His brothers may have tongues wagging in the real world, but this fall, Backdraft babe William Baldwin is the one stirring up scandal in ABC's Dirty Sexy Money — as an attorney general having an affair with a transsexual.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Do you anticipate Dirty Sexy Money attracting a large gay audience?
William Baldwin: It's one part drama, two parts black comedy, and 10 parts soap opera. It's salacious, and that's appealing not only to the gay community but to Middle America. I describe this show as the substance, gravitas, and scandal of the Kennedys in a train wreck with Paris Hilton. Every time I say that, people say, "Wow, it sounds like you have a hit on your hands!"
What's your character's dirty, sexy secret?
I would hope you could articulate it in a way that doesn't spoil it for everybody, unless you just feel like we should.
Oh, we definitely should!
OK, basically my character, Patrick Darling, is the attorney general for New York, and bis father, Tripp, played by Donald Sutherland, is a domineering patriarch cut from the Joe Kennedy cloth. Patrick wants the same things that his father wants for him, but he's almost tempted to do a 180-degree turn just to stand up to his father. So my character is married with two children and is fully engaged in an affair with a pre-operative transsexual, played by [real-life transsexual actress] Candis Cayne.
Did you have any hesitations in playing this role?
Having already read the script, I had gone into the first meeting with total enthusiasm and open arms. I certainly didn't shy away from it or ask them to water it down. I was like, "That's great! Let's go for it."
Is Patrick gay, bi, or a tranny chaser?
It would be really interesting to conduct a separate variation of this interview at the end of the season when we're a smash hit, because I've got to be honest: Right now I'm not exactly sure. My character could be gay, bisexual, or just curious. I think it's part sexual fantasy and sexual deviance, but I don't think he just gets off on the kinky sex. I think he's fully involved in an emotional relationship with Candis's character, Carmelita. On the other hand, is it really a bisexual or homosexual issue? Candis will tell you that she was born a woman trapped inside a man's body and that you are not having sex with a man, you are having sex with a woman. You are in love with a woman. It's like my brother Alec's film Prelude to a Kiss, where he was in love with a woman trapped inside the body of a man. Either way, I have no qualms about it. Relationships come in so many different ways, shapes, and forms.
What was it like working with Candis?
It was great right from the word go. We did the table reading for the pilot with 50 people, and she was sitting all the way over on the other side of the room from me. As soon as it was over, I walked up to her and said, "Hey!" She put her hand out, and I slapped it away and gave her a big, long squeeze and told her how excited I was to work with her and get to know her. I think subconsciously I wanted her to know that I was totally comfortable and cool with it. Since then we've gone out and had lunch, we've talked on the phone, and I went to see her perform. I've met her husband — they have a home in New Jersey together.
As a transsexual in real life, did she help you make sense of your on-sceen relationship?
One time I asked her, "What would make a person like Patrick Darling want to engage in any sort of relations with someone like you?" And the thing she shared with me that really resonated was that with transsexual prostitutes you'll get guys who grew up in a background like I did, who didn't come from affluence whatsoever. Then they come to New York, and the next thing you know these guys are working at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, making more money than they know what to do with, and it freaks them out. She said that when they engage in this type of deviant behavior, it's almost a form of self-punishment because they can't deal with the guilt, wondering, What did I do to deserve this? As one of six kids, the son of a poor schoolteacher, I know there's a part of me that has thought, How the hell did I get here? I'm famous, wealthy, I've got a great wife, three great kids, and live in Bedford, N.Y., this idyllic community. Part of me feels like I must've done something right. Then there are rimes when I absolutely panic, when there's not enough work or I'm struggling financially, and I start to feel like I'm backsliding to Massapequa, getting sucked into the quick sand. I get wracked and gripped with fear that the best of my career, my creative and my earning potential, has passed me. That's a scary freakin' thought.
Have you met other transsexuals?
Yeah, all the time. Just the other day I was checking my e-mail in the hotel lobby at the Roosevelt in Hollywood, and at the computer next to me were two transsexuals checking their e-mails. They recognized me, said hello, and we sat down in the lobby and had a drink together. I told them about the show and they were really excited about it. So yeah, I've met, hung out, partied, and had drinks with them. Have I ever fallen in love with one? No. But you never know — there's plenty of time left.
