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Stephen Baldwin on his new role: a born-again

Following his older brothers, he broke into Hollywood. But in his new book, “The Unusual Suspect,” the actor writes about why he turned to Jesus .
/ Source: TODAY

He was known as the fun Baldwin — and he most certainly lived up to the name. Following in the footsteps of his three older brothers, Stephen Baldwin broke into Hollywood. Making a name for himself with roles like Michael McManus in “The Usual Suspects,” Doyle in “Bio dome” opposite Pauly Shore and Barney Rubble in the live-action “The Flintstones” film. Baldwin was living the life in the Hollywood party scene, but now he is “livin’ it” in his new role as a born-again Christian, sharing his faith through his skating ministry as well as his new book, “The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith,” written with Mark Tabb. Baldwin was invited on “Today” to discuss his book. Read an excerpt:Chapter 1
Celebrity vs. Reality
People constantly ask me for details of my "Damascus Road" experience (see Acts 9) that made me give my life to Jesus Christ. Most assume I hit bottom and had nowhere else to turn. They're wrong. Nothing in my life made me say, Oh God I can't live like this anymore. I can't do this, I'm going to kill myself. Help me! I've got to admit, my life was pretty awesome. When I woke up one morning and realized some studio had just paid me eighty times what my old man made a year to play Barney-freaking-Rubble, how could I not pinch myself and say, "Is this a great country or what!"

Don't get me wrong. There were things about who I was that I didn't like, and these things caused problems for me that I didn't want to face. I had a reputation as one of Hollywood's bad boys and living up to it led to behavior that was seriously questionable for a married man. But that didn't make me turn to Jesus. Overall, life was good. I just didn't realize it could be better.

Yeah, but you had it made, Stevie B. No argument here. I did have it made, at least according to the world system. You name it and I've been there, done that. Being a celebrity opened doors for me that were beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I've been on 250-foot yachts. I've hung out with billionaires and flown around on their private jets. I've been all over the world and experienced things 99.9 percent of people have never imagined in their wildest fantasies.

Of course a lot of guys assume I've done even more. They come up to me and ask, "Hey dude, by the way, in all those sex scenes in your movies, were you really doing it?" If they only knew what it takes to film those scenes they would understand how funny that question is. Movies are all about creating an illusion, and that is especially true of the sex scenes. But guys still want to know if I had sex with all the starlets I've worked with. The short answer is no, but I could have with a lot of them. The Hollywood life is a place that gives you license to do anything you want. Once you are in the club, celebrity gives you an allaccess, no limits pass in the physical world. I could go wherever I wanted and do pretty much anything I wanted, and the hilarious part is that most of the time I didn't even have to pay for it.

But even as I let myself be swept along on this ride, something deep down inside me kept telling me none of this really made any sense. For me, celebrity was never reality. I thought, okay, I'll take the money and I'll have a good time while I do this acting thing. I wanted to see how far it would take me, but even as I did, I knew I didn't want to become part of the fabric of the Hollywood "reality." Deep down I was never completely comfortable in that world. Of course, that didn't stop me from diving pretty deep.

Grotto a go-go
How far did I go? Deep enough to know which steps on the spiral staircase down into the wine cellar at the Playboy mansion would trigger the silent alarm. When you know that, baby, you're in pretty deep. I didn't learn this little secret until my third trip to the mansion. The fact that I made it there once was a really big deal. There are producers and a bunch of other studio execs that can't get in, so when I was invited there for the first time it was one of those moments in my celebrity life that made me say, "Hey baby, I've arrived. I'm legitimate because I'm going to the Playboy mansion."

As the youngest son of a social studies teacher, the mansion was awesome, not so much because of the decadence of the place but because of the mystery of it. Growing up I looked at enough Playboy magazines that I should be blind, so to be invited to the Mecca of the whole empire was unbelievable. The fact that I was a married man didn't keep me from going.

