''I'm starting all over again,'' says Alec Baldwin. ''The Marrying Man was the biggest mistake of my career.'' A critical and commercial disaster that came and went a month ago, The Marrying Man continues to plague its star. The making of the film described by all parties as intensely difficult whipped up a maelstrom of bad press that tarnished Baldwin's previously impeccable reputation and continues to this day. On this frigid April afternoon in Chicago, where Baldwin waits for a knock on his trailer door that will call him out to shoot the next scene in the forthcoming Prelude to a Kiss, the 33-year-old actor with the matinee-idol good looks is not in a forgiving mood. ''I'm not some psycho which the press and Disney would have you believe,'' he says.
If Baldwin sounds bitter and angry, he is. The Marrying Man, a frothy Neil Simon comedy about a millionaire playboy who falls repeatedly for a sultry Vegas chanteuse, was troubled from the start. Baldwin's now-notorious battles with Disney executives and the widespread depiction of him and costar Kim Basinger as spoiled prima demons helped make the movie a professional and personal crisis unlike anything he had ever thought possible. ''I was so naive,'' Baldwin says. ''Never in my wildest dreams...''
The experience left him deeply cynical about the movie industry and so disgusted with the press, he says, that this article will be the last interview he ever gives. But in a series of 11 extraordinary conversations that began even before The Marrying Man had finished shooting, Baldwin poured out his feelings and frustrations, talking at length about the troubled production and his controversial relationship with Basinger, 37. Concerned with getting all the details in this story correct, Baldwin would call often to amplify a point, take issue with whatever new report of his behavior hit the press, praise an ally, or eviscerate an enemy:
Disney Studios: ''Totally evil, greedy pigs.''
Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg: ''He's the eighth dwarf Greedy.''
Pulitzer Prize-winner Neil Simon: ''About as deep as a bottle cap.''
Basinger: ''I love her. And I get carried away over the things that I love.''
Baldwin came to the volatile production with a résumé that was a textbook of smart career moves. After getting his start on the soap opera The Doctors, he was noticed in strong supporting roles in Working Girl, Talk Radio, Married to the Mob, and Great Balls of Fire!, then leads in Beetlejuice and Miami Blues. But it was his big role in last year's The Hunt for Red October that moved him onto Hollywood's short list of major male stars. A warm romantic comedy seemed a logical next step to consolidate his reputation as a hardworking, versatile actor. Then, along came The Marrying Man.
In the wake of the film's poor reviews and worse box office (it earned a disappointing $11.5 million in four weeks before vanishing from most movie screens this month), the dispute over responsibility for this poor showing has intensified. Baldwin puts the blame squarely on Disney, a studio known for its ethic of economy, and on studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg. In the famous (and gleefully parodied) ''Katzenberg memo'' earlier this year, the executive argued that stars and directors would have to get used to even leaner budgets. As Baldwin sees it, that's part of the problem. ''A Disney movie is cheap, and looks cheap,'' Baldwin says. ''A Disney movie is Pretty Woman, a movie about a hooker and a corporate raider in the age of AIDS and the savings and loan crisis. Disney is about a bunch of guys who took the real creative beauty of a legendary studio, and in 10 minutes strip-mined the shit out of it and lined their own pockets. I think their products are dismissed.'' Reminded that Pretty Woman made close to $200 million, he is unshakable. ''So what? Ronald Reagan was President. There are freak accidents.''