I recently had the privilege of speaking with actor Stephen Baldwin for an interview that I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Stephen Baldwin is the youngest in a family of charismatic movie stars that consists of four handsome blue eyed brothers from my hometown of Long Island, New York. This modern day Hollywood dynasty includes brothers Alec, William, Daniel and the baby, Stephen.
Stephen Baldwin first made a name for himself in the nineties television show, The Young Riders, and then went on to star in romantic comedies like: Threesome; the Academy Award winning crime caper, The Usual Suspects; the goofy cult comedy Bio-Dome; and my personal favorite, One Tough Cop, in which he portrayed real life NYPD legend, Bo Dietl. Children know him best as Barney Rubble in the big screen version of The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. These among his other five dozen, or so, movie credits don't come close to what he says is now his most important role to date, as a Born Again Christian and Youth Minister with his offbeat extreme sports ministry called "The Breakthrough Ministry." Examining his past of hard partying, substance abuse and other antics that landed him headlines in the nineties, he views that chapter in his life with a skeptical tone and distant observation, almost as if recalling a memoir of someone else's life. It's clear that, that Stephen Baldwin is a million miles away and a new person has emerged in its place.
With a new book entitled, The Unusual Suspect, due out in September through Warner Faith Publishing, Stephen details the journey that brought him to faith as a Born Again Christian, through a series of events that caused him to re-examine his life, his marriage and some of his career choices. The Unusual Suspect takes you on a journey through the life of a young movie star indulging in all of the trappings of celebrity and material riches to a more spiritual understanding of his life and his ultimate decision to devote the majority of this phase of his life to serving God, as he often put it to me.
I felt from the beginning that my conversation with Stephen Baldwin would be part interview and part good natured debate, in which I would play devil's advocate (no pun intended). I planned to challenge him on many points associated with both his religious beliefs and newfound conservative politics. Though we challenged each other on many aspects of religious philosophy, politics and specific language, I found there to be surprisingly more common ground between us then I ever would have anticipated. Though I am not a Christian and subscribe more to a sense of spirituality rather then organized religion, I found that both Stephen and I are on similar journeys, but taking two different paths to reach our respective destinations. Over the course of two lengthy conversations, I got to know a man who is good-natured, intelligent and sincere. His goofy side was still well intact but somewhat eclipsed by an urgency to impart his message, as well as explain how he hopes people will respond to his new book. Though some of Stephen Baldwin's opinions throughout this interview may be considered radical or extreme in the literal translations of those words, I admired his strong belief system, his well prepared argument and his resolute desire to express what he believes to be right.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): So, I read your book
Stephen Baldwin: You read The Unusual Suspect? Did it suck, or what? (joking)
PR.com: I loved your book but I had a love/hate relationship with it, and here's why: I love the overall message and philosophy of your book
Stephen Baldwin: Right
PR.com: What isolated me a little bit was that, I'm Jewish, I grew up Jewish, and I don't know that much about Christianity. The things I loved about your book are finding your humanity, focusing on spiritual things rather then material things and trying to serve the world and your community as best as you can. The thing that made me feel almost left out was the part about Christ being the only path to finding that sort of peace.
Stephen Baldwin: Right. Let me respond to that by saying this. According to what I believe, which is found in the bible, and obviously the chasm between the Jew and the Christian is pretty significant. Understand, I say what I'm saying now only as a messenger, so to speak. And I say that loosely. If what I believe is true, that Jesus was the messiah, and if I believe that my faith is true, then every word in the bible's true, and if all that's true and again, if it's true, Jesus is the only way and really what's become the part of the purpose of the book for me is, God and my experience that I'm having in my faith. I really feel God speaking to me, and I don't mean I'm hearing some audible voice. I just mean in my spirit I feel God saying, "Stephen, you're a radical dude. Go be a radical for me, but don't sugar coat it. A lot of the Christian movement today is going to speak to whoever doesn't believe. Doesn't matter Jew, Buddhist, Kabbalah whatever it is. But these Christians today, they're kind of watering down what it's supposed to be all about. You're supposed to lovingly, gently, as heartfelt and warmly as you can in most cases and in some cases there's quite confrontational moments that I have with people. I just say, "Look. Don't shoot the messenger." I'm just saying that based on what I believe this is what God says is the truth. It wasn't until I personally started to embark on the experience that I came to believe that it was true and real. It's very interesting that you say, "I felt kind of left out." That's the point. I want you to feel left out. I want you to feel like you're missing something, because if what God is telling me about my faith and my experience is true, then you are missing something. Audio Clip
PR.com: Ok. That's an interesting point.
