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The Good Baldwin

Stephen Baldwin comes to New York, comes to play, and comes out about his true ministry.

12:00 AM, Sep 8, 2004 • By MATT LABASH
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New York

THOUGH IT'S BEEN SOME TIME since official Baldwin Brother Rankings were released, most Baldwinologists agree that of the acting Baldwin brothers, Stephen Baldwin is generally stalled in third place. The fame index has him ahead of black-sheep Baldwin brother, Daniel--he of the naked, crack-fueled Plaza hotel rampage of 1998. But he's still slightly behind Brother Billy, the Dreamboat / Creative-Coalition-helming / Chynna Phillips-marrying Baldwin. And he's way behind Alec, the Baldwin who best exemplifies the A-List and A-hole version of a Baldwin brother. (It was chronically outspoken Alec who once called Al D'Amato "the bozo pool attendant from Island Park," while wishing he would "get into a serious ski accident. I'm talking about a large tree.")

But at the Republican Convention, Stephen Baldwin, who has been called everything from the loopy Baldwin to the bouncy Baldwin, is earning his stripes as the most fearless Baldwin, and perhaps the most fearless man in Hollywood, generally speaking. Baldwin, it seems, has violence on the brain, since career-wise, he looks to be committing double hara-kiri. In left-leaning Hollywood, it is considered a death-wish to show up at the GOP convention in the first place, where the VIP rooms of the cattle-feed parties are inhabited by such downwardly mobile entertainers as Joe Piscopo and Larry Gatlin. Even if your most visible recent roles were as a game show contestant on Celebrity Mole: Hawaii and Celebrity Mole: Yucatan, as Baldwin's have been, hanging out with Republican "celebrities" is akin to signaling casting directors that you're ready to start making Spanish soap opera cameos.

But well beyond this breach of etiquette, Baldwin hasn't come to fill the traditional celebrity role of popping off about issues he knows nothing about. In fact, he is a self-described "independent" who refuses to explicitly name the presidential candidate he is supporting. He says that he doesn't want anyone to think he has a political agenda. While a political convention is a lousy place to emphasize that point, Baldwin says his agenda is "faith-based" and that he doesn't want to discuss Republican politics at all. In fact, he wants to talk about something much more dangerous. He wants to talk about Jesus: "I'm here as a result of my faith. I'm here to promote and support the candidate that I think has the most faith. Does somebody come to mind? Shhhhhhh, don't say his name--that's the guy I'm voting for." (Not for nothing, Stephen is also regarded as the "Playful Baldwin").

Lining up an interview with Baldwin is much like lining up any celebrity interview. There are fits and starts, seductions and assurances. When I speak with Baldwin's publicist, Brad Taylor, there is the requisite amount of obsequious fawning. I sheepishly tell him that I think Stephen and me will have much to discuss, since I too am "kind of a believer."

"Kind of, or you are?" says Brad.

After assuring Brad that I love Jesus's work, that I'm a big admirer of His creative choices, we move on to The Conceit--the traditional kabuki dance between profiler and celebrity, where we agree to place ourselves in contrived surroundings--be it skydiving or cow-tipping--so that we can have contrived conversation in order to get at the real celebrity. Squeezed for time, I go for something simple. "Stephen seems like a fun guy," I say, "how about he comes to my magazine's party with the Distilled Spirits Council? They'll be pouring lots of good whiskey?"

"Stephen's in AA," Brad yawns.

The clichés are stacking up fast. But it is at this point that celebrity convention is left aside. We meet up one morning at the Brooklyn Diner in Manhattan, where Baldwin and company are sitting under a mural of Ebbets Field amid bagel wreckage and half-consumed coffee. Sitting next to him are publicist Brad, in his best white V-neck t-shirt. And there's Sly, Baldwin's menacing-looking black bodyguard, a cuddly guy once you get to know him, but one who at first glance looks as if he'd just as soon gnaw your hand off as shake it. Another mild-mannered youngish woman sits at our table. Baldwin introduces her as the daughter-in-law of evangelist Luis Palau, who sponsors Baldwin's "Livin' It" skateboard ministry--one in which Baldwin and a band of skaters for the Savior take the Good News on the road at youth events.

I tell Baldwin that I had just assumed she was his personal assistant, the unfortunate soul tasked with bringing him lots of mineral water so he has something with which to wash his hair. "You gotta love these Christians, they're humble people," he says, his Cheshire grin bunching his eyes into small slits, like ice-blue pinholes on a Lite-Brite. "Earlier today, she was carrying Sly's gun for him. She was a pistol-packing Palau."