The Last Days of '30 Rock' - Rolling Stone
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The Last Days of ’30 Rock’

The birth, death and unexpectedly long life of this century’s strangest and funniest sitcom

30 ROCK, Sue Galloway, Katrina Bowden, Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell30 ROCK, Sue Galloway, Katrina Bowden, Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell

Scene from 30 ROCK (L-R) Sue Galloway, Katrina Bowden, Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell on December 18th, 2012.

Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

To everything, there is a season to shut it down. Through seven years, 138 episodes, 14 Emmy wins and what its writers estimate as 23,000 hard-won punch lines, 30 Rock and its frequently food-stained heroine, Liz Lemon, have taught us that much, at least. (Other key lessons: “Never go with a hippie to a second location,” and beware of the white dudes who “inject AIDS into our chicken nuggets.”)

The show’s final episode will air January 31st, so for Jack, Liz, Tracy, Jenna and Kenneth, for Grizz and for Dotcom, too, these are the end times. But on a mid-November day at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens, everything’s still in place. Since 2006, this warehouselike space, three miles and a borough away from NBC’s actual 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters, has been the cast and crew’s second home/airless-14-hour-a-day prison, and they still have a month left.

The creators of the just-­concluded Gossip Girl, which shot next door, have already packed up their stuff. But 30 Rock’s universe is intact for the moment, from the lizard tank and “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” gold record in Tracy Jordan’s dressing room to the majestic but fake views of the Manhattan skyline in Jack Donaghy’s office. They haven’t even gotten rid of the set for Elaine Stritch’s elegant Florida house, and her character is dead.

NBC wasn’t begging for an eighth season of a show that’s never had more than 8 million or so viewers, but ultimately, 30 Rock seems to be ending because Tina Fey is done with it. “There is no more,” says Fey, the show’s creator, star and showrunner (along with former Friends and Saturday Night Live writer Robert Carlock). “I love our crew dearly, and I hate being in the position of saying, ‘Sorry, we’re ending this nice workplace you’ve had for seven years.’ But, you know, the ratings continued to drop.”

Alec Baldwin went from trying to quit the show a couple of seasons back to lobbying for another season, even offering to cut his salary. He’s convinced that having a second child, in 2011, may have been the breaking point for Fey. “I saw a real difference in her,” says Baldwin. “Tina always had her antenna up, but this year was the first time where she came in and laid down on the couch on set, and you could tell, she’s a mom. She’s fucking wiped out.”

Now, the table read for the final episode is looming, and the actors are starting to get emotional – particularly the one who, not long ago, would go on local morning shows and promise to get everyone pregnant. Tracy Morgan is sitting at a craft-services table in a huge open hallway, right next to a lady cooking hamburgers on a ­tabletop grill. In front of him is a tray of buns and a selection of condiments. As vintage R&B plays over someone’s boombox, Morgan begins to weep.

He’s still dressed as his slightly loonier 30 Rock alter ego, Tracy Jordan, which means he’s wearing a diamond-encrusted TJ necklace over his yellow T-shirt and unbuttoned plaid shirt. Someone hands him a tissue. Still moist-eyed, Morgan points at a crew member, possibly at random, and says, “I spent more time with this dude than my own family!” I laugh, and he looks slightly hurt. “Good times, bad times, ugly times,” Morgan muses. “Awards fun, looking forward to spring. It’ll never happen again. I can’t explain.”

There is a definite hall-of-mirrors thing going on in the 30 Rock set, or to be more precise, a watching-The-Matrix-and-­Total-Recall-simultaneously-in-a-hall-of-mirrors-while-on-bath-salts thing. You’re on the set of an actual TV show that’s dominated by an elaborate set of a fictional TV show’s set, surrounded by actors who can be hard to distinguish from the people playing them. There are hallways that precisely duplicate backstage corridors in the SNL studios in the real 30 Rock. (“It’s almost as if, after college, I moved into an apartment that looked exactly like my dorm,” Fey once said.) The fake dressing rooms are upstairs; the real ones are downstairs. But Morgan doesn’t see much difference. “This has been my dressing room for seven years,” he says, surveying Tracy Jordan’s memorabilia.

Over by the fake writers’ room, Fey is shooting a scene in Liz Lemon’s office that will end the third-to-last episode, where she receives news that will lead nicely to the series finale. After completing a take, she snaps out of character, and her posture changes – she’s still dressed in Liz Lemon’s blazer, but she’s carrying herself as Tina Fey, standing up so much straighter that she grows a few inches. It’s oddly reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent straightening his spine into Superman. (“Awesome,” Fey says later. “Maybe I’ve been doing acting this whole time!”)