Stephen Baldwin: It's not like, "My faith's better then your faith." That's not the point. The point is, I'm a guy [who's] been around the world, I got a hot wife, made millions, hung out with movie stars, really have been blessed! Then, as a result of a plan that God had for my life all along, I turned around and said, "Ok God. I'm gonna pursue you now and do this thing according to the way in which your bible teaches, which is to read your word every day, pray to you every day, seek you every day." And the guy just blew my mind! Audio Clip
PR.com: What would you say to somebody like me, who says, "I'm a spiritual person and I believe in God, but I don't subscribe to a specific religion, because organized religion is what has torn people apart throughout our history rather then brought people together." What would you say to that?
Stephen Baldwin: You're absolutely right. The word religion does not appear in the bible. Religion was not created by Jesus Christ. The only thing Jesus and God has ever asked his creation to do is be faithful and worship and believe, and that's it. Man created religion. You're absolutely right. Religion is the problem. Audio Clip
PR.com: Ok. Then you and I are on the same side
Stephen Baldwin: Here's the point I want to make to you about where you're going, kinda sorta and where I'm going, kinda sorta. Bottom line is this; what is the truth? What's the bottom line? God came to man three times according to the bible, if you believe in the New Testament. So you can receive what I'm saying or you have the free will to choose not to receive what I'm saying. The purpose of my book is to tell non-believers, "Look, Stephen Baldwin's nuts! And he went out and pursued God according to the way the bible said." And that means Old Testament, New Testament...the whole kit and caboodle. And I gotta tell ya, in the spiritual realm of that potential, God came to me and said, "My son, good job. You're getting this thing." So when people say to me, "Stephen, what is the message of your book?" I tell people when they close the back cover of the book it's my prayer that non-believers would say, "You know what? If this guy is having this much fun in this experience, I think I'm willing to give it a try." Audio Clip
PR.com: Are you saying that you want people to give it a try as far as becoming a Born Again Christian, or finding God and a sense of spirituality and purpose?
Stephen Baldwin: The statement you make about the latter, again, according to the bible, and a lot of people don't know the bible like they think they do, one of the most famous scriptures ever: John 3:16 "One must be born again." What people don't understand about that is, in the natural realm of this world, so many people like you started this point with me in the conversation: religion, religion, religion; man, man, man; church, church, church. We need to get to a place where personally forget about the masses, forget about your mom, forget about your uncle, forget about your sister. Forget them! When we all get to a place and say, just for me; just for myself. I'm going to go to God and challenge him and say, "Ok, are you real?!" And if that's true, I'm going to do what this belief says to do, which is Old Testament, New Testament, John 3:16 and it doesn't mean, necessarily in the beginning of the experience that you're sure! If you read Hebrew's chapter 11 it defines what faith is. Faith is being confidently assured of what we hope for, and certain of what we cannot see. So it's a bit of an oxymoron. But that's what's amazing about the mystery of God. That's how it starts.
PR.com: Would you agree that because we live in a world of technology and science that a lot of people say that there's no scientific proof that God exists? In other words, people get very caught up in science and things that are concrete. "Can you prove it? If you can't prove it, I'm not interested." A lot of people who do not believe in God will say that when they ask religious people or spiritual people if they can prove it with facts, they never have any concrete proof of it. In fact, I never know what to tell those people.
