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cannes 2013

If You Get Mugged, Talk to Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin attends the "Blood Ties" Premiere during the 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Grand Theatre Lumiere on May 20, 2013 in Cannes, France. Alec Baldwin.

Last year, I'd spent three-and-a-half hours running around Cannes with Alec Baldwin and James Toback as they filmed their highly entertaining documentary, Seduced and Abandoned, which chronicles their failed attempts to drum up financing for a sexually brazen art house reinterpretation of Last Tango in Paris set during the Iraq War, to be directed by Toback and starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell. This year they brought the completed doc to the festival, and when we met up again I found myself recounting a harrowing experience I’d had coming home on the night of the Seduced and Abandoned premiere party two days prior, when I'd been mugged by two young women, but fought off my attackers. "Let me shake your hand!" said Baldwin. "God damn it, I'm proud of you. Go down swinging, I say. You're going to have to earn that purse."

There’s been a perceived uptick in crime at the festival this year, with prominent jewel thefts and hotel robberies; most people I've talked to theorize that it has something to do with current European economic conditions. But it’s hard to say, as crime is always a problem; this much money in a concentrated area is bound to attract lowlifes along with the cinephiles. Even if the Euro were thriving, last Tuesday night it was not smart of me to be walking back to my rented apartment alone through an underpass behind a train station at four in the morning after a night of reveling.

That evening, as I approached the underpass entrance I noticed two girls in their twenties — one skinny, one large and robust — get up and walk quickly into the tunnel ahead of me. It seemed sketchy, but the driving urge to get to bed made me follow them down. But they stopped on the steps, and suddenly I found myself right next to them, one on either side. "Hello," said the big one, who greedily and determinedly grabbed my right hand and tried to wrestle away the phone I was clutching as her smaller friend pulled at the handbag on my left side. We tussled and I screamed, "Fuck you!" in their faces and kicked them before managing to run away, phone and handbag still in possession. I was running in high-heeled boots down the street, at least five blocks from my apartment door, screaming as loudly as possible. Then I tripped and fell to my knees. As I turned to get up, the smaller one was on top of me, grabbing at my phone and bag, while I think the big one was keeping watch at the underpass exit. I'm extremely lucky that they didn't pull weapons and that they weren't men, because my instinct was to just scream in my assailant’s face and wrestle with her (difficult since one of my hands was still gripping my phone, the other my handbag). No one showed up, but my assailant did finally step off, leaving me lying on my back on the sidewalk. I heard them making fun of me in French and imitating my screaming as they trotted down the underpass steps back to the train station.

Once safely inside my temporary apartment I collapsed, shaking, on my bed, looking at my painfully bloody knees, torn tights, ripped dress, strained leg muscles, and wounds along my knuckles. The next day I was jumpy getting through the unavoidable festival crowds; anyone who walked behind me, or accidentally brushed up next to me felt like a threat. I felt stupid for putting myself in such a vulnerable position; and embarrassed that I'd given off the air of being a pushover, a foreign rube. That is, until I talked to Alec Baldwin. After congratulating me for my refusal to hand over my phone and purse, he commiserated by sharing a tale of how he was mugged in 1983 in Venice, California.

"It was one of the few times in my life I was so drunk I was almost incapacitated," he said. "And I was driving my car and I had to pull over on the side of the road. And this group of underprivileged youths, shall we say, came and they beat the living hell out of me. They punched me and they pulled my jacket up over my head, like in a hockey fight. I remember saying to myself, 'And now they're punching me, like they do in the movies.'” And then one of them hit him in the face with a glass tumbler. “It wasn't like in the movies when I felt the glass smash in my face." He couldn't call the cops and report them, Baldwin said, laughing, "because I couldn't say to the cops, 'Well it all began because I was drunk driving and I pulled over.'" He had to walk home seven or eight blocks, and when he walked back hours later to get his car, he found his wallet on the hood of his car with everything in there but the money. "They were gentlemen muggers."

"Did you fantasize about someday killing them?" James Toback wanted to know.

"No, I fantasized about opening up a teenage halfway house and helping them to a better life," said Baldwin, grinning. "What the fuck do you think I fantasized about?"

"I wish I was there to save you,” he continued, to me. “I would have taken those women and thrown them in the water, held their heads down — not for too long, maybe a minute or two," he went on, explaining that he understands people who break into homes or cars when they're destitute, but has no tolerance for those who will physically assault others just to take their stuff. "I'm looking at you now and I'm thinking I wish we could go back in a time machine and Jimmy and I could stomp these broads. Not for long, just for a good ten minutes."

"You learned something valuable about yourself in that moment," Toback chimed in. "And it's something you cannot learn unless you are in a situation in which you have no time to do anything but react, which is, I am not a person who will allow myself to be violated." Much later, as I got up to leave after our interview, Baldwin closed by declaring me a "tiger" and promised, "Just tell us where to be at midnight, which underpass, and we'll be there. Wrap your hand around a roll of quarters" and punch them. “You can't believe how much that hurts.”

Photo: Ian Gavan/WireImage