Classy: a corny moment of relaxation with Danny and Wendy. (photos by Enrique Lopetegui)
Daniel Baldwin says he is sober, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.
“My sobriety is nobody’s business,” he told the Current during an August 25 meeting at the Bauhaus Media Group studios, where he’s in post-production of the film he’s directing, Wisdom. The movie was shot in San Antonio, except for a scene in Malibu, California (“I’ll sell it as Corpus,” he laughs). He gave me the exact day of his sobriety (which I won’t share) but, after telling me “there’s a lot of lies that were written about me,” insists he won’t talk about it.
Yet, little by little, he opened up and told us about how inspiring the Wisdom journey has been for him and, hopefully, others.
In the following conversation, the actor-writer-director talked about the relationship with his brothers, what San Antonio needs to do to become a film/TV center and, yes, sobriety.
Negotiating edits with Wisdom senior editor Marc Cerutti.
Tell me about Bob, your character in Wisdom.
Bob was definitely a character. He has a voice
He talks like this
[mimics Bob’s voice, as he does in the movie]. He had several ticks and he did this weird thing with his head, and his eyes were squinting and flinching quite a bit. So I emulated that. It is slightly based off a guy that I actually knew that I am not going to name in the film. But he was very influential in how I portrayed the character, and I accentuated some of those things myself. He was somebody I knew in the sobriety world. He helped get me and many people sober. He actually did prison time himself, but I didn’t know him. I’ve never been to prison.
The whole movie was filmed in San Antonio, except for the beach house scene. Was that Corpus?
That was Malibu, but we’re going to sell it as Corpus Christi. [smiles]
So what is the story? Why San Antonio?
Alex Draghici is my partner with my production company, so he asked that I come do this movie here, HOA, and I did. While I was here, I remembered how much I love Austin, Canyon Lake, San Antonio... I always loved this region.
Why? What is it about it?
It’s very relaxed. I like those rolling hills and the lake topography. I feel very comfortable, so I said, “Hey, why don’t I shut down my operations in Portland and move down?” And here we are. This is our first movie, The Wisdom To Know the Difference [aka Wisdom]. We have seven properties and this is the first of seven. We started very small. We shot this entire film for $60,000 with a pretty cool cast. And we’ll see how it does at the festivals. We are going to try and get it into Sundance and should it fare well there, which I think it will, that will probably propel us in getting money for some other things we want to do here. [Wisdom] has a very dark art house feel to it.
I lived in L.A. for 19 years, and I loved it. When I moved to San Antonio everybody thought I was crazy. But I love it here too. It reminds me of my own country and the city I was born and raised, Montevideo, Uruguay: a big city with a small town vibe. A place where, unlike L.A. or New York, you can step back and smell the roses. Well, the Bluebonnets.
Yeah. I grew up in New York, so when I went to L.A. I never felt comfortable, I never felt at home. It is the hub of where my business takes place, but I don’t miss Los Angeles at all. Well, I do miss the weather.
What can you tell me about the other projects?
A couple of treatments are already written. Two are TV ideas. I think that, if San Antonio really wants to get on the map and really propels itself to where it could become more like what Austin was in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it has to probably do two things: a. A TV series that shoots in San Antonio, that talks about San Antonio, that shows the River Walk in San Antonio. You see? As I’m speaking to you, I said San Antonio, San Antonio, San Antonio. San Antonio is the 7th largest market right now in the country and I promise you: when you walk around and you ask Americans to name the 10 biggest cities, San Antonio is not something that is going to come out of their mouths.
Oh, I believe you.
Dallas and Houston might, but not San Antonio, and there is a problem with that. It should [be on the list], it is; therefore, why don’t people know that? A television show that depicts the actual town puts a huge spotlight on the town. I don’t think people know what is here or what San Antonio has to offer. So that would be helpful. And the second thing is: the neighboring two states to Texas are New Mexico and Louisiana, east and west. Louisiana has passed tax breaks now for the film industry that they are no longer touching jets down in Texas. They are flying right over your head and going to Louisiana because it is so much more advantageous. Now, I don’t know whether or not I can have an effect on what Texas decides to do to try to equal the playing field but certainly, we have aggressive and very bright politicians in San Antonio, and I speak mostly about our Mayor Castro. He has this 2020 project he has been talking about. Should they decide to do something where there is an extra amount of points that are available if you shoot in SA proper and add that incentive onto the already existing Texas incentive, now you are doing battle with numbers with the neighboring states of New Mexico and Louisiana. And we might be able to give more incentives to people who come here and make more film and television projects here. I would like to be a part of that.