Stephen Baldwin: Yeah but can I tell you something? Providing that answer for those people is not your purpose in this reality. Your purpose in this reality is, your dad's sperm hit your mom's egg and that was a miracle. And God is so big and so powerful, he created everything. So everyday when those millions of sperm hit those millions of eggs and millions of people are born everyday on the planet, that's how big God is. That's how powerful God is Audio Clip
PR.com: By the way, that visual I can't handle it. I'm sorry. (Laughs)
Stephen Baldwin: (Laughs) I said before, I'm not gonna be a wussy about this conversation. But let me just finish that point and that's this: Stephen Baldwin got to a place in his existence as a result of a certain sequence of events, that were not some Road to Damascus thing; it was a slow gradual very personal process, where God slowly revealed things to me. If you read the book (The Unusual Suspect) you hear the story of the cleaning woman. Think about my story. It started with a total freakin stranger!
PR.com: That was 13 or 14 years ago, right?
Stephen Baldwin: Correct.
PR.com: Your wife connected to a woman who was cleaning your home, and then you connected to what your wife was doing
Stephen Baldwin: God connected to the cleaning woman. Then God connected to my wife through the cleaning woman. Then God connected to me through my wife which is really how God does a lot of his thing. Then the mindblower was, I made a skateboarding video that was an attempt to be a cool Christian thing, and the video became a ministry and all of it confirmed what a total stranger had said was going happen. Now, don't get me wrong. I can kind of split my brain in two. I'm an actor. I'm a guy who has lived in the world and done drugs and been crazy I can kind of step outside myself and look at this thing and go, "You know what? This is wild!"
PR.com: That brings me to another question and I'm sure you know this. Born Again Christians are notorious for using one extreme behavior to "cure" themselves of another extreme behavior. In other words, many people who are Born Again Christians have had various addictions, they've used drugs or were unfaithful in relationships
Stephen Baldwin: No, no, no. no
PR.com: Wait a minute, hear me out
Stephen Baldwin: Ok, but you can't say that about ALL
PR.com: This is the common perception or cliché. Taking negative and destructive, extreme behaviors and using another extreme, which is an extreme belief in religion to kind of counteract the negative behavior and almost keep yourself in line. That's the cliché.
Stephen Baldwin: What it gets back to for me is simply this. Because of the overwhelming feeling that I wake up with every morning, that I only used to be able to have even the remote similar experience to, would have been after a shower and a quad shot from Starbucks. I don't have enough knowledge or experience in psychology and science to converse with you on that. All I'm going to tell you is the point I want to make to you and everybody else who reads this book is very simple. You don't have to believe that what I'm saying and the experience I am having is true. All I have to say to you is, if you're not flying in your heart each and every day and excited about the fact that you're blessed to be alive and it doesn't matter how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, what your job is, who you're drinking with on the weekends none of that matters. That is not why we are here, according to the experience I'm having.
PR.com: I agree with everything you just said
Stephen Baldwin: It's really as simple as the idea of don't knock it till you try it. My challenge for everybody out there is, forget about what the world has said and done. Forget that. My challenge to people is personally, individually, not your way, but God's way, according to his bible; I challenge you to pursue this thing. Forget about your history and your tradition and where you're from. Forget that. If this thing I'm talking about is true, then at some point all of those people they made the choice. I don't say this in some kind of freaky deaky threatening way. I just say, according to God's word, we all at some point like even now in this conversation and since you've read my book, you have been presented with what God and Jesus and the word of God says is the truth. So now you have a choice to make. At the end of your life, on the day of judgement, you stand there before the Lord. According to this faith, we're all going to meet him face to face
Stephen Baldwin: And he's gonna say, "Dude! You read Baldwin's book! What's the deal?!"
PR.com: (Laughs) That's funny. Well let me tell you what I would answer to that. I would say to God, "Yes, I read Stephen Baldwin's book. And as you know, if you've observed my life, which you have, I hold those same philosophies in my heart and I behave accordingly, I just didn't label it as Christianity." You and I are very much on the same page, but we're using different language to express it.
