For six seasons, Alec Baldwin has portrayed clean-cut TV exec Jack Donaghy on NBC's 30 Rock.
But last May, he got a call from director Adam Shankman, who was putting together the cast for the '80s nostalgia musical Rock of Ages.
"I asked Alec, 'How would you feel about playing a guy who opened a rock club in the 1960s and was stoned for so long he didn't realize he was gay?' " Shankman recalls. "It made him laugh. I thought it would be really fun to break out of the buttoned-up world of Jack Donaghy."
And then some. As financially strapped rock club owner Dennis Dupree in Rock of Ages (opening Friday), Baldwin, 54, shows off some serious long hair and facial stubble while crowd-surfing and chugging beers by the pitcher.
"Let's just say Jack Donaghy will not be flying away with (Dupree) for ski weekends at Vail," Baldwin says with a smile, sipping coffee hours before last week's premiere. For the red carpet, he was back to his own self in a sharp Zegna jacket and a sports shirt. But on-screen, he took a walk on the wild side.
"I never had that rock-star dream myself," Baldwin concedes, noting that for most of his career, directors didn't want him to stray from his own traditional, clean-cut image. "Directors usually don't want me to get too quirky."
But Rock of Ages features plenty of Baldwin quirk. Besides falling in love with his club sidekick (Russell Brand), Baldwin even manages to belt out a few rock ballads — despite himself.
"I can't sing. Can't. I'm the weak link,'' he says. "They brought me in here to attempt to be funny."
For Baldwin, the Rock of Ages experience did allow him to live a different 1980s from his own, when he moved from New York to Hollywood.
In Los Angeles, "I remember it was very precarious. Everyone was at people's houses drinking and doing a lot of other things. I would get behind the wheel of a car and say to myself, 'Should I be driving?' That really scared the hell out of me. I never took a drink again after 1985. Never."
But during that decade, he emerged as one of the biggest names in Hollywood, moving from a role in Knots Landing to starring in the 1990 box-office smash The Hunt for Red October.
"For me, it was just work," Baldwin says of the '80s. "All I did was travel. Pack my bags, come home, wash my clothes and repack."
Baldwin has continued building his prolific career with his Emmy-winning role on 30 Rock, which begins filming its final season in August.
"I'm about to get out of the bubble," he says. "The show is nearly over. We're done. But it's been the best experience I've ever had."
His future looks filled with projects, including voicing a heroic Santa Claus in DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians (out Nov. 21) and a role in the next Woody Allen film (still untitled).
But mostly, Baldwin will be focusing on his personal life. He is recently engaged to 28-year-old yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas. Beyond an upcoming wedding, the two have discussed having children.
"That would be great. I know she would like to have that happen," says Baldwin. He has a daughter, Ireland, 16, with his ex-wife, actress Kim Basinger.
And Baldwin wants another crack at fatherhood: "Before, in the '90s, I was making films. It was like that hand to your throat. You had to go to work. Like you can't stop working."
But he's on a different track now.
"I really, really would like to work a lot less," he says. "To stay home. Everything is about slowing down. Doing less."