The scene also includes a bit where Jack McBrayer’s Kenneth (currently demoted to janitor) is pushing an overflowing hamper full of oranges around. As she emerges from Liz’s office, Fey asks, “Were they using the crateful of oranges in The Godfather style as the harbinger of the death of the show? I think we should say they were!”

“I don’t understand any of these references!” McBrayer says, sounding exactly like his character. Unsurprisingly, Fey created Kenneth for McBrayer, a Georgia native she got to know on the Chicago improv scene.

“In The Godfather,” Fey says, “whenever anyone dies, there’s oranges.” McBrayer, it emerges, has never seen the film. “But I’ve seen Hope Floats 13 times,” he says.

Back home, McBrayer says, people are similarly perplexed by 30 Rock itself – which may help explain why one of the 21st century’s most acclaimed and beloved sitcoms has never approached Seinfeld– and Friends-level popularity. “Hardly anybody in Georgia watches it,” he says. “It’s a very specific taste. My family doesn’t get it. They don’t watch SNL. There are no references for them to grab on to. There’s not a lot I can do to be like, ‘OK, here are these crazy references we’re making,’ because some of them I don’t get!”

For Fey, the biggest triumph of 30 Rock is its very survival: the unlikely persistence of a show sufficiently unhinged to use blackface on three occasions; to have Jane Krakowski’s monstrously narcissistic Jenna Maroney consummate her self-adoration by marrying her own male impersonator; to have Elizabeth Banks’ Avery Jessup kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il as an unfortunate consequence of NBC’s “Hot Blondes in Weird Places” initiative. “I feel like we made a lot of good episodes of the kind of show that usually gets canceled,” says Fey. “The kind where there’s 20 episodes and ‘only me and my hipster friends know about it.’ That part’s still true. But we made 140 of them!”

What’s really crazy about 30 Rock is its sheer verbal velocity – punch lines go by so fast that even smart people may need to rewind (an industrious blogger calculated that a 2010 episode averaged 9.57 jokes per minute). “It requires you to pay attention in a way that you don’t always want to at the end of a long day,” says Fey, “and I get that. I’m a professional comedy worker, and there would be days when I’m like, ‘I love Arrested Development, but I don’t want to watch it right now.’ ”

“They’re a throwback to a time where movies and television used words,” says 30 Rock executive producer Lorne Michaels, who argues that the show’s use of a movie-style single camera, with no laugh track, allowed them to speed up. “It doesn’t stop for jokes. You feel better about yourself watching it. At least I do.”

It’s not easy for the actors, though. I watch Krakowski burn through numerous takes as she attempts to make the following tongue twister sound like human speech: “I have this weird sick feeling in my stomach, like that time I drank antifreeze to frame José Canseco for my murder.” “We’ve all started speaking so quickly,” says Krakowski. “You have to really know your lines, because if you don’t say them fast enough, they’ll be cut.”

Fey had never written a sitcom pilot before she wrote 30 Rock’s, just as she had never written a movie script before Mean Girls. For all the show’s mockery of TV executives’ ideas, it was NBC VP Kevin Reilly who suggested Fey write a show about backstage life at SNL, after passing on her first idea: She would play the producer on a Bill O’Reilly-style cable program, with Alec Baldwin as the on-air talent. “The first pitch was not unlike The Newsroom on HBO,” she says. “It was good we didn’t try to do that, because I would have drowned trying to keep up with the subject matter.”

Fey was initially reluctant to pursue Reilly’s other suggestion. “It seemed so lazy to just write about writing.” It wasn’t until she thought of using Tracy Morgan on the fictional show that she reconsidered. “I thought, ‘Oh, this could be a thing.’ I was writing the pilot, I was writing a movie and I was trying to get pregnant, and I was like, ‘We’ll see what sticks,’ and what stuck was the pilot and I got pregnant.”

