The Devil needs a cigarette lighter. Despite his fire and brimstone reputation, Daniel Baldwin doesn’t see Lucifer using matches to light up. So two members of the crew of the locally produced indie horror film Little Red Devil head out from Club Confidential, a swanky basement nightspot in downtown Detroit, and scour the area for the proper smoking accessory: a deco-styled cylinder that exudes the proper sophistication and malice for a scene where a dapper Satan is smoothly tempting a troubled soul. If there’s one thing Baldwin has learned in his brief stay in Detroit, it’s that the devil is in the details.
In 2006, Baldwin became a poster boy for actors in self-destruct mode. After three arrests, his mug shot had replaced his headshot in the public consciousness. Even so, his four-day stay in Detroit shooting Little Red Devil would have gone unnoticed had it not been for his failure to appear in court for arraignment on felony auto theft charges, and the news that an arrest warrant likely would be issued in Newport Beach, Calif. (It had not been processed Friday.) Despite the media glare, Baldwin took time on the set late last week to talk about his troubles, career plans, and perspective as a born-again Christian.
Baldwin is frustrated by his latest legal problem, which he says began as a simple miscommunication that grew into a storm of media attention after the SUV’s owner, a longtime friend, arrived late to court with his affidavit. “When I’ve gotten into trouble before and I was guilty of what I did,” he explains, “I walked into court…and I turned around and” the judge “asked me, and I said, ‘I did it’.”
“This I didn’t do,” he continues, “this was really a misunderstanding, and if my last name wasn’t what it is, and if I didn’t do what I did for a living, I don’t think this would have gone as far as it has.”
On the set of Little Red Devil, Baldwin is calm, professional, and gregarious. He’s focused on work and maintaining a sobriety that he still counts by the days. He began in 2007 in a Malibu, Calif., rehab facility, in court-mandated treatment. At 46, Baldwin is finally taking the steps to rebuild a career that includes the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street and the films Mulholland Falls and Trees Lounge. “The town I work in is very forgiving if you take the necessary action,” he says. “It’s when you’re not willing to go, people can smell it on you.”
Producer Todd Brunswick and his wife, Tommy, the director of Little Red Devil, did not hesitate to hire Baldwin. “I know he’s had problems,” says Todd Brunswick, “and he’s had extended periods of sobriety. He’s working on recovery…I think he’s a great talent, and anything we can do to help by keeping him working, it’s a great arrangement.”
The involvement of Baldwin and co-stars James Russo and Dee Wallace-Stone marks a turning point for the Milford production company, the Skeleton Factory, owned by Arlene Gildenberg and Tommy Brunswick. Shot on high-definition video, with a budget of less that $1 million and special effects by Ohio’s acclaimed Precinct 13 Entertainment, Little Red Devil has the potential to go beyond the core horror audience of the company’s past films (Mr. Jingles, The Remake) and become a sleeper hit, Baldwin says. But the profit potential isn’t what drew Baldwin to Detroit.
“It had more to do with how long I was going to be here,” he says. “I don’t think I would have come to Detroit in the middle of winter newly sober for” a long shoot. “Within the confines of what I’ve limited myself to be able to do in my sobriety, I’m going to ease my way back into working. But more importantly, it wasn’t like I was offered other things, you know? And to play Lucifer was a dream…and I thought I’d bring something unique to it.”
While in Detroit, Baldwin says, he regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He knew that after 75 films and numerous television appearances (not to mention his actor brothers Alec, William, and Stephen), he can’t walk in and simply be Daniel B. “The guy that was leading the share at this table turns around and calls on me and says, ‘I’ll go with the guy who looks like Alec Baldwin.’ So I looked up and went, ‘Daniel Baldwin.’ He looked at me and says, ‘Yeah, right.’ He comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘You really are Daniel Baldwin, aren’t you?’”
One of Baldwin’s best roles was as the intensely laid-back Beau Felton on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street. He returns to television for the final season of The Sopranos (debuting April 6) playing himself and Sally Boy, the lead in the mob movie created by the show’s characters. This week in L.A., Baldwin plans a court appearance to resolve the expected bench warrant.
“I’m rising from the ashes,” he says, while acknowledging that a public downfall gets more attention than a slow, steady climb back. “I’m not really that concerned with what people’s perceptions of me is; I never have been. What I’m concerned about is that I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict and I need to get healthy.”
Like his brother Stephen, Daniel Baldwin identifies himself as a born-again Christian, and had been reluctant to seek public redemption. “I don’t need to explain myself to anyone but God,” he says. “No matter what happens to me in my life, there is but one judge, and that’s the Lord. And that Maker I’m pretty square with right now, because I know He’s forgiven me. My faith and my Christianity will carry me through this, I promise.”
Interview by Serena Donadoni
First published on February 11, 2007 in the Detroit Free Press.