Exclusive: Stephen Baldwin’s Plan for Bringing America Together
Conservative actor shares insights on 'The Great American Pilgrimage': 'I'm talking to regular people, drinking regular coffee'
“Journaltainment” is the word Stephen Baldwin uses to describe his latest project, “The Great American Pilgrimage.”
The new show, which airs Sundays on the RT network, finds Baldwin on an RV trip across America — partnered with his friend and co-host, Max Keiser, and his three dogs.
As Baldwin told LifeZette in an exclusive interview, the show was born out of what he saw as a “visceral reaction” to the 2016 presidential election. His “Pilgrimage” is an attempt to bridge the widening cultural gap in the country by finding people from all walks of life and to ask them, “What does America mean to you?”
"Jerry Seinfeld's got a show where he's got all his fancy cars," said Baldwin, referring to Seinfeld's web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," in which the comedian interviews famous friends over coffee and a drive in a car that most people can't afford. "He gets in one of his fancy cars, he talks to one of his fancy friends, and they drink fancy coffee. My show is me in an RV with my three dogs talking to regular people, and we're drinking regular coffee — and it's still fun."
In the new series, Baldwin speaks to anyone he can find. Some people are small business owners; some are just people passing by on the street. The actor wants to talk to everyone about their experiences, what this country means to them, and where they think it's headed.
Though many conversations touch on politics and the current cultural gap, Baldwin is sure to let people speak — people who both agree or disagree with him. It's a rare kind of show in today's polarized world in that it tries to bring people of different opinions and beliefs together in a respectful manner. Baldwin, an early Trump endorser, even winds up shaking hands with a few people who likely never thought they'd give a Trump voter the time of day.
"It's an experiment in communication using this media format to go out and, in a 'Duck Dynasty' kind of way, just have some fun, learn about America and meet the folks, whoever they are and wherever they're from — and hear what they think America means to them," said Baldwin.
The program was born out of the actor's concern as he watched the news turn to constant "doom and gloom" in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. He believes the current polarization is paralyzing for the country.
"How do we just humble ourselves enough to just say, 'Where does this go, guys? Do we divide the country up in half?'" the star said.
Though "Pilgrimage" is meant to combat that polarization by starting conversations, Baldwin says his travels and the response to the show have made him hopeful that America has a future that's less divided.
"The response has been almost 99.5 percent positive."
"The response has been almost 99.5 percent positive about the consciousness now of the need for this conversation," said the 51-year-old actor, a New York native. "That's where I think the hope stems from ... More people realize, 'Wait a minute. We can't just keep throwing snowballs back and forth here, guys, because some of ya'll are putting rocks inside.' At some point, we've just got to get tired of all this and say, 'Hey. What are we doing?' We've got to talk about it, and [I hope] authentically realize the only way we're going to come to any solution about this stuff is for each side to humble itself enough to do enough listening to learn something [and] move forward positively."
The desire for that conversation and path forward is part of a "new movement," said Baldwin, one "The Great American Pilgrimage" will be part of, he hopes.
It's not just the election of Donald J. Trump that has divided the country, Baldwin theorizes. Many of the issues boiling over today existed during the Obama administration but are "more exposed" now, thanks to today's new media; these issues include the Hollywood sexual misconduct scandals, which were swept under the rug for seemingly decades.
"The swamp is being drained," Baldwin said of Hollywood.
The conservative actor also said he's hopeful the culture and political atmosphere will get better as Trump's presidency continues.
"The swamp is being drained," he said of Hollywood.
"Over time, especially now with the new tax bill, etc., etc., people are going to be open and willing and interested to understand Trump more going forward than not," he said. "When the economy's better, usually people's lifestyles get a little bit easier."
Even as he weighs in now on the political scene, Baldwin is still a prolific actor; he's put his support behind more faith-based projects in recent years.
Roles in such cult classic films as "The Usual Suspects" and "Bio-Dome" have helped him build goodwill with audiences around the world. And the latter film, a Pauly Shore comedy that has found a second life on home video and in television reruns, is a project he may revisit in the future.
A sequel to the 1996 comedy has been mentioned every now and then over the years, and Baldwin says it's a very real possibility.
"I speak to Pauly [Shore] quite often actually, and the idea of a sequel has been talked about, particularly in the last two years a whole lot. I think there's a way to come up with something that could be very funny and work quite well," said Baldwin. "It's now just a matter of time to figure out: How do you structure something like that as a sequel so many years later? And I don't even mean in the story; I mean in the distribution, [as] that's the harder part now. Do you go straight to a digital download? Do you do it as a TV movie? Do you put it in theaters?"
He added, "We're in a phase right now of analyzing what would be best, and then figuring out how to execute it."
Learn more about "The Great American Pilgrimage" here.