I remember walking into the Playboy mansion the first time and looking around and thinking to myself, "Wow, this place is crawling with sexy chicks," but I could feel something else deep down inside. I felt the presence of evil. Of course, most anyone in Hollywood would have responded to my little observation by saying, "Yeah, so? What's the problem? Enjoy it, man."

Keep in mind I wasn't anywhere close to becoming a Christian at the time. Yet even then I could sense the true nature of the place. The paganism that hangs in the air and the sexual exploitation of women gives the place an energy and power that is just pure evil. I don't know how else to describe it. That sense of evil should have made me turn tail and leave, but I didn't. Nor did it keep me from going back.

I learned the secret of the staircase on my third visit. I hadn't planned on going to the mansion, but the word got out that I was in town from my home in Tucson. Some people called and invited me to a party there, and I said, sure, why not. When I arrived I ran into Robert Downey, Jr. Now, in the old days, Downey really knew the mansion and he offered to give me a full tour. He wanted to make sure he showed me the grotto, which is this underground pool down in a cave. When you access the grotto you have to go down a long, very small, very narrow stone hallway. We were walking down this hallway and just as we came to the mouth that opened into the pool I saw some guy kind of stooped over what looked like a fuse box. I assumed it was a maintenance worker, but as I started to excuse myself and walk past him, he turned around and it was Hef himself. I was blown away. I was like, wow, it's the legendary Hugh Hefner in all his stereotypical glory: robe, slippers, pajamas, and pipe.

Hef turned around, and keep in mind it was pretty dark down there, and he said, "Good evening, gentlemen. Good to see you Robert. Stephen." Then he said, "Please forgive me, gentlemen, I was just adjusting the lights here in the grotto so that the mood is perfect. Enjoy yourselves." This blew me away. All I could think was, How weird is it that Hef himself adjusts the lights in the grotto. Talk about the personal touch. I mean, this guy was really into his whole deal. That set the tone for me that night.

After my tour I walked around the mansion doing my whole Hollywood routine. For me, hanging out at the Playboy mansion was part of the "fun" of being in the fast lane of celebrity and the Hollywood lifestyle that was completely acceptable. It was my rite of passage as Stephen Baldwin "THE TALENT."

Of course I didn't tell my wife I was going to the Playboy mansion. If she had happened to ask I would have told her, but I didn't volunteer the information. To me, as long as I wasn't misbehaving I figured my being there was no big deal.

Later that evening Downey came up to me with this little grin on his face and he said, "Follow me." I asked where we were going and he just said, "Shhhh, I want to show you something." Now I know when I get to the end of this story you are not going to believe me, but folks, it's true.

Downey led me to what looked like a closet, but inside was a spiral staircase that went down about fifteen or twenty steps. We started down the staircase, and as we did, Downey stepped down the first two steps but skipped the third. I was coming down right behind him when he turned around and told me, "Don't step on that one." Then about halfway down he skipped another step and told me the same thing. Now, in retrospect, I don't know if he was just a kook and was joking around with me, but at the time he told me that these two steps would trigger the silent alarm.

When we got to the bottom of the staircase I found myself in a beautiful, vast wine cellar. Four playmates were already down there, hanging out and smoking pot. There was a time I would have joined in, but that's another chapter. At this point I had already been sober for years and I wasn't going to blow it. I immediately excused myself, thanked Robert for the good time, and got out of there.

I went back upstairs and stayed for maybe another ten minutes. There were a bunch of stars hanging out with the Playmates and everyone was drunk and high. Since I stopped drinking several years earlier, I felt disconnected from the whole scene. I glanced over at a couple of people whose names you would immediately recognize and they were all giggling and flirting with the Playmates. That's when it hit me. I looked around the room and said to myself, Wow, what am I doing here? If you think about it, all of this is pretty meaningless. This isn't working for me anymore. I thought there had to be more to life than this. And if there wasn't, I was really screwed. I had officially done it all, and still it left me with a question somewhere in the back of my mind that I couldn't answer. But more on that later.

Excerpted from “The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith,” by Stephen Baldwin written with Mark Tabb. Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Baldwin. Excerpted by permission of Warner Books, a division All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.