Stephen Baldwin: I'm going to be a bit of a jerk to make a point. Now you're doing that dance that most people do. And I was at the same place that you are. "I'm a good guy." And even the Roman Catholic Church, nowhere in the bible does it say you can pray to Mary. Prayer is a form of worship and the Lord said that you will have no other God before me. Now look at all of the problems you're seeing in the Roman Catholic Church. Now, am I saying that's God's wrath? That's not for me to decide or even make a statement about. I can't judge that. I'm just little schmuck, Stephen Baldwin. God says that there is only one way and I didn't believe that, myself, until I tried it and his spirit came into my life and into my heart, and confirmed that the Jesus Christ truth was real. The choice is yours, but until you become willing to at least take the step of faith and try it, you're never going to know if it's real or not. That's another one of the big points of my book. God is so big and so powerful. He wants you to challenge him. He's saying "Come to me." I'm telling you right now, the world, in the next three decades, is about to see awesome, awesome movements and things of the Lord.
Stephen's and my second conversation, several days later
PR.com: After our first conversation, I went back and re-read certain parts of your book. When I was first interviewing you, my intention was to try to prove you wrong and nail your butt! And I have to be honest with you, many of the things that I've read and some of the things that you've said have actually spoken to me. And nobody's more shocked about that than I am.
Stephen Baldwin: All I can tell you is the spirit of God is true and unfortunately the way the world works is that it's been set up for thousands of years, since bad boy Adam took a bite of that apple right now is kind of a wild time to be Christian, because we're starting to see, I don't want to get too fanatical with you sometimes you say these kinds of things and people because of their understanding out of fear, they get scared. The truth is, I am a bit fanatical. When I say that, I mean that I trust God. And if what he says is true, then my time here is a split second compared to eternity. So I'm not worried about it.
PR.com: I'm not necessarily now saying, "Christianity, Christianty," but I can tell you this some of the things that you've said, in my opinion are valid. A few days ago I was set to prove you wrong and challenge you on every issue. And I don't feel quite that way anymore. But something that always kind of made me roll my eyes was, you have people like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. And then you have priests who are molesting little boys and you're like, "Ok, you know what? You guys are all a bunch of hypocrites, and you're a joke." And then you just put it all in that box and you don't look at it anymore.
Stephen Baldwin: Sure. And what I didn't know that I realize now is, we are always going to be fresh. That's why Jesus came. God spoke to his people three times: Moses and the Ten Commandments, Jesus Christ, and then Jesus left and said, "I will send my holy spirit to be the helper, the friend." So now all around us every day is God's spirit. It's just a matter of, do we engage it and let it operate in our lives the way it's supposed to, according to the bible? And if you don't, you're gonna use bad language; you're going to smoke cigarettes; you're gonna be an adulterer; you're gonna gamble. You're going to live in the spirit that operates in those things. Now, do I use cuss words, almost everyday! I try not to.
PR.com: I'm making a point not to curse when I talk to you because I know about your beliefs
Stephen Baldwin: And I appreciate that. But you see my point is very simple. We cannot do it on our own. That is the horrible lie that Satan has convinced us of in the spirit of the world. And not only that, Satan and the spirit of the world has given us this incredible arrogance and pride. We think we're running the show! At the same time, it's that self will and that free will that allow us to either get into this thing or not. In my evangelism, I tell this to people all the time: "Hey, look man; this isn't for everyone. Jesus came for everyone. Jesus offers salvation and eternal life and the true purpose of the understanding of why you're here. But God knows that not everyone is going to choose him." Saddam Hussein, I hope he comes to Jesus. What do you want me to tell you??
Stephen Baldwin: But homeboy gassed his own people and obviously he's doing his own thing.
PR.com: That actually brings me to one of the things I wanted to discuss with you, which is the correlation between politics and religion. I saw you at the 2004 Republican National Convention on television a couple of years ago, and I was shocked when I saw your face in the crowd
Stephen Baldwin: Me too!
PR.com: (Laughs) Because your brothers are extremely liberal and I assumed that you were as well. Why did you attend the 2004 Republican Convention?
