He has played the intrepid, the mean, the sweetheart, the well-behaved, and the helpless romantic. In his latest project, the Hallmark movie Be My Valentine, Billy gives life to a young, widowed father—and dating advisor—of his teenage son. In this story about self-discovery and ageless love, they are both searching for that special someone. Billy recently sat down with us for this exclusive interview to talk about the movie, his dream career path, and the importance of being close to his family.
Don’t miss the premiere of Be My Valentine on February 9 at 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel (Ch. 312).
We’re very excited about your new Hallmark film Be My Valentine. Tell us, what drew you to this role?
WB: Work! Well, that’s part of it. No, I read the script and I was very moved by it. Definitely touched by it. It’s a very sweet piece, right up Hallmark’s alley. They are doing great stuff and I had never done one with them before. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Had a great time with my crew up in Canada. And Graham, my director, we had a very nice time. Recently I’ve done a lot of comedy. The Squid and the Whale years ago and I did Dirty Sexy Money and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 30 Rock, and I’ve done very muscular, action-oriented stuff like Hawaii Five-0. I just thought it was nice to go back to what got me started in this in the first place, which is human emotion, the words. Working with my fellow actors and our director to try to breathe life into it. I was drawn to it. It didn’t have all the bells and whistles. This was just about the actors and the words. That’s nice.
This is not your typical Valentine’s Day movie. It’s very down to earth, which audiences will find very refreshing.
WB: Yes, I think Bill Abbott over at Hallmark has a team of people who are really diversifying more. They have talk shows and a different variety of content, which they didn’t have before. They’re making a lot of movies—they made forty movies last year, they’re making another forty this year. I think it feels like they’re more cutting edge. I’m not saying they are controversial movies, like Oliver Stone, but they are offering more dynamic content.
Be My Valentine follows two parallel love stories and I find that anyone can identify with this movie, regardless of age. It is interesting to see this man—who doesn’t view love as a priority—finding love again. Do you think love changes as we grow older?
WB: I think it’s the trap people fall into. They want love at 15 or 20 years to feel the way it felt at 18 months. And it doesn’t. And they want to feel like they felt in junior high school and it doesn’t. When you’re with somebody for 11, 17, 25 years, it involves that you are in a very different place. Just because you feel different doesn’t mean the relationship is over, that there is a problem, or that you’re not in love anymore. It takes on a different feeling, a different direction. A lot of people just flush the relationship down the toilet. That’s a horrible thing to do, especially when you have kids involved. Why is that necessary? I think finding love the second time around is hard, especially for anyone who has lost a spouse or people who have been divorced. My mother-in-law lost her husband when she was in her late 40s—she was my age—and she never met anybody else. Never had companionship. Never had a relationship. It’s sad. I think it’s great to be able to have a relationship as part of your life. We all yearn for that.
Another thing I noticed is the role technology plays in romance. Your idea of a nice gesture is making a mix tape. I mean, who even makes mix tapes these days? Do you think technology is killing romance? Or is it just transforming it?
WB: Oh please, yeah! It’s exciting and dangerous. I mean dangerous—exhilarating and dangerous—the great unknown. When I was a kid growing up, when you created a personal page seeking romance and companionship there was something wrong with you. But today, if you don’t do that there is something wrong. More and more people are meeting each other through Match.com and ChristianMingle.com and all that junk. Technology has revolutionized how we go about pursuing relationships. I think it’s cool. Of course, it can be dangerous too. There’s cyber-bullying and a lot of perverts out there. You have to be careful.
You work closely with Christian Martyn [he plays Tyler on Be My Valentine], who is amazing and natural on film. What is it like working with such young talents? Do they ever ask for advice?
WB: Yeah, though I don’t really sit there, direct him and coach him. I do try to lead by example. Communicating with him and the rest of the cast and the crew. Kids have a tendency to rehearse a lot with their teachers, with their mother, and they come to the set with their performance locked in. Their acting is reacting. A lot of times you have kids making sure they’re saying the lines the cool way. Sometimes it doesn’t always match with what I’m saying or how I’m saying it. You’ve got to make sure they’re listening and reacting to what I’m saying and how that moves them. If they’re listening, then you can get a really beautiful and organic performance.
