature of the place. The paganism that hangs in the air and the sexual exploitation of women gives the place an energy and power that is just pure evil. I don't know how else to describe it. That sense of evil should have made me turn tail and leave, but I didn't. Nor did it keep me from going back.
I learned the secret of the staircase on my third visit. I hadn't planned on going to the mansion, but the word got out that I was in town from my home in Tucson. Some people called and invited me to a party there, and I said, sure, why not. When I arrived I ran into Robert Downey, Jr. Now, in the old days, Downey really knew the mansion and he offered to give me a full tour. He wanted to make sure he showed me the grotto, which is this underground pool down in a cave. When you access the grotto you have to go down a long, very small, very narrow stone hallway. We were walking down this hallway and just as we came to the mouth that opened into the pool I saw some guy kind of stooped over what looked like a fuse box. I assumed it was a maintenance worker, but as I started to excuse myself and walk past him, he turned around and it was Hef himself. I was blown away. I was like, wow, it's the legendary Hugh Hefner in all his stereotypical glory: robe, slippers, pajamas, and pipe.
Hef turned around, and keep in mind it was pretty dark down there, and he said, "Good evening, gentlemen. Good to see you Robert. Stephen." Then he said, "Please forgive me, gentlemen, I was just adjusting the lights here in the grotto so that the mood is perfect. Enjoy yourselves." This blew me away. All I could think was, How weird is it that Hef himself adjusts the lights in the grotto. Talk about the personal touch. I mean, this guy was really into his whole deal. That set the tone for me that night.
After my tour I walked around the mansion doing my whole Hollywood routine. For me, hanging out at the Playboy mansion was part of the "fun" of being in the fast lane of celebrity and the Hollywood lifestyle that was completely acceptable. It was my rite of passage as Stephen Baldwin "THE TALENT."
Of course I didn't tell my wife I was going to the Playboy mansion. If she had happened to ask I would have told her, but I didn't volunteer the information. To me, as long as I wasn't misbehaving I figured my being there was no big deal.
Later that evening Downey came up to me with this little grin on his face and he said, "Follow me." I asked where we were going and he just said, "Shhhh, I want to show you something." Now I know when I get to the end of this story you are not going to believe me, but folks, it's true.
Downey led me to what looked like a closet, but inside was a spiral staircase that went down about fifteen or twenty steps. We started down the staircase, and as we did, Downey stepped down the first two steps but skipped the third. I was coming down right behind him when he turned around and told me, "Don't step on that one." Then about halfway down he skipped another step and told me the same thing. Now, in retrospect, I don't know if he was just a kook and was joking around with me, but at the time he told me that these two steps would trigger the silent alarm.
When we got to the bottom of the staircase I found myself in a beautiful, vast wine cellar. Four playmates were already down there, hanging out and smoking pot. There was a time I would have joined in, but that's another chapter. At this point I had already been sober for years and I wasn't going to blow it. I immediately excused myself, thanked Robert for the good time, and got out of there.
I went back upstairs and stayed for maybe another ten minutes. There were a bunch of stars hanging out with the Playmates and everyone was drunk and high. Since I stopped drinking several years earlier, I felt disconnected from the whole scene. I glanced over at a couple of people whose names you would immediately recognize and they were all giggling and flirting with the Playmates. That's when it hit me. I looked around the room and said to myself, Wow, what am I doing here? If you think about it, all of this is pretty meaningless. This isn't working for me anymore. I thought there had to be more to life than this. And if there wasn't, I was really screwed. I had officially done it all, and still it left me with a question somewhere in the back of my mind that I couldn't answer. But more on that later.
BIRTH OF A DYNASTY
So how did I go from Stevie B, the youngest of six kids from a middle-class family in Massapequa, New York, to Stephen Baldwin, part of the most successful brother dynasty in Hollywood history and insider to the hidden mysteries of Hef's Playboy mansion? And how can I honestly say all I experienced through the journey wasn't enough? I'll get to that last question later because the answer lies in the story of my rise from small-town jock to playing Michael McManus in the double Oscar winning film, The Usual Suspects.
The story is pretty simple. My mom and dad met at Syracuse University and got married. They later moved to Long Island, New York, where my dad started teaching at Massapequa High School. Between 1955 and 1966 they had six kids, the last of whom was little ole me. I will go into much more detail about all this in the next chapter, but for now it is enough to say that who my siblings and I became was in large part due to how this school-teacher and his wife raised us. The genetics of our driven personalities pushed us to excel and the boldness of our character made us popular overachievers in athletics, art, academics and anything else we put our minds to. That's just how we were raised and that's how we Baldwins still are. Anything we do, we do full bore.
Then my big brother Alec decided to get into acting. After high school he started at George Washington University and majored in political science. Later he lost one of the largest student body elections in the history of George Washington University by a single vote. This made Alec reevaluate his future which led to him transferring to NYU and the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. While waiting tables at Studio 54 someone told him about an audition the next day for some movie. He tried out, but they told him he wasn't right for the role. However, the cast director told him about a role on a soap opera called The Doctors. Alec auditioned, landed the role, and did the show for a couple of years.