Have you talked to the Mayor or Drew Mayer-Oaks, our film commissioner?
I’ve spoken with Drew about it, and Drew has some ideas too. I think it is a matter of putting a nice barbecue and getting the Mayor and some of his people over and see whether or not we are talking about the same things.
The Wisdom scenes you showed me tell me that, at least on those scenes, you’re not doing things the conventional, formulaic way, so common in San Antonio, unfortunately. That intro alone is dark, creepy, intense stuff, with multiple jump cuts and an eerie vibe to it.
Well, it’s interesting. One of the guys that helped us raise money went to rehab in Malibu and he came out. He’s a typical movie watcher who watches the types of formula films that you’re talking about, and his notes where, “I think you could lose a lot of the stuff about sobriety and move it faster and make it more about the kid.” What you [didn’t see] is what the Carlos character [played by Lou Diamond Phillips in the movie] is wanting me to do is kidnap his niece and take her to a remote location and help her get sober and detox off of heroin. So I drug this girl and take her up to a cabin in the mountains. For 30 days she has to stay with no way out.
So what’s the difference?
That this really happened.
Oh. OK, fair enough. You were about to tell me something.
So this investor wanted to make it more about the kidnapping. You know, formula crap. And I said, “It’s not that movie. It’s not about that. It’s about this girl’s journey. It’s about this hooker heroin addict who looked like she had not a chance to make it, and that she actually got sober and stayed sober.” I think it is a great victory. If people out there that recognize this title as being the end of the serenity prayer and they go there and they see it, and then they want to show it to someone who needs help, and that entices them to go get help, then my mission has been accomplished. If I can help a handful of people get sober while watching this movie, then it was well worth all my time.
Besides the fact that you're directing it and acting in it, this is not only a very personal role for you, but a very personal project.
Is there anything better than this? I mean, and I’m talking as a recovering addict myself, is there anything better or more energizing than helping others remain sober? And you as an actor, to do it through your work must be amazing.
I try to tell people that I’m at step 12, and I’ll always be at step 12. And having had the spiritual awakening, I now actively seek others. I don’t wait for them to necessarily come to me, sometimes I go to them. But I try to help people and deliver the message because that helps keep me sober. That is what people sometimes don’t get. People ask me, “Why do you email this person who doesn’t really get it?” And I say, “Because his mother called me and said, ‘My kid is in trouble.’" Now I had a counselor once tell me
Her name was Cindy Collier and she was at Sierra Tucson where I was in rehab. She put a chair right in front of me and she took her two hands and put them up front from behind and she placed them on the side of my head and aimed my head directly at the chair and she said, “That is your disease. Can you see it?” And I said, “Yes of course.” And she said, “I want you to look straight ahead and don’t take your eyes off that chair because that is your disease.” And I said, “OK .” Now she goes, “Three months from now, you are not going to a meeting everyday, you are going to a meeting four days a week,” and she slid the chair about 20 degrees to the left and she said, “Keep looking straight ahead. Can you still see that chair?” And I said, “Yes, of course I can.” And she said, “It’s not as clear as it was before, is it?” And I go, “No, but I can see it pretty well.” Then she says, “Great. Seven months from now
” and she moved the chair just to the edge of my periphery, “Can you still see that chair, can you still see your disease?” I say, “Yes I can.” She says, “It’s not as clear as it was the first or second time.” And I say, “No, I can barely see it.” She goes, “You can barely see it, but you can still see it. You’re only going to a meeting once a week and you’re not calling your sponsor all the time anymore. Well, that is your disease, though, but you can still see it.” Then she goes, “Now you’re a year from now and you stop calling your sponsor and you stopped going to the meetings,” and she moved the chair behind me to where I could no longer see it. And she took her hand and whacked me in the back of the head and she said, “That is when you relapse.” She said, “That is because you lost focus of your program.” So everyday I am in this editing bed watching this movie, I’m constantly reminded that I am an addict and an alcoholic and that these types of things that I do help me on my day-to-day life so I can still remain being a sober addict and an alcoholic, and a father, and employable and lots of things, things which I haven’t been from time to time because of my disease.