Feel free to confuse Tina Fey with Liz Lemon – she practically does it herself. “I wouldn’t want her to do anything that I wouldn’t do,” says Fey, sitting in a faux-Parisian Upper East Side bistro where she’s a regular, having just ordered herself a lunch that’s impressively Lemon-ish in its culinary abandon (a hamburger with bun and fries, and the first non-Diet Coke that any celebrity has ever consumed in my presence). “In an upcoming episode they’d written Liz as being super into Harry Potter, and I was like, ‘Guys, I stop at Star Wars.’ ”

In some ways, Liz is a pre-self-­actualized Fey: It’s Tina from when she was an SNL writer, but not yet a “Weekend Update” anchor. “Liz is a person who operates like no one’s looking at her,” says Fey. “She’s not going to stand up straight or wear an underwire bra if she doesn’t have to. We used to sit at the writers’ table at SNL, and one of the actresses would be headed to a movie premiere, with their borrowed dress and hair done and their makeup, and we’d sit there like Cinderella, just back at home, picking birdseed out of the embers. In some ways, it’s quite freeing, because you don’t have to care about that stuff. But everyone wants to be a performer. As reality TV has proven, 97 percent of all people think they’re quite special, and we’re all wrong – except for Meryl Streep and Honey Boo Boo, we’re all wrong.”

So yeah, sure, call her Liz, if you must. But don’t get too cute. As the late-middle-aged couple at the table next to us get up, the male half approaches, grinning: “Excuse me, aren’t you Governor Sarah Palin?” It’s so lame that Fey can barely manage a quarter of a fake smile. “Not for, like, three years now,” she says, looking as if she’d like to dive under the table.

The guy has his gag, though, and he’s going to run with it. “I so enjoy watching you on Fox,” he says.

“Thank you, have a nice day,” she replies. As he walks away, she murmurs, “Until the day I die. Until the day I die.” At least Palin is unlikely to ever run for president . . . “Yeah, there’s no money it.”

Fey is convinced that conservatives’ irritation with her I-can-see-Russia-from-my-house SNL takedowns of Palin (not to mention Baldwin’s outspoken liberalism) may have been yet another obstacle to her show’s ratings. But 30 Rock’s own political message, to the extent it has one, actually leans right – Baldwin’s Republican character is quite often proved correct about all manner of things. “It’s a lot more fun to let the conservative guy be right more,” says Carlock, “because it’s contrary to what most TV shows are flogging. It’s fun to let Liz be a little less well-informed, but maybe a little more morally right, and Jack to be a lot more sophisticated.” Adds Fey, with a small laugh, “The show’s only agenda is pro-obedience.”

Right at the beginning of 30 Rock, Fey faced the kind of dilemma she might have written for Liz: In the pilot, her friend and fellow SNL vet Rachel Dratch played Jenna, and NBC was certain that she wasn’t right for the part. “It was wrenching for her,” says Michaels.

But Fey didn’t have a choice. “If I had said, ‘I quit,’ then they would have been like, ‘OK, bye,’ ” she recalls. And she came to realize that for all of Dratch’s talent, she was miscast. “It was a failed experiment, because I took Dratch, who is inherently sweet, and said, ‘Let’s write her the opposite, have that cartoon-eyed person playing a diva and throwing fits,’ and it was one layer too many for what the show needed.”

They ended up giving the role to Ally McBeal alum Krakowski. Somehow, the kind of casting switch that happens all the time became very public, and very awkward. “There was so much publicity about it,” says Krakowski, “which wasn’t easy for me, and really wasn’t easy for Rachel.” Jenna took on some of Krakowski’s Broadway background, and as Tracy Jordan became cuddlier, she turned more sociopathic. “What I pulled for Jenna is every horrific story and stereotype you’ve ever heard of any actor,” says Krakowski. “It was an amalgamation of bad behavior all put into one.”

With her 30 Rock schedule and two kids, including an 18-month-old who still wakes during the night, Fey usually gets less than six hours of sleep. “I hate it,” she says, looking tired, and yet, in that eerie ­famous-person way, somehow younger and sleeker than she was seven years and two kids ago. Her hair is now a honey blond. “All American women of all races eventually have honey-blond hair,” she says.

We head out of the restaurant and walk through gray Upper East Side under steady cold rain. She’s still processing the end of 30 Rock, even finding herself tearing up while watching the final episode of Nickelodeon’s iCarly with her daughter.

Fey has seen a lot of final episodes lately: She and the writers went through the classics, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as they worked on 30 Rock’s two-part finale. “It’s a very difficult task,” she says. “You want it to feel like an episode of your show, and you also owe it to the people who have watched the whole time to let some emotion into it.” They knew they wanted to keep Lemon’s wedding away from the finale – not that kind of show – and Fey was determined to keep herself out of a wedding dress. “I felt I was too old, it’d just be sweaty, and not what she’s about. When we decided to do the Princess Leia costume, I was very happy. It felt right.”