We know that your weren’t always an actor. What moved you to make the switch?
WB: My brother [Alec Baldwin] was doing it. He was very successful and I thought that was cool. I went to college and studied Political Science. After college, I worked briefly and was involved in politics—I interned in Capitol Hill. I still continue to do some philanthropy and charity work, not as much political work as I did 10 years ago, but I really should get back into that business. Get into more political activism as well. But basically we all saw what my brother was doing and I thought it was really cool. I thought, why not give it a try?
You were on 30 Rock, working with Alec. Have you ever thought about doing something with all the Baldwin brothers? Do you ever talk about it?
WB: No, we don’t. I’d like to do it but it would have to be the right project and nothing has come along, unfortunately. We’ll see. We talked about doing a Western movie about 15 years ago. That never happened. The money never came together.
Is there a role that you fantasize about?
WB: No. There is a dream situation that I’d love to be in. I would love to be in a situation like what I had with Dirty Sexy Money, where I was in a great part on a great show where everyone was positive about it. It was an ensemble cast, so I didn’t have to work every day. I had really fun, challenging stuff to do in my performance. I worked with incredible actors. I shot in L.A., so I was going back and forth from Santa Barbara three days a week. I’d like to be on a show that would allow me to make money and still be with my family. That’s the ideal scenario. I mean I’d love to be nominated and win an award—that would be so cool to be recognized in that way—but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice what I have with my kids and not be with them for a long stretch of time. That wouldn’t work. My dream situation is that in which I’m on this cool, fun, hit show and I can still tuck my kids in at night.
You’ve just wrapped up Gossip Girl. What was it like playing the role of Dr. William Van Der Woodsen?
WB: It was fun, it was cool. You know, I moved to New York while shooting the part for Gossip Girl. That brought me back to New York. I was in a recurring role as Serena’s father, Dr. Van Der Woodsen, and it’s funny because I wasn’t in New York for two or three months at a time. I would fly and be there for 10 days, come back and so on. They gave me naughty, dysfunctional, perverted stuff to work on. It’s good when they give you something juicy to do. And I was born and raised in New York so every time I go back there I see all my friends from my hometown— college buddies, family. It was great being back in the old neighborhood.
You’ve been married for more than 20 years, which is amazing. Do you continue to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
WB: I’ve been married for 17 years but I’ve been with my wife for 22 years. We do celebrate. It’s not like it once was. We have three kids now. But you still have to set aside the time and the effort to make sure you’re taking care of each other.
Now we’re going to do a little game. I’m going to give you two options, related to our conversation, and you have to pick one. TV or Film?
WB: Am I choosing between Matt Damon‘s film career and Alec Baldwin’s TV career? Obviously, at 50-years old, with kids and a wife, I want a steady gig. TV is the one that makes more sense. When you finish a film you’re back on the unemployment line and you don’t know if you’re working again for a month or three or a year. In TV, when you’re in Season 2 and you know you’re doing two or more seasons, that’s a dream scenario. If I had a movie career and could just hit cruise control, know that I could be making one or two movies a year for the next 10 years, that’s a lot of fun. TV is a lot of work and a lot of hours. My dream would be to be in a great cable TV show and you’re on HBO, USA, FX, or Showtime, do one of those 12-episode seasons. You know? Something cool, cutting-edge. Like Mad Men, working with great actors. To work five or six months and then do a movie or a play the rest of the time.
Romance or Suspense?
WB: Romance. I like thrillers and action. I would choose drama over romance. But romance over suspense, for sure.
To play the bad guy or the good guy?
WB: Usually to play the bad guy, but I’ve been the bad guy on Gossip Girl, on Hawaii Five-0, I’ve been the bad guy for so long. I’m glad to be playing the good guy on the Hallmark Channel. But the bad guy is more fun!
Flowers or Candy?
WB: Neither! Sex.
Sunny California or Sunny New York?
WB: That’s a hard one to answer. I’ve lived my whole life in New York and we came over here [to California] five years ago. We love it here so much. I don’t see us going back right now. I don’t miss it enough to go back. With kids it would be hard to go back, they have their social scene… I would say sunny California. If you said sunny Los Angeles vs. Sunny New York City? I’d say New York City.