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Baldwin set to test uncharted waters with voice career

| Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Alec Baldwin's voice is the auditory equivalent of hot chocolate.

Soothing, delicious, a bit soporific.

Even today, when he's a little hoarse, his manner of speaking is mellifluous. Tell him that he's probably heard this before, and Baldwin shrugs and smiles.

“I never really think about it,” he says.

His award-winning, career-resurrecting stint on NBC's “30 Rock” and headline-worthy antics aside (Words with Friends and American Airlines, anyone?), Baldwin is at least as known for his phonetic proficiency as his on-screen work. He hosts public radio's “Here's the Thing” specials and “New York Philharmonic This Week” broadcasts. And he voices the most iconic of all the holiday notables, Santa Claus himself, in the animated film “Rise of the Guardians,” which opened Wednesday.

“Alec knows his voice like a concert violinist knows his Stradivarius. He can get so much variation from his voice,” says director Peter Ramsey. “We wanted him to do it because our version of Santa is kind of a wild man. We wanted unpredictability and an impish sense of humor. Alec really has that. He can go into a squeaky voice. He's extremely playful. And yet he's an imposing guy when you meet him. I thought he was perfect for this warrior with a heart of gold.”

In every sense, the film represents a tipping point of sorts for Baldwin. “30 Rock” will end its run early next year. And he views “Guardians” as a chance to connect with a younger generation.

“I started doing the TV show in 2006 right after my 48th birthday. Now I'm 54 years old. That's six years, a long time in my life,” he says. “Now I'm doing a children's movie that's going to reach out to a whole new audience. You realize that these movies, the children's audience, is in many respects the audience. This movie is a good movie. I really like it.”

His life, too, is in a good place, following years of headline-making turbulence. There was the ugly divorce from actress Kim Basinger. The even uglier custody battle over daughter Ireland, now 17, culminating in the voicemail heard ‘round the world. But “30 Rock” was a game-changer for Baldwin, giving him stability, clout and renewed relevance. This year, Baldwin married yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas, and in the spring, he returns to Broadway in “Orphans.”

“I'm in a weird spot. I think in terms of what I want to do, I'm figuring it out. The television show, in terms of lifestyle, was a real harbor for me at a time when I needed something more familiar and simple. I'd gotten divorced. I was in this really tough custody battle. I needed something to be really smooth in my life,” Baldwin says.

“This was the smoothest job I ever could have had, in terms of the way I was accommodated with my schedule. The TV show has been being tied up in the harbor. Now I'm going out in the open water. It's tricky. It's thrilling but tricky.”

His choice to do theater again was no accident. “The play is always, I find, it's the reset button for me. When I'm coming out of something and I don't know who I am — I've done this TV show and when it ends, you've been rolling down a hill and you have to hit the breaks. The play is the best way to go. It's therapeutic,” says Baldwin.

Baldwin credits much of his new-found balance to his wife. Baldwin, prolific on Twitter, sends her sweet tweets and checks his phone constantly during this interview. “I'm married and I'm happy again. Truly. I'm happy, I love my wife, I love being around her — she's like the sunshine,” he gushes.

A lot of stories tend to focus on Baldwin's at-times-outrageous antics, like getting booted from American Airlines for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends. What's gotten somewhat lost in the mix is his good work. Those Capital One commercials? Baldwin gave all the proceeds to charity.

“I got millions of dollars from them. These guys gave me a lot of money. I have a very tough schedule. They were very accommodating. I gave a million dollars twice to the Philharmonic and twice to NYU, and then smaller amounts to other groups. It was a great feeling and I wish I could continue. I think about what it would be like to be Bloomberg. What a great feeling to give money to people that makes a difference in their lives. I wish I could do more,” he says.

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