Actors, creators question move to bring criminal charges against Alec Baldwin
The decision to charge Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter is stirring deep anxiety and debate among his peers.
In an interview with The Times, New Mexico’s First Judicial Dist. Atty. Mary Carmack-Altwies and special prosecutor Andrea Reeb said they interviewed actors who told them that Baldwin did not follow protocols prior to the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust” in October 2021.
“We’ve spoken with several actors, A-list and less than A-list, and all have confirmed that when you are handed a gun, you need to look at it and make sure that it’s safe,” Carmack-Altwies said.
But many actors and creators are questioning the move to bring criminal charges against one of their own. Baldwin — who authorities said discharged the prop gun that led to the fatal shooting — could face a five-year prison sentence if a jury convicted him on one of the charges.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars, was killed on the set of ‘Rust.’ Here’s everything we know so far.
Prosecutors also plan to bring involuntary manslaughter charges against weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who has acknowledged she loaded the gun involved in the fatal shooting of Hutchins but didn’t realize there was at least one live bullet among the inert dummy rounds.
“We are very concerned about the precedent this might set,” said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, national executive director of SAG-AFTRA. “Actors are not trained to be firearms experts.”
That sentiment is widely shared among the members of Hollywood’s largest union.
“To put pressure on an actor who is working is so wrong, it’s scapegoating,” said “Rust” cast member Frances Fisher in her first interview since the fatal shooting. She played the great-aunt of Lucas, the young boy lead in the western.
“There’s a certain amount of trust that happens on a set as well. We become a family very quickly,” Fisher said. “And when someone says something to you, like, ‘This is a cold gun,’ you trust them,” she said, referring to assurances given by assistant director David Halls, according to an affidavit.
Fisher said she would use only dummