His Famous Family, Faith and a Film Adaptation
He is the youngest of the “Baldwin Brothers.” From growing up as sports-playing kids from New York to all being actors, Alec, Daniel, William, and Stephen continue to garner much attention as brothers.
Each of their careers have followed different paths and Stephen’s work has mirrored his personal life. Early on he starred in films like Bio-Dome and The Usual Suspects. He was on television shows like The Young Riders and Celebrity Apprentice. As he got married and had kids, coupled with the tragic events of September 11, 2001, in his native state, Baldwin decided to follow the Lord and commit his life. He turned down mainstream roles and stepped out in faith to be a part of, and create projects, that could reach others for Christ – including Loving the Bad Man and I’m in Love with a Church Girl. His current movie began as a sermon, evolved into a one-man stage production and now Heaven, How I Got Here: A Night with the Thief on the Cross has become a film produced by his own faith-based production company LIGHTBEAMedia.
Risen talked with 51-year-old about his famous family, his faith and film adaptation, plus his experiences with Donald Trump behind the scenes in Celebrity Apprentice and then later supporting him in the presidential election.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: You grew up in what has become quite a famous family. What stands out most about the four of you boys growing up together?
Stephen Baldwin: The one pretty cool thing is that for me and my brothers I think we’re all still pinching ourselves every day saying, “Really? Are we really so fortunate to be involved in this industry and have this kind of success?” I think the coolest thing is that we have always been able to keep it real even though we’ve had this success in this industry that I guess people think allows you to think more of yourself than you should, which is kind of stupid. We don’t forget who we are or where we’re from. I think that is one of the greatest blessings. Looking at my brother, Billy, and he coaches his sons’ baseball team. We grew up in the same situation with my dad [coaching us]. And my brother Dan is an actor, but on the side he does a lot of work in rehabilitation to help people who struggle with addictions.
RM: Did you always think that you all would end up actors? How did that passion develop amongst everyone?
SB: My dad was a school teacher and my mom was a homemaker. My brothers and I getting into the film business is really much more of a fluke than anything else. We were just a blue-collar family of a bunch of dumb jocks pretty much. We played sports, chased girls and did all the stuff you’re normally supposed to do. Alec went to the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, New York University [NYU] and also worked as a waiter at Studio 54. A producer said, “Oh, hey my friend’s casting this film and you should go see him.” It was kind of the luck of that that started it. But once my brother Alec started to succeed, the rest of us were kind of like, “Well, wait a second if he could then we might as well give it a try.” Alec Baldwin when we were growing up wasn’t such a fancy guy to the rest of us, he was just our brother. [Laughter]
[For me] from elementary school to high school I had been doing community theater and I was a singer. I was the one that had always been demonstrating that potential. Then my brother in his first year of college decided that he wanted to pursue this professionally. Even though my brothers and I had been playing around with this thing we never took it seriously, like for a career, until my brother Alec broke into the business. In a healthy way, there was this sibling competition about it. But it was very positive.
RM: What has been one of the biggest blessings to having all your brothers in the spotlight in a shared field of industry, and what has been one of the biggest challenges?
SB: Because of the age difference there hasn’t been much competition between us brothers. We all have been able to individually carve out our own little niche of our own careers. The weirdest thing over thirty years in the industry has been that sometimes someone will call Alec’s agent and ask, “Hey, is Alec available for this opportunity?” And if he’s not available they say, “Okay, great is Daniel available? No, is Billy available?” It doesn’t happen much anymore but the number of times producers who are trying to cast a film would run down the line [of us brothers] has been one of the weirder things in the past. “Stephen’s not available? What’s his Pomeranian doing? Yeah!” [Laughter]
It was an event that I could no longer seek the answer to in the natural. This was an event where the only place to remotely comprehend what was happening meant I had to go to God.
RM: Your personal testimony is powerful. Can you share about how you became a Christian? I understand it was a combination of the nanny you hired to watch your daughter, your wife, and the events of 9/11.