Fey isn’t quite sure what comes next – she’d like to act in more movies, as long as they don’t shoot too far from her family: “It’s funny how you dream of being a movie star, and then they’re like, ‘It’s in Budapest,’ and you’re like, ‘No, I’m good.’ ” She’s not ready to write another book, and she’s not interested in directing films. The one thing she knows for sure is that she and Carlock are going to spend some time coming up with another TV show – multi-camera this time, she hopes, which may mean fewer jokes per minute, but shorter work days and more sleep.

We duck out of the rain into a CVS, where Fey closely inspects the Christmas candy, and start talking about the finale’s plot details. Fey is amused when I lower my voice to avoid spreading spoilers to the other customers. “Believe me,” she says, “they don’t care.”

Tracy Morgan swears he isn’t worried about his post-30 Rock future, so it must be pure coincidence that he’s had some unnerving dreams lately. “I had two nightmares,” he says, sitting in the basement of his house in an affluent New Jersey suburb. “Want to hear the second one?” His home is, by TV-star standards, relatively modest and sensible, except for the snakes, sharks, custom-painted Last Supper mural of a handpicked pantheon of comedians (Lucille Ball, George Carlin, Bernie Mac, Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison, Jackie Gleason) that covers a living-room wall, the full gym in the basement, and, under glass upstairs, a sparkly glove that belonged to Michael Jackson. We’re side by side in a pair of leather chairs – Morgan hits a button and they begin to deliver a relaxing massage. In front of us is a glass enclosure where a huge snake is napping. “That is a black African python,” he says, looking solemn. “She’s really nasty. Two years ago, one of those ate an 11-year-old boy in Africa.”

Anyway, Morgan’s second dream: “I’m driving a cab,” he says. “That was the nightmare. Nothing against people who drive cabs. But in the dream, I did something wrong, ’cause you don’t go from 30 Rock to driving a fucking cab unless you are doing something wrong. But I feel blessed to be where I am. I don’t want to do anything else. Look at Mike Tyson, he looks like he’s built to fucking fight. Look at my face, babe – it’s comedy. You look at this fucking mug, man. This ain’t a face, this is a mug. God gave me an extra fucking layer of skin. I am funny. I embody that shit.”

The first dream was even scarier, because all of that went away. “I pissed God off and he took my funny back,” Morgan says. “And me, without funny, is a tragic, tragic thing. I woke up in a cold sweat.”

His funny isn’t going anywhere – he’ll do movies, ramp up his stand-up career, maybe do a one-man show on Broadway. But Morgan is going to miss Tracy Jordan (unless, that is, he can persuade Lorne Michaels to come aboard for the spinoff he’s thought about). “Playing him is like being Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he says. “I got to be crazy every day, every week on TV.” The role’s lunacy was especially welcome after Morgan quit drinking in the wake of a split from his wife of more than 23 years and multiple DUI arrests. “I didn’t have to do it in real life no more; I got to do that craziness on TV.”

That said, Morgan’s real life wasn’t exactly a smooth ride during the show. Baldwin, sober since the Eighties, had counseled Morgan about his drinking, but there were larger issues with his health: Morgan’s diabetes slipped out of control, to the extent that he’d spend his days on the 30 Rock set and his nights in a hospital, under dialysis. His DUI bracelet injured his ankle, and he nearly lost his foot. Morgan shows me a horrific, whitish scar. “You could look into my ankle and see the other side. I was shooting an episode with a 103 fever plus green pus coming out of my leg.”

Clearly, Morgan adheres to a serious show-must-go-on ethic. So it was all the more painful when, in late 2010, he had to bow out of six weeks of filming when his kidney failed. He had a transplant, courtesy of an incredibly generous organ donation from an ex-girlfriend. “It was scary, because you’re facing death,” he says. “But you gotta understand, I seen my first murder at eight years old, growing up in Bed-Stuy. And that generation of crack and AIDS, so I faced it. I come from the ghetto, man. From the ghetto-ghetto ghetto. My jungle gym was an actual jungle.”