Stephen Baldwin: Well, as I stated back then, the statement back then and the motivation remains the same. In Stephen Baldwin's spiritual perception at that time, I thought about what the choices were and I took into consideration what I thought of George W. Bush, personally. He's a believer in Jesus Christ. And you have to understand this; I have family members who would contest what I am saying right now. They would say, "Well if he's a believer in Jesus Christ, then why does he [do this or that]?"
PR.com: Oh, I know your family members would argue with you about what you're saying right now!! (Laughs)
Stephen Baldwin: So my point is simply this: It doesn't matter to me. I'm not God. Only God knows how to solve that or fix that or bestow God's will in the life of George W. Bush. When I considered the two choices, even today this still applies to me, if I had to do that election thing over again my whole thing with the Republican National Convention was simply, when I took a look at these two different candidates, all things considered, I just thought that for my own faith based reasons that President Bush was the better guy for the job.
PR.com: Did you feel that way simply because he's a fellow Born Again Christian or because of his political platform, or both?
Stephen Baldwin: I felt that way because I believed in my heart that spiritually he would be the guy who would be making better choices for the country. That was my perspective and I still think that, even up until now, he has done that. I really believe that. What I knew behind the scenes about John Kerry and his political motivations and who he was and how he got to where he was and his wife and her political agenda, I believed that Bush was the better call.
PR.com: That's not saying much, but ok. (Laughs)
Stephen Baldwin: Laughs.
PR.com: The way you just phrased it is a sad state of affairs, like the lesser of two evils, is essentially what you're saying; that is, in your opinion. Your brother Alec made a comment about the Republican Party, saying "To me, the republican party is the real great tragedy of the last 25 years." And he then went on to say, "The party has been hijacked by these fundamentalist whackos." My interpretation of the use of the word "fundamentalist" means extreme Christian right wing fundamentalist. Have your political beliefs caused tension between you and other members of your family? Or have you guys ever discussed it?
Stephen Baldwin: I was inside the Republican National Convention supporting Bush, and my brother Billy [Baldwin] was outside picketing the republicans. My brothers have asked me repeatedly, "Do you know who they are and what these people do?" and all that kind of stuff. And my answer is, "Yes." My brother Alec [Baldwin] and my brother Billy are motivated by their intellect and their understanding and their projections and their opinions about foreign policy and how do we do this right and that right and what's best for the country. And I said, I've done my homework in that respect. I mean, I may not be as well-versed as my brothers are in certain respects, but my question to them was, "Have you read your bible?" And, "Have you read and do you have the knowledge and the schooling in the things of the spirit and what God has in store in relation to all these things?" And the answer to that is "No." So there's nobody out there in the world, in my opinion, that's right and justified with pointing a finger at those people who are motivated for those reasons, when in fact they haven't read the same information and understand why those people are doing what they're doing and operating in the way that they're operating. Audio Clip
PR.com: Let's talk about your acting career. You mentioned in your book that you are somewhat regretful about certain roles that you've taken in the past, because you don't think that they reflect your current value system.
Stephen Baldwin: I didn't say that I was regretful. I said that if I could do things over again, knowing what I know now, there are things that I wouldn't have done, that I did do. But, you know, I believe again that it's all been exactly as it was supposed to be so that I would learn whatever lessons and have whatever experiences, but for sure there are roles that what I joke with people is, "You won't be seeing me in the sequel to The Usual Suspects anytime soon."
PR.com: I watched The Usual Suspects this week and it's one of the hallmarks of your career. It's also where you got the title of your book (The Unusual Suspect). As an artist, your job is to help tell a story. As an actor, you're playing a character. Nobody's saying that you, Stephen, are that character or that you endorse the values and morals of that character. You don't think that's something that is separate from you, Stephen Baldwin, the human being?