Have you ever been offered a gay role?
I've been offered a couple, but the reasons I ultimately didn't do them was certainly not out of fear. The scripts were just bad, and they had a lot of gratuitous sex stuff going on. A couple of months ago I saw Shortbus, and I had very mixed feelings. Parts of it I thought were excellent, and some of the performances were outstanding, but there were parts where it felt like they were ramming it down your throat. Hey, if you go to these clubs and that's the shit that happens, then that's one thing, bur there were times when they crossed the line just to be shocking, instead of being honest and telling the story the most beautiful way. Obviously, that film was not for mainstream audiences, but even for someone like me who's as far left and as open-minded as it gets, it was a bit much.
The lesbian content in 1993's Three of Hearts is tame by today's standards, but did it feel then like you were a part of something edgy or controversial?
I loved the idea of a love triangle between a straight man, this gay woman, and her partner, who was just going through a sexual identity crisis. I thought the script was provocative and very different than any film that I had ever seen or heard of. If my relationship on-screen with Sherilyn Fenn had been as strong as my relationship on-screen with Kelly Lynch, that film really would've been an indie classic — a little Sex, Lies, and Videotape. We knew on the first day of shooting that we were lacking that magic. But I'm still very proud of the film and would still recommend it to people, even though we ultimately didn't do what we set out to achieve.
Brad Pitt took over your role in Thelma & Louise when you bowed out in order to star in Backdraft. Had you chosen differently, might you have wound up with Angelina Jolie?
No, I don't imagine that would've happened. Not Angelina Jolie. Looking back, though, I really regret not being able to make both films work out, bur me vacating that role did create an opening for Brad Pitt. Sure enough, that was his big breakout. A couple of times in interviews I jokingly said, "Brad Pitt owes his career to me." I said it with charm — wink, wink! Bur I remember someone telling me, "I was at a dinner party with Brad Pitt's publicist, and they were all talking about how you were talking shit about Brad in the press." And I was like, "What are you talking about? I wrote the guy a fuckin' love letter!"
Which of your films was more deserving of its Razzie nominations: Sliver or Fair Game?
Fair Game was more deserving, because we were very close to pulling off Sliver. I told the producers right from the start, "If you want to make this movie a hit, Sharon Stone should be the voyer and I should be the victim. The movie will make a half a billion dollars globally." I said it half-jokingly, but I really did think it was a good idea. Coming off of Basic Instinct, Sharon wanted to play the hero, so she was having no part of it. On the other hand, I do not think that Fair Game suffered, like a lot of people would suggest, as a result of any contribution by Cindy Crawford. The director [Andrew Sipes] was in way over his head, and he alienated a lot of people. That girl is an absolute angel, and she'd come onto the set and he wouldn't even make eye contact with her. Talk about shitting where you eat. That guy was a moron.
You're 44 years old, but to quote Clueless, you're still a total Baldwin. How did it feel to have your name enter the pop-culture lexicon like that?
Sometimes it can backfire, with Stephen being the holy roller, Daniel having the rap sheet a mile long, and Alec with his current exploits in the media. One of my friends mailed me a shirt they were selling on Melrose that said NOT A BALDWIN. I guess it was supposed to be worn by geeky guys to say, "I'm not that good-looking." But I wore it to a party and someone thought that I was jokingly trying to hide my identity, like I was ashamed to admit that I was in the Baldwin family. [Laughs] Look, we've had a couple of weeks of bad press — Danny got locked up, Alec's voice mail to his daughter — but it's not like I'm ready to cut and run.
Finish this sentence: Out of all the Baldwins, Billy is...
The white sheep of the family.
If the Baldwin brothers were gay, who would get the hottest guys?
It would have to be me, because I've always gotten the hottest chicks. I'm the tall, thin, good-looking, intelligent, talented, charming one, and all the other brothers are all the other things.
The Advocate, September 2007.