30 Rock’s creators were forced to write around Morgan’s absence, which was only the most dramatic instance of his life shaping Tracy Jordan’s. “We would try to exaggerate his life, so we did a whole thing about him getting ready to lose a foot and put a wheel on instead, “ says Carlock. “And we thought, “OK, this will make it clear to Tracy that we’re not just cribbing from his life all the time,” and cut to a couple of years later, ‘I might lose a foot,” Carlock continues.’ “I don’t know what to tell you, Tre, I’m sorry we did that wheel story.”

Morgan doesn’t necessarily share some of Jordan’s more extreme conspiratorial beliefs (“I believe the moon does not exist,” the character once declared). But he’s not big on conventional politics. “I don’t vote,” he says. I don’t get all into that. And if you don’t vote, people think you crazy. I don’t have to do that shit! I don’t have to do that shit. I do whatever the fuck I want to do. I’m grown. Like I said, I’m not no kid. Even though Tracy Jordan had like this little kid character in him, I’m a grown man. I look around, and my family, a lot of them are below the poverty line. And they still below the fucking poverty line, whether Obama is the president or Bush is the president or Romney. Power to the people, that’s what I believe.”

Morgan didn’t mind when the writers slipped his health woes and DUI bracelet into the show. But he was uncomfortable when they riffed on “a dark point in my life.” During a 2011 stand-up date in Tennessee, Morgan made an extremely unfortunate joke about stabbing a son if he turned out to be gay. An audience member’s offended Facebook post went viral, condemnation spread, and it became the worst controversy of his career. Morgan hid out in his house, not leaving for a month. “I was hurt because I had hurt other people,” he says. “And that’s not what I pride my comedy on. It was a joke. And, uh, I didn’t mean for it to go that way.”

His fiancee, a tall, 26-year-old former model named Megan Wollover, walks by. “She’s the one that got me through that,” he says. “She would tell you how hurt I was.”

She nods. “He wouldn’t leave the house, and he wanted to give up comedy. That’s just because he was hurt.”

Baldwin, for one, is concerned that Morgan might be in danger without the structure of 30 Rock. “He had 150 pairs of eyes on him every day,” Baldwin says. “There were different sets of reasons that people had for this concern, some of it commerce and some of it humanity and empathy, but either one of them worked for him in terms of his health. Tracy’s always saying, ‘Go get me the damn White Castle’ – he’s going to get his way and violate his nutritional probation. He’s going to miss the producers calling him every day and checking up on his sugar count.”

But so far, Morgan’s health is holding up, and he’s firm in his lack of interest in drinking, at least. “Sometime you gotta leave the party,” he says. “Big boy now. I ain’t missing nothing. Shit in the club ain’t changed. Nothing changed out there in 40 years.”

Thanks in part to his fiancee, he’s optimistic about the future. “Every time I make love to her I say, ‘Damn it! We getting it together!’ I have an orgasm and look at her and say, ‘May the force be with you!’ ”

He’s got three grown sons, and hopes to have a baby daughter one day soon: “You know what happiness is? Happiness is a simple thing, man. It’s having something to look forward to.”

It’s hard to imagine, really, but in the earliest days of 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin was terrified. At 48, he felt like he was running out of options. “I knew that the movie thing was starting to wind down,” he says. “You get your shot in that business, and if the movies don’t make money, you get demoted into indie-land, where you earn 10 percent of what you do in the studio business.”

As he tells a tale of uncertain times, Baldwin radiates authority and ease, sitting in the Grand Havana Room, a cozy masters-of-the-universe enclave on the 39th floor of a midtown skyscraper. Jack Donaghy would be at home here, though he might accuse Baldwin of dressing like a hippie in his slightly wrinkled blazer and polo shirt. As if he’s not a star in a private club, he charmingly requests, rather than orders, an off-menu addition of crab to his salad, telling the waiter, “If he’s not in the mood, don’t worry about it.”

Baldwin had been extraordinarily funny on his multiple hosting stints on Saturday Night Live, but as he moved into his first real comedy gig, he was intimidated by his colleagues. “I wish you could know, when I look back, how terrified I was,” he says. “These people were all UCB, Groundlings, Second City, eighth-degree black-belt comic talent. It was like getting in the ring with Royce Gracie and the Gracie family in mixed martial arts: These people are going to kick my fucking ass.”

Plus, there was that last-chance feeling. “There’s the cliché of, ‘If this doesn’t work, I’m dead,’ ” he recalls. “For every Jimmy Spader who goes from movies to TV and scores, there’s ones who it doesn’t work out for, and then it’s tough to dig yourself out of that rut. So I put all my faith in Lorne.”