SB: Around the time of the birth of my first daughter Alaia (1993) was when my wife and I decided to hire a nanny through her family in Brazil. My wife, Kennya, was born in Brazil but at the age of four moved to New York City and was raised there. At the point and time when we had our first child, through her family, she was able to locate someone who would consider moving to America to work for us as a housekeeper and a nanny. We did that and that woman’s name was Augusta. The circumstances were unique because when Augusta came to work for us, within the first few weeks, she would be singing in Portuguese about Jesus while she worked. I didn’t speak the language, but my wife did. So my wife would occasionally notice what she was singing, but she didn’t really think anything of it.
After a while my wife came to me and asked, “Did you hear Augusta singing? She’s singing about God and that is kind of weird. What do you think of that?” I said, “Well, honey you know that I don’t speak Portuguese, that’s exactly why you and your mother talk about me when you’re standing right in front of me. I think that’s sweet and nice, whatever gets her through the day. As long as she keeps the house clean everything will be fine.” After a few more days of this my wife casually asked Augusta, “Hey, I noticed you’re singing and I was just wondering why do you only sing about God?” And Augusta had this very unusual reaction. She was a pretty soft spoken person, but when my wife asked that she literally burst out laughing. After a few minutes, she composed herself and said, “Oh, Mrs. Baldwin please forgive my reaction. I don’t mean to be rude or disrespectful, but I’m just glad you noticed my singing and I’m happy you’ve asked me this question. I think it’s funny that you think the reason that I’m here is to clean your house.”
In the natural of that moment, you can only imagine it’s like you’re talking crazy. What are you talking about? What do you mean? And Augusta explained that back in Brazil in her home church when she got the opportunity, she spoke with her pastor and prayed with her intercessory prayer group at church. And one of the persons in that prayer group was prophetic. They had received a word about the situation and told Augusta, “God has spoken and if you go to work for this man and this woman as a result of that, they are both going to become Christians and at some point after that they will be involved in ministry.” So my wife comes back to me and says, “Oh, honey guess what Augusta just told me?! The real reason she’s here, in addition to helping us with the baby and keeping the house clean, is that you and I are supposed to become born-again Christians and be involved in Christian ministry.” Which at the time I must tell you this was utterly ridiculous!
I was working for a television show for ABC, a western about the Pony Express and I was making more money each week than I had ever made in my life; things were good. The short story of the rest of that is that my wife and Augusta became really good friends. Augusta only worked with us for one year and then went on to work with another family as God led her, but in that one year my wife and Augusta became very close, they studied the Bible together and they prayed together. But Augusta was smart. She knew better than to try and force my wife to rush into the understanding. She trusted in the Holy Spirit and seeds were planted in the heart and mind of my wife. And then Augusta left. And two or three years later my wife was still reading the Bible, she just hadn’t officially taken the step of publicly professing her faith. Then my second daughter, Hailey, was born and we moved back to New York. My wife began attending a very charismatic Brazilian church and it was around then that she said the prayer of salvation and accepted Jesus to become her Lord and Savior. She came home and explained it all to me. To be honest with you, I thought it was wonderful. For me this was the perfect scenario, my wife can love Jesus, I’ll go make movies and bring the money home, she’ll take care of the kids… everything is perfect!
What I never could have known – this is one of the more critical parts of my testimony – in the following year, I got to witness firsthand my wife’s commitment to Jesus. That was the thing that got my attention more than anything. From when she got saved around 1999/2000, up to September 11, 2001, slowly God began to burden me with this situation. Why was this happening? I had already been married to my wife for ten years, now she’s becoming this Jesus freak. What’s happening here? Right at the height of that curiosity is when 9/11 [terrorist attacks] happened. If you would have asked me the day before 9/11, “Stephen do you think it’s possible that tomorrow two commercial airlines can hit the twin towers and they are going to fall down?” I would have said to you, “No, not in 2001 in the United States of America. That is a complete impossibility; that could never happen.” But it did. For me personally, it was an event that I could no longer seek the answer to in the natural. This was an event where the only place to remotely comprehend what was happening meant I had to go to God. I said, “Okay God, now I really want to know you because all of the things that are happening. Obviously if you’re real, you’re allowing this to happen for a reason and I want to get into this experience with you, and this understanding with you, so that I can have some sense of understanding.” That was the beginning of my journey. I did all of the things you’re supposed to do. I said the prayer of salvation, I sent out invitations to my water baptism, and had a big party.
