"Do we believe it?" That was the response from the film and theatre critic Matt Wolf to the news that the 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin has decided to quit acting because he considers his entire movie career a "complete failure". In an interview with Men's Journal, the 51-year-old actor said last week: "Movies are a part of my past, it's been 30 years - I'm not young, but I have time to do something else ... it's a difficult thing to say, but I believe it: I consider my entire movie career a complete failure."
Baldwin wants to end his career once the comedy series 30 Rock wraps in 2012. But none of the critics I contacted could believe Baldwin was going to walk. "His career has been on the highest roll it has ever been," said Matt Wolf. "He has won Emmys for hit sitcom 30 Rock, he is presenting this year's Oscars with Steve Martin and his new movie It's Complicated is just about to open," said Matt Wolf. "What's the problem?"
Observers believe Baldwin may exchange his TV career for one in politics. He is known in Hollywood as a committed liberal - he was famously lampooned for it in the movie Team America, by the makers of South Park - and has admitted he would like to run for the Governorship of New York. "I'm de Tocqueville compared to [California governor] Schwarzenegger" he said. "He has the public's attention," said Wolf, "so this could be a good time. But if he is worried about failure, politics is full of it."
Baldwin is hardly the only successful star to announce that he is tired of acting. In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking they do it all the time. Joaquin Phoenix made headline news this year when he announced he was quitting to become a rapper. The star of Walk the Line seemed disoriented in several nightclub appearances as well as during a TV interview with David Letterman, who was driven to joke to his studio guest "it's a pity you couldn't be here with us tonight." Phoenix is yet to release an album.
Anthony Hopkins, who in his drinking years was famous for leaving his own dinner parties halfway through and turning off the lights, much to the astonishment of his guests, announced in 1998 that he was quitting acting for good. "Acting is bad for the mental health. I can't take it any more. This has got to stop. I have wasted my life - To hell with this stupid show business, this ridiculous showbiz, this futile wasteful life," he said. Since then, he's appeared in 17 films
Nicholas Cage remarked earlier this year: "Some movie stars look like they are having a ball, but I'm tired of it. It has made me reclusive." However, that comment came before it was reported that Cage was hit with a $6.5 million (Dh24 billion) tax bill. He currently has 12 projects on the go. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis quit in 2006, only to appear as Aunt Viv in Beverly Hills Chihauhua last year. Hayden Christensen considered leaving acting behind in 2005, Freddie Prinze Jnr "quit" in 2003 and Phoebe Cates did the same in 1994. All have since returned to the silver screen.
While Sean Connery, Madonna, Gene Hackman and Quentin Tarantino have quit and stuck to their guns, why do so many others flounce but then return? Economics plays a part, but for the Sunday Times film writer Stephen Armstrong, the psychological make up of creative types holds the key. Alec Baldwin, says Armstrong, is a tortured soul, prone to depressive interludes with a private life to match. His divorce from Kim Basinger led to a famously messy seven year custody battle over their daughter Ireland. Things got so bad he published a book about the ordeal in 2008, A Promise To Ourselves.
Baldwin's pending exit from acting could simply be a cry for help, says Armstrong. Whatever the reason, Baldwin is "being unfair on himself. He's definitely got more reason to be proud of his career than most of us.". * Andy Pemberton