I once saw your brother Stephen on TV, in one of those Evangelical shows. Is this movie your own way to
My personal relationship with God has nothing to do with this film.
OK. William has a role in the film. How close or competitive are you guys? Do you talk to Alec often?
We are extremely competitive, but I don’t think that we’re extremely competitive in our acting careers. Let’s face it: Alec is a very big movie star and has been for a long time. I don’t believe that Billy, Stephen, and I are up for the same roles that Alec is. And I’m very happy for his career and his talents. He is an extremely talented guy. Now, if you want to see competition, put a football in our hands—that’s when the blood starts to boil, and we’re extremely competitive at those types of things. I think that, as far as our relationships are concerned, it has cycles. We are in different places. Talk about you and your brother when you were 35 or 45. I used to live in the same city as Alec and I would see a lot more of him, but now he has taken on a new bride and he has a new life going on. They should have a baby any time now. He is not quite as available right now. I don’t really talk to him as much and I certainly don’t see him as much, and God bless him. He is very busy, but I am here for him when he needs to talk.
How difficult is it to portray a fictitious character as opposed to portraying a person that you knew, like Bob?
First off, as an actor, I try to do two things. Number one: I have four marriages, four independent marriages as an actor—I have a marriage to the character, a marriage to the script, a marriage to the director, and then a marriage to the rest of the ensemble and the crew. Those four relationships, I try to intertwine them and make them into one and as close to one as I can. That is my responsibility as an actor. As a director, it’s like being a parent. As a writer too, I take it from its infancy, the first words that I’ve ever written, all the way to letting it go to college or putting it on the screen and letting it go to the public. So quite a bit of different responsibilities and very different roles as far as how I take them. But as an actor I always say: try to act as little as you can. So if I have to play a rapist or a serial killer or something that I have no life experiences, then I have to do research and I have to do things that I am reading about, psychological stuff, profiles of people who have done these things. But other than that I just try to be myself in those situations. In this case [of Wisdom], I am portraying someone I have met, so I can recall what that was like. I can recall questions that I have asked this person and be responsible. I think it is very irresponsible when I watch people portray someone else and do something that they decided would be interesting to do for the character that wasn’t, say, Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan or whoever. That I find offending.
Do you think Wisdom may be the movie San Antonio needs?
I don’t know. I mean, I have seen a few other films recently that have been made here, and I wasn’t that impressed. It’ll grow, it will have a natural growth curve to it. But it is going to take some aggressive change in the tax incentive, otherwise it is just not going to come right now, and that is a shame because you can feel it wants to blow up here. So it will just be a matter of whether we can get the right people that have that kind of power to change it or it will be what it is now—kind of a cool place to come shoot, but not really a hub.
Let me ask you a question. It’s a little experiment of mine. Fast, name your three favorite directors and three favorite movies.
I would say [Alfred] Hitchcock was an amazing director. [Martin] Scorsese and [Francis Ford] Coppola. Those are three of my favorites. Barry Levinson, John Carpenter
There are a few that I have worked with that are very talented and I enjoy their films. To this day I say that the original Godfather was one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Believe it or not, I am a father of five children and the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably one of the greatest movies. The symbolism and the nuances of Gene Wilder’s performance as Willy Wonka were incredible.
OK, you passed the test. The reason why I asked you this, and keep in mind I’m not at all into dry intellectual bullshit, is that I strongly believe you can’t never become a great filmmaker unless you learn the work of past masters. Not only American or British masters, but foreign ones.
I have always been a big fan of [Federico] Fellini.
There you go. Bingo. Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, they all know perfectly well who Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Fellini and others are. But I find it hard to locate too many young directors who have seen even one of their films.
Oh, I agree.
So we won’t be able to see Wisdom until 2014?
I may screen something here. I don’t know, but I want to see what the rules on competition are in Sundance, should we get in. The deadline to submit to Sundance without late penalties is August 31 and then they have a grace period of 27 more days into September if you want to pay additional monies for late fees. My understanding is films that are submitted late aren’t considered as seriously, so I don’t want to run into that problem. So I’ll be done by the 31st of August and submit, and then I don’t know how long it will be until I find out [whether I'm accepted]. Should I not get into Sundance, then there is a chance that I might have a big premiere [in San Antonio]. If I get into Sundance, I think I’ll wait.