Ready to ride
Alec Baldwin plays disgraced car mogul John DeLorean
It’s the film that everybody wanted to make, but nobody quite could.
Now, after decades of misses by various production teams, Alec Baldwin plays disgraced auto mogul John DeLorean in the newly released Framing John DeLorean. The movie blends documentary and drama to break down some misconceptions about the car engineer whose fall is the stuff of legend.
The film explores DeLorean’s storied career, all the way to his getting arrested and tried for drug smuggling after an FBI sting ensnared the car man who was desperate for cash. In late 1982, he was charged with conspiring to distribute almost 25 kilos of cocaine, but was acquitted two years later.
Detroit native DeLorean was a top executive at GM in the early 1970s who worked on Pontiac’s GTO and Firebird. Never fitting into the car culture of the time, DeLorean was more likely to wear a half-buttoned shirt than a suit and tie, and keep the company of movie stars, not stuffy executives.
As head of the DeLorean Motor Co. he was forging his own path by 1978, designing the DMC-12, a supercar with wings for doors that entranced audiences in 1985’s Back to the Future. But his highrolling lifestyle — complete with huge New Jersey estate and four marriages — proved unsustainable and DeLorean’s venture imploded.
His Northern Ireland car factory, which had over the course of a decade received $138 million from the U.K. government, was drained of funding by new Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who refused to rescue the firm from receivership as rumours about DeLorean’s financial affairs swirled.
At $25,000, his cars had been too expensive, too — they didn’t sell and didn’t handle much better than the far less expensive Corvette.
The DeLorean plant’s closure was a bitter blow for Northern Ireland, at that point a conflictravaged area in which DeLorean’s 2,600 jobs had been a rare high point. By the time the firm shuttered, just 70 posts had remained .
“John was a legendary automotive designer who had great success at GM,” Baldwin told People magazine as he promoted the film.
“John made his name in the business and that business was like a movie. You release something and if it’s a hit, you’re the king for the time being. The beginning of his problems is narcissism that’s grounded in a couple things.
“One is plastic surgery — a level of manipulating your public persona that we identify with the Kardashians. John DeLorean was ahead of the curve doing that then, in order to make people believe about him what he needed them to believe.”
Ironically, Baldwin told NPR of a phone call he once fielded from the mogul himself, in the early 1990s.
“He said, “Alec, it’s John DeLorean here and I was wondering if you’d consider playing me in a part in a movie they’re going to make about my life.”
The film, of course, never made it.
“If that phone call was at all an indication of how John operated, then part of John’s success was he asked people to do something that they were predisposed to do,” Baldwin told NPR.
“He said to me, ‘You want to play me in a movie, don’t you?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, yes, I do actually.’ So John kind of knew people very, very well.”
Now, DeLorean’s flaws — and what some still insist was genius — have been made re-famous in a style described as “semi-documentary.” The new film blends documentary elements with reconstructed drama under directors Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott.
Alongside Baldwin, Morena Baccarin plays Cristina Ferrare, DeLorean’s supermodel wife. The film sees DeLorean’s own children describe their father in glowing terms, in between dramatic scenes and experimental takes where Baldwin (as Baldwin) describes how he wants to play the DeLorean role.
Talking to NPR , Baldwin described driving a surviving DeLorean car for the film, calling it “kooky” but “ahead of its time.”
After the cocaine saga DeLorean’s troubles were by no means over, as fraud and tax cases dogged him for years. Various efforts to restart car ventures failed.
DeLorean died in New Jersey in 2005. He was 80.
Alec Baldwin in Framing John DeLorean.