After years of losing leads to stars with bigger box office appeal, Alec Baldwin, 33, finally thought he'd earned a name above the title. Though a vocal critic of Hollywood, the maverick had played the game well enough to star in one highly praised character part after another. But just last week, he was jilted again. Set to star in Patriot Games, a sequel to the submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October, Baldwin was suddenly deep-sixed by Paramount, apparently because he makes too many waves in the press and too few at the box office.
''Being an actor is like being a currency in the currency exchange,'' he cynically told one reporter. ''Today they are going, 'Hey, you're the deutsche mark.' Then they turn around and say, 'Hey, somebody else is the deutsche mark. You're the peso.''' After earning raves for his pivotal role as cerebral CIA agent Jack Ryan in 1990's Red October, a surprise $120 million hit, Baldwin was set to reprise the character in Paramount's next two Tom Clancy adaptations for a choice $4 million apiece. So Baldwin was negotiating his deal on Patriot Games, which had been set to start shooting this month, when new Paramount chief Brandon Tartikoff postponed the start date to November. That meant a problem for Baldwin, who had committed to star opposite Jessica Lange on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire, slated to begin rehearsals in February.
While Baldwin had every reason to think he had the Jack Ryan part in the bag, several factors worked against him. Tough times in Hollywood have caused studio heads to weigh every risk with increased anxiety. Tartikoff was already concerned about the escalating budget of Patriot Games (not one of the best-selling of the Clancy titles), reportedly nearing $35 million. Baldwin still qualifies as a rising star who has not yet carried a hit movie alone (both Disney's The Marrying Man and Orion's Miami Blues were flops). Finally, a barrage of stories about this spring's Marrying Man (particularly a Premiere piece recounting screw-loose behavior by Baldwin and girlfriend/ costar Kim Basinger) made him look like a troublemaker. Calling the movie ''the biggest mistake of my career'' and Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg ''the eighth dwarf, Greedy'' in a bitter follow-up interview (Entertainment Weekly #66) didn't exactly help.
Meanwhile, as Baldwin was fighting for costly perks and making other demands (which reportedly included a ban on any Premiere reporter visiting the Patriot set), Tartikoff was pulling the plug on another pricey movie, the period train mystery, Night Ride Down. Harrison Ford had been set to star in that one, and the sudden cancellation made him available. Paramount slipped him the Patriot script, knowing he wanted to do another action picture after this summer's lukewarm weepie, Regarding Henry. Ford snapped it up. He was in and Baldwin was out. ''Alec went nuts,'' says one source close to the production. ''He needed this movie.''
''Baldwin may have felt that because he established the character in The Hunt for Red October,'' says one Paramount executive, ''that he had us over a barrel.'' Apparently not. ''Baldwin isn't a star yet,'' says a Columbia executive. ''With Ford, they're getting more marquee, more insurance.''
Baldwin, however, isn't taking the loss sitting down. His press agent says he was committed to keeping his date with Broadway: It was a scheduling conflict. But Baldwin just ditched his agent of 12 years, independent J. Michael Bloom, in favor of CAA, the most powerful agency in Hollywood. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.