So what does all that have to do with me and the making of the Baldwin Brother Hollywood dynasty? On the show The Doctors, homeboy was making more in a month than daddy-o made in an entire school year as a teacher. So my dad gets this brilliant idea that the world does not need more doctors or lawyers, but actors. What a genius concept! Now Daniel, William, and little Stevie B sit down to dinner one night, and while we are sitting there my dad tells us how much Alec is making per soap opera episode. We react to this tidbit of information by projectile spewing our tuna casserole across the room. The three of us wipe the tuna from our chins, look at one another and say, If that schmuck can weasel his way into a situation like that, we might as well give it a try. This was the catalyst for the Baldwin brothers taking Hollywood by storm. True story. Or at least how I remember it.
After this, Daniel and Billy started playing around with acting. The two of them did some commercials, and auditioned for other parts. Before long the word started to get out about the Baldwin boys, especially as Alec started landing better and better parts. Billy went on to get into a very serious modeling career which led to bigger and better things, including major roles in movies like Backdraft.
My turn at the plate came after I graduated from Berner High School with a C average and not a lot of college options. Knowing no school in its right mind would let me in based on my scholastic potential, I figured I better try a different approach. I auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and got in. They didn't care about grades, which was a good thing for me because I didn't care about them either. But I knew I had talent. Of the four of us, I did the most community theater growing up. I also had success as an opera singer, which you will read more about later.
All of this helped me get into this very prestigious institution with very high standards for professionalism, standards I was eager to break in every way, shape and form I possibly could. It didn't take them long to come to the very intelligent deduction that perhaps inviting Stevie B to enter their institution wasn't the brightest decision they had ever made. This place was crawling with a bunch of artistic intellectuals and ballerinas, and if that ain't a candy store for a kid like me, I don't know what is.
Now don't get me wrong. I was anxious to pursue this drive inside me, this artistic desire. However, I would be lying if I said I didn't walk around that place with a little extra juice knowing I was Alec Baldwin's kid brother. I used this to my full advantage every chance I got. I even offered my own private acting lessons within the institution itself, and trust me, you can let your imagination run wild with that one.
Needless to say, my time at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts was pretty much one and done. They did not invite me back for a second year. So I left college and started pounding the pavement. I got a place in Manhattan, found an agent and a manager, and started going through the audition process. At the same time I met a drop-dead knockout Brazilian hotty on a New York bus, asked her out, and we've been together ever since. Anyone who doesn't believe in miracles after that is a complete idiot.
The Baldwin brother success in Hollywood, however, is not miraculous. The four of us simply figured out on a commonsense level what we would have to do to be successful in this business, and we did it. Obviously we possessed innate talent and ability, but we also had that drive to succeed. Everything just lined up for us and however many years later it is now, we're still doing it.
I landed my first professional acting job on the old sit-com, Kate and Allie. The part was a real stretch. I played a high school troublemaker who had one line, "So, is this an open book test?" Find the DVD. You'll see real genius at work. I had a few other bit parts on shows like Family Ties and did a few commercials.
My first serious role came in a feature film about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan called The Beast. William Mastrosimone wrote it and Kevin Reynolds from Waterworld was the director. I'd been out of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts maybe a year, slinging pizza on the Upper West Side while scratching for any small part I could find, and suddenly I'm off to Israel for three months to make my first movie. How weird is that? That job led to several more which finally led to my playing Buffalo Bill Cody in The Young Riders television show from 1989 to 1992.
The notoriety from the show, along with the Baldwin brother hype, catapulted me into full-bore celebrity status.
Then, in 1995, I landed the role of Michael McManus in The Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie and directed by Bryan Singer. The film went on to win two Academy Awards along with high praise from all the critics.
Now when I tell the rest of this story most people think I am full of crap. Whatever. Don't believe me if you want, but it is true. The buzz and critical acclaim surrounding The Usual Suspects placed me and the other guys in the film in a position to become very, very big. It worked for Kevin Spacey and it worked for Benicio Del Toro. And if I had played the game according to the rules it would have worked for me as well. I could have gone on to become an A-list actor. Like I said, you can say I'm full of it if you want, but I know myself and that old Baldwin drive to succeed. I can't say for certain that I would have made it to the top, but I guarantee you there's a pretty good chance I would have.
There was just one problem with that whole equation called RULES. I didn't want to play by their rules, not because I am some sort of self-defeatist whack job, but because I didn't want to pay the personal price that kind of success demands. I didn't want to become Brad Pitt. I didn't want to be Tom Cruise. Part of me did, but another subconscious part of me knew that if I reached that level of success I couldn't do whatever I wanted anymore. Once you reach the top, once you hit that pinnacle of success, your whole life becomes focused on staying there. Every cell of your body becomes all about that next $100 million movie and keeping yourself squarely in the public eye. People are fickle beings. They'll forget you overnight unless you devote your entire life to making sure they don't. Call me nuts, but from my perspective, that ain't living. I know there are people in Hollywood who will read that statement and think I am a moron. To which I say, think whatever you will, but I had a choice. I refused to choose a lifestyle that demanded I sacrifice my life for my career. I didn't then and I never will.
Excerpted from The Unusual Suspect by Stephen Baldwin Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Baldwin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Stephen Baldwin - actor, family man, born-again Christian. Through an impressive body of work, Stephen continues to be a popular and sought-after talent in the film and television industry. Stephen makes his home in upstate New York with his wife and two young daughters.Mark Tabb is the author of twelve books including Living with Less and Out of the Whirlwind. He and his wife, Valerie, live in Knightstown, Indiana with their three daughters.
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