RM: Now you’ve been married for 27 years and both your daughters are models. Navigating marriage and raising kids while in Hollywood, what have been your most effective tools when it comes to building a strong family?
SB: Having grown up outside the industry, I knew that once I got involved in Hollywood, I was going to want to raise my family outside that dynamic. So, I lived for eight years in Tucson, Arizona. At the time Augusta came to work for us, I was doing a television show, so for eight years I commuted to Los Angeles just to keep my kids from having to live there. It was just a one hour flight, so it wasn’t so bad. I was able to continue to pursue my career, but by design I could keep my wife and kids out of the Hollywood lifestyle. I did that on purpose. I really think it allowed my children to be raised with a greater sense of normalcy, so to speak. I knew in 1995, when the television show was over, I could have moved from Tucson to Los Angeles and been in the heart of opportunities for my career. But I didn’t want my kids to be in that environment so the decision was more about quality of life than anything else.
RM: You had the unique opportunity to get to know Donald Trump as a contestant on his Celebrity Apprentice, Season 7 before he ever ran, and became President. What were your thoughts of him then and now?
SB: When I did Celebrity Apprentice I got to see President Trump behind the scenes so to speak, you can imagine how surreal it was. Here I am on the set of Celebrity Apprentice and rapper Lil’ John is sitting there having this really cool kind of chill conversation with the billionaire Donald Trump. It was weird. But in that experience, I also got to see Trump behind the scenes with Ivanka and Don Jr. What I experienced back then was that Donald is way more of a family man, a regular joe guy, than most people understand, because in my career, as a celebrity myself, I’ve met many famous people. You would think to yourself, “Okay I’m going to meet this billionaire.” But when you meet him he’s more normal than you think. Every time I’ve explain that to people they kind of don’t believe it because they see what they see on television. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Donald Trump has exuded this personality of being brass, very tough and confident. But that is part of the success of his brand. I think that over the last thirty years once he got his brand to a certain place he could kind of relax a little bit when it came to having to demonstrate that toughness. But I have to be honest with you, early on in this presidential election, I always had a feeling that he was going to be the next President of the United States.
Back in July of last year I was invited to do an interview with Don Lemon on CNN before the primaries. At that time already some people were indicating that they were going to support Donald Trump. I get this call from Don Lemon saying, “Come on the show. I want to talk to you about what’s happening with Trump.” I said, “Well, I really don’t want to do that because if I do that then I’m endorsing him and I don’t know that I want to do that right now.” And Don Lemon basically said, “Oh, don’t be silly you don’t care about those things, just come on the show and we’ll just have a fun conversation.”
Here I was doing something unique as an artist, with a message that I knew was going to bless people, but I never could have imagined that I was going to be deeply impacted as well.
RM: With your brother, Alec, portraying President Trump on SNL, both of your names have been in the news quite a bit… how can we shift the conversation from always focusing on the differing views, to shining light on ways to come together to create a better America? Is it achievable?
SB: Ohhh, you’re asking me to open a can of worms now! [Laughter] But, here’s my answer: If I am truly a follower of Christ, then I should be facing opposition in my existence. The Bible says if you pick up your cross and follow Him then you will be persecuted. [Matthew 16:24-26] I’m going to flip my answer to your question. What’s more important to me than my relationship with my brother is my relationship with Jesus. There’s an amazing scripture in Matthew 10:34 which states, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And that’s the words of Jesus. What’s fascinating about that scripture is that it goes on to say that if you choose other people in your life, even your family members, if you choose to love them more than me [Jesus]than you are not worthy of me. [Matthew 10:37, paraphrased] That’s powerful! And that’s precisely what I’m experiencing with my brother Alec right now. And the truth is wherever I’m at in my relationship with my brother, for the most part it’s directly as a result of choices he has made, not so much in the choices I have made. Meaning, my brother loves me, knows me and we’re friends, but in this particular moment and/or season of our existence we have differences.
