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Lunch with Stephen Baldwin

Chicago [Chicago Sun Times] – Lunch with Stephen Baldwin, the youngest and oddest of the Hollywood Baldwin brothers, is not really lunch, per se. Not in the sense of sitting down and having a meal with someone in the middle of the day. Instead — and maybe this is just an L.A. thing — it’s more of a conceptual experience, an exercise in exploring what might happen if we did sit down and eat, without ever actually doing so.

The experience begins first thing in the morning when Baldwin’s publicist Brad calls my cell phone with a “quick question about flexibility,” which is, of course, neither quick nor actually a question, but instead a rather long monologue about how demanding Baldwin’s schedule has been and how much he needs a nap, which he’d really like to take at 11:30 — the exact time we were supposed to meet.

“So,” Brad tells me, “we’d like to do this a little later. Maybe 1:30 or 2:00.”

“OK,” I answer, “let’s say 1:30.”

“Great,” he says, “so meet me at our hotel at 1:30, and he’ll be ready at 2:00.”

“What time,” I ask, amused and totally unable to stop myself, “will he be ready if I get there at 2:00?”

Our conversation continues in this vein until it has been firmly established that (1) 1:30 or 2:00 actually means about 2:30, (2) we’ll be sitting down at his hotel rather than the previously agreed upon restaurant, and (3) no matter what time I arrive, I’ll be asked to wait.

He’s no Alec, I am tempted to point out to Brad, in response to all of this, that this is Stephen Baldwin, not, um, Alec, so my tolerance for high-maintenance movie-star-style requests is not as high as it might be. But it soon becomes clear that, in fact, Brad is already painfully aware of this fact and that what appears to be negotiating bravado is instead a mastery of the B-list hustle that is a combination of desperation and poor planning.

Stephen Baldwin is in Chicago to promote his new book, which he, in turn, “wrote” (The Unusual Suspect, with Mark Tabb. Warner Faith: 281 pages, $23.99) in order to promote his new, post-Hollywood bad boy calling as a self-described “hard-core” Christian evangelist. On the afternoon we meet, he’s scheduled to head out to suburban Addison for a book-signing event at the Wal-Mart there. He has already done a morning television appearance and has two radio interviews scheduled after our lunch.

He appears, at the Caliterra restaurant, in the lobby of his Streeterville hotel, with a cell phone to his ear and sleep still in his eyes.

“I’m so crazy right now,” he whispers to me as he sits down, not missing a beat in his cell-phone conversation. After a couple of minutes, he hangs up, but doesn’t put the phone away.

“Don’t think I’m a jerk,” he pleads, as he dials once again. “I just want to talk to my daughter.”

As the phone rings, he shouts over to Brad, who has taken a seat at a nearby table, “Brad, I was not able to pack at all.”

This news is greeted with a noise that sounds like panic. But Brad is quickly calmed when, having failed to reach his daughter, Baldwin makes a third phone call, this one apparently confirming an appearance, with his brother Daniel, on television’s “Extra!”

Baldwin announces to our waitress that he doesn’t have time to eat anything — though he hasn’t eaten all day — but that he’d like a ginger ale with cranberry juice, a Sierra Mist and a glass of water. He takes off his jacket, pushes up his sleeves to reveal his tattooed arms, and, for the first time since arriving 10 minutes ago, seems ready to talk. In fact, he seems a bit too ready; he’s settled into his chair like someone anticipating a long stay.

Now it’s Brad’s turn to start dialing furiously, since, in showing up late for this interview and not being ready to check out of the hotel when it’s done, Baldwin is now unlikely to make it to his planned interviews at WGN and WLS radio stations. It seems entirely possible that Brad is going to cry.

For 12 minutes, Baldwin and I talk about his faith and about how his conversion has been received, both in Hollywood and in Christian circles. News of his being born again has not been greeted with universal enthusiasm, but that doesn’t discourage him, he says.

“Do I believe Stephen Baldwin . . . has the right to force his faith on the world?” he asks rhetorically, and then answers himself, “No. But it’s my hope that this thing that I am so convinced is the truth . . . I would go anywhere to carry that truth, even to the point of death.”

At this point, Brad has to interrupt to discuss the logistics of the next two interviews. If he’s going to be on time, Baldwin needs to leave right away.

“The radio interviews are now phoners,” he tells Brad, in a tone that manages to have both a kind of make-it-so authority and a slightly impatient I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-figure-this-out-for-you edge.

Baldwin turns his attention back to our conversation — the one about him going anywhere, even risking death, to preach the gospel — while Brad frantically dials the radio producers to see if Baldwin can talk to them by phone, while packing his suitcase, instead of making the 5-minute drive to their studios, which is, you know, just going to be a huge hassle.

Discussion shifts to Bono, who Baldwin says he admires, but whom he has criticized for not “being more bold in evangelizing for Christ,” since there’s no point in, say, relieving hunger or fighting AIDS if people’s souls aren’t also saved.

Meanwhile, Brad is having very little luck with the radio stations, both of which are insisting that Baldwin stick to his original commitment to show up in person.

Eventually, Brad has to blink. Baldwin needs the radio stations a lot more than they need him, so he agrees to head over right away. It’s just one more sacrifice in the name of faith.

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