Stephen Baldwin: Sure. There are lots of Christians, and I know them. There are Christians who will say, "I'm just playing a role." They believe based on their understanding of God's word that there can be this separation. But it always goes back to the word. What does it say in the word? If I am somebody who is depicting in the culture and promoting something that goes against what I believe is supposed to be true to the word, then I am compromising what I believe. If I'm not walking the walk and talking the talk everybody has the ability to judge and discern, in that respect, what is right for them. I am somebody who, if I looked at culturally, what my industry puts out as far as content, if you were to gauge it, 75% of what Hollywood puts out goes totally against the bible, totally. In regard to sex and violence and bad language and immoral realities
PR.com: You don't think it's simply a reflection? There are so many different kinds of people in this world. What movies allow us to do is to glimpse into the window of different types of people's lives. Not necessarily that every single person out there is a good person. It's reflecting back our society. It's not giving us our society. It's diagnosing it. If the script for The Usual Suspects landed on your front door now, would you do it?
Stephen Baldwin: No. Because what's the story about? The story is just a dramatic thriller about criminals, that's overly violent. What redemption is there in the film? What positive messages are in the film? And 75% of the films that will come out in 2007 are going to be just some stupid sense of entertainment that doesn't gain anybody anything.
PR.com: Are you ok with content that involves some violence or sexuality if there's some type of redeeming quality?
Stephen Baldwin: Absolutely, yes; particularly historical pieces. If there's a movie about World War II and it's not just blood and guts and macho and stupid and there's some positive message from it, then sure I would be interested. I'm going right now to do a sci-fi movie in Europe. A three week shoot that is a fantasy comic book situation, called The Harpy. It's part of Stan Lee's stuff
PR.com: I interviewed Stan Lee! :)
Stephen Baldwin: Yeah. I'm going to do one of Stan Lee's projects right now, and basically the movie is, The Princess Bride meets The Lord of the Rings, would be a good way to describe it. It's just pure fun entertainment where there's a lesson that's learned. It's fun, but it's not overly violent. There is violence in it; it's entertainment. I'm cool with that as long as it's not something that's the same old schlock that comes out that doesn't gain anything for anybody.
PR.com: Being that you and your wife Kennya are both devout Born Again Christians, how are you explaining it or describing it to your daughters, and what do you hope that they'll get from it as they're growing up?
Stephen Baldwin: Well, they're living it with us. It's not that we're describing anything. They're literally living it with us each and every day. Again, for us it's about, we're responsible in regards to ensuring that they have a knowledge of the word of God, and that we are being responsible as their parents and guiding them each and every day on the decisions they make.
PR.com: If your children were to come to you later in life or as adolescents and say, "This isn't really for us." Would that be ok with you?
Stephen Baldwin: Of course it wouldn't be ok, but everybody has a choice to make and everybody is free to do whatever they want. What would be ok, is the hope I would have, that God would represent in their lives.
PR.com: Who do you hope reads your book, The Unusual Suspect?
Stephen Baldwin: One of the first motivations for my wanting to do it was, this sense of entertainment that I wanted to depict with the book and what I mean by that is I am having such a good time in this experience and the whole kind of dorky cheesy fundamentalist bad rap that Christianity has had for so long, I'm going to hope to change that with this book. The response has been very positive in that regard, you know? For me, the hope that I have is that when somebody who is a non-believer closes the back cover of this book, I hope that they say to themselves, "This guy's having so much fun in this thing, that it's made me curious enough to at least consider giving it a try." And to the believers, my motivation is that they'll assess who they are and where they're at in this journey and hopefully will try to do some kind of a self analysis, so to speak, to be sure that they've researched the word enough and prayed enough and gone before God enough to be sure that they're actually living out the true calling that God had for them as opposed to who they think they're supposed to be. More important than anything, with my ministry that I'm doing next year and certainly with this book, I'm trying to reach the youth more than anybody. They're the ones that are just the furthest away than anybody else right now. I'm talking about kids that are 5 to 15 years old. They're the ones that are in my heart more then anybody right now. Have you read the book in its entirety?
PR.com: Yes, I have.
Stephen Baldwin: Can you pass it along to somebody else? (Laughs) That would be cool!
Release Date for The Unusual Suspect is September
19, 2006 through Warner Faith Books
The Unusual Suspect can be purchased at Amazon.com