But what I love to convey to people in my experience, and my hope, and this journey with Christ is simply this, it’s not about how I alter my walk with Christ so that I work it all out and get along with my brother. I try to discern from the Holy Spirit what God’s will is. Unequivocally I know God called me to support Mr. Trump. I also know that Mr. Trump is now the president as a result of God’s will. Because we know in our faith that God puts these different leaders in their positions according to His will. I supported Donald Trump much more as an expression of my faith than anything else.
But your question is an excellent question, I want to answer it as accurately as I can. Which is this, what’s more important for me is that I stay true to what I believe in regardless of whatever potential judgement or persecution may come. And with that in mind you said, “How could you work it out so that you and your brother could agree upon certain things, because in that agreement, that could make American great again?” Well here’s my response, I believe that Christians need to have the boldness and the confidence to stand up for what they believe in in a greater way. I believe taking that stand is what will make America great again. That’s a dicey answer because I’m not necessarily saying, how do we kumbaya and figure out how we can get along with those who oppose us. I’m saying, if we can trust in the Lord, and love on those people according to what God’s will is, and try to get them to share and understand in our motivation, then I think that has much greater potential than compromising potentially who we are and what we believe.
RM: Your current project, “Heaven, How I Got Here: A Night with the Thief on the Cross,” is a one-man performance that you initially did as a play to sold-out crowds. After spending so much time with the material, what impacted you most about the story? And, why share it now, in this format, through a 60-minute filmed stage adaptation?
SB: When you’re an actor and you are developing a character you have a certain process that you go through. In this instance because I am a born-again Christian my sensibility about it is very different than that of a normal actor. I wouldn’t just go through my normal process, this was supernatural. This is about a guy hanging on a cross next to the Savior. You kind of have to think about a few more things as you develop this character, you know what I mean? [Laughter] I kept praying, asking, “What is the one thing that I need to understand most about this character, at the core of who this man is?” And what I felt the Holy Spirit say to me was, humility. At first that didn’t make sense. But as I continued in the process I realized that there was a radical arc of humility that this thief must have gone through to come to the place of revelation where he says, “Jesus, remember me in Your kingdom.” [Luke 23:42, paraphrased]
For the thief, there was a supernatural transformation that occurs on the cross. Because again, this was a guy who had no experience or understanding of who Jesus was really. And yet still the thief on the cross gets the opportunity to receive salvation. Humility was the one thing I really felt I needed to connect with. As an audience member you may not even realize that the process the thief is going through is humility, you may just think he’s just crying and upset. But he’s having this revelation of humility which inevitably leads to salvation. I think that’s powerful!
RM: You said, “I have done many performances throughout my career but perhaps none has so personally impacted me as my role as the thief.” What did you mean by this, how have you seen it affect your life?
SB: For each one of us, within our personal lives, we go through events that change the way we think about things. The events of 9/11 ignited my decision to became a born-again Christian as I shared earlier. For me, the opportunity to play the thief on the cross was another 9/11 event so to speak. I agreed to do something, but never could have imagined what God was doing.
Here I was doing something unique as an artist, with a message that I knew was going to bless people, but I never could have imagined that I was going to be deeply impacted as well. I never could have imagined that I would have had the revelation personally of what the meaning of true humility is. I went into this opportunity with my arms open saying, “Okay God show me. Use me however you want in this reality because I want to be a blessing to all those people.” And what God was saying to me was, “Great I want to use you in this opportunity because I want it to be a blessing for you too, Stephen. Not just for those people, but for you too.”