Baldwin is half-convinced that he was always destined for comedic acting, despite the leading-man roles to which his extreme handsomeness led him. He compares it to Liam Neeson’s late-career turn toward action films. “I’ve always known that Liam Neeson was a tough guy,” he says. “If you’ve known Liam, you know that that’s something he could have easily slipped into for decades. For him to go do action films, you’re like, ‘Yeah, what’s surprising about that?’ For everybody, there’s some variation of that.”

Though Baldwin had starred in the underrated black comedy Miami Blues, and played a full-blown doofus in Beetlejuice, it was Michaels who first recognized how amusing he could be. “Alec has real power,” says Michaels, “so the part that is always fascinating is seeing how light on his feet he is in his comedy.”

It was Baldwin’s faith in Michaels (as well as his admiration for Fey’s talents) that led him to 30 Rock – even though Baldwin had just successfully pitched a TV idea of his own, a drama, to FX. Michaels pointed out that the FX show could go nowhere, while 30 Rock had a guarantee of 13 episodes. Baldwin notes that Michaels “very cleverly” neglected to mention that NBC was also going to be airing Studio 60, a similarly themed Aaron Sorkin show that most everyone was certainrep would overshadow 30 Rock (instead, it flopped after one season). It didn’t hurt that Baldwin was dealing with a custody battle over his now-teenage daughter, and the producers agreed to let him work only three days a week so he could visit her in L.A.

There’s more than a little Lorne Michaels in Jack Donaghy, though Fey can be coy about admitting it. Doesn’t a line like “hugging is so ethnic” seem like something the famously un-mushy SNL creator might say? “He wouldn’t say that,” she says, then pauses. “He might think it.” Baldwin has cited the oft-quoted joke about why he’s wearing a tuxedo one evening – “It’s after six. What am I, a farmer?” – as particularly Lorne-ish, though when I talk to Michaels around eight one December evening, he’s actually in a V-neck sweater (“But don’t blow that,” he says).

Baldwin looked to other ­sources to form the way Jack walks and talks. “For me, it was Hackman in Royal Tenenbaums, this kind of Hemingway manqué masculinity,” he says. “It’s a blend where you’re alternately Teddy Roosevelt, and the next minute you’re Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate: You’re a neurotic mess, psychosexually, and then you’re just charging up the hill with a sword in your hand.”

The character has stuck to Baldwin more than anything he’s ever done – he was fascinated to see fans ask online, “Is Alec Baldwin always in a suit?” And even in his actual life, “I’ve become more like Lorne,” he says, then explodes with laughter. “I can’t believe I said that. I’m a bit more of a snob than I was before I started. If I see someone who thinks he’s something and I look at his clothes and say, ‘Why are you wearing that shirt with that tie? That looks stupid. Why are you wearing saddle-colored shoes with a gray suit? You’re not a musician.’ It exacerbated that part of me.”

Baldwin was ready to leave the show during what he saw as a weak fifth season. “It was the low point,” he says, “though even anemic 30 Rock writing is still better than everybody else’s writing. I go, ‘I’m going to get the fuck out of here, I’m done,’ because I’m an employee, I don’t have any say. So Season Five ends, and I’m saying, ‘Next year, I’m done,’ then I come back, and Season Six is really good, we all had fun again.” Then Baldwin met his second wife, and he suddenly was ready to stay in New York forever. “Fuck, I’ll stay here seasons Nine, 10 and 11.” He is actually signed for an eighth season. “I don’t think they wanted me, they just wanted to know they had the option to have me.”

On his way out, Baldwin carefully files his receipt among a bunch of others in an extraordinarily thick wallet. “I’m a very fastidious record-keeper of these kinds of things,” he says, “so I don’t end up like my brother.” (Stephen Baldwin was arrested in December for tax evasion.)

Baldwin stands in the building’s vestibule, just out of the reach of the December wind, and ponders his future. “I’m going to do a play, which is a ‘refresh’ button,” he says. “While you’re doing it, you have the day free, you really can meditate and think about ‘Who am I now?’ For seven years, I was this guy, whatever the cocktail that made this guy, and I had to be that guy 12 hours a fucking day, day after day of shooting. It was a very generous schedule, but that was my creative life.” Then he smiles, and says something that would never come out of Jack Donaghy’s mouth: “Now I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.”

This story is from the January 31st, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.


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