Alec Baldwin Didn't Have To Audition For His Memorable Glengarry Glen Ross Role

I worked in sales for six years, flogging computers in a PC superstore. It wasn't a totally hard sell gig because most of the time customers were in the shop looking to buy anyway. The pressure came with adding on the extra goodies and insurance policies; that's where the profit was, and you needed to be on top of your game.

The main trick was keeping it fresh. It's easy to fall into the trap of finding yourself a sales patter that works almost every time, until suddenly it doesn't. Then you're locked into a death spiral watching your numbers plummet, wondering how the hell you're going to pull out of it. The trick is to vary things up and keep it sounding spontaneous, because one thing that will definitely put a customer on the defensive is a pitch that sounds rehearsed.

Thanks to my time on the sales floor, I always felt extra sorry for the guys in "Glengarry Glen Ross." Not Al Pacino's character, obviously, because he was flying high and loving every second of it. My heart went out to the other salesmen, played by Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin, getting torn new ones by Alec Baldwin's fierce hatchet man in the film's most famous scene.

The eviscerating pep talk wasn't even in David Mamet's original stage play and it is Baldwin's only scene, but if you've seen the movie it's probably the moment you remember most. The writing is so brilliant that it would take a lot of effort to screw up that speech, but Baldwin's timing and withering delivery make it absolutely unforgettable. And the actor didn't even need to audition for the part.

So what happens in Glengarry Glen Ross again?

"Glengarry Glen Ross" follows two extremely stressful days in the lives of a group of struggling real estate salesmen. Working from weak leads, three of the guys are finding it tough to bring in the numbers: Shelley "The Machine" Levene (Jack Lemmon), an old-school operator on a serious cold streak; Dave Moss (Ed Harris), a hothead with a chip on his shoulder; and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), an amiable but slow-witted plodder without an ounce of killer instinct.

The only one not suffering is the office's star salesman Richard Roma (Al Pacino), who has his hooks into a wealthy and gullible client. Roma is absent on the morning Blake (Alec Baldwin), a big hitter from head office, arrives to whip the boys into shape. The incentive? They're all fired and now need to win their jobs back by closing some sales.

The added pressure doesn't work quite the way intended. Instead, it provokes the disgruntled salesman to plot a burglary to steal some juicy leads and sell them to a rival company.

As a movie set mostly in one cramped location, "Glengarry Glen Ross" never quite dispels its stage origins. That matters little when you have a cast like this spitting venomous dialogue at one another, and it's probably the best film about sales ever made. Even if sales aren't your thing, it's still a thing of joy watching these heavyweights spar with each other and get their chops around Mamet's lines.

Pacino got the Oscar nomination for his turn as Roma, but Jack Lemmon is the real star of the show as the desperate old-timer Levene. It's such a memorable performance that he even inspired Gil Gunderson in "The Simpsons," the guy just looking for a lick at that shiny brass ring.

But everyone remembers Alec Baldwin

In David Mamet's original Pulitzer prize-winning stage play, Blake only existed as an unseen background threat. The film's producers wanted Mamet to add something to intensify the pressure of sales and get the plot moving a little faster on the screen, so he brought Blake into the office for a foul-mouthed speech that would go down in movie history.

Alec Baldwin was still in the early stages of his career, but director James Foley said he was the only actor considered for the part (via Vanity Fair):

"I don't remember talking to any actor about Alec's part except Alec. He had already done 'The Hunt for Red October.' There was no audition. Alec's name came up, and I said, 'Perfect.' Alec said, 'Great,' and we did it, which is so unusual."

For such a key scene, very little rehearsal was required. Foley spent a day with Baldwin, realized the actor had the scene perfectly memorized, and just said he'd see him on set.

Baldwin was paid $250,000 for three days' work and he was worth every penny. His delivery is so measured, an exercise in practiced cruelty. Blake knows just how to hit these guys where it hurts, and he has the total confidence to rip through seasoned salesmen and leave them quaking in their boots. You also know Blake wasn't sweating this speech on the way over. It's a chore for him, and that only heightens his contempt.

As a former sales guy, I'm always impressed by his speech. Blake obviously knows how to walk the walk, which is far better than having some blowhard ranting and raving when you know you could out-sell him any day. I'd be setting my sights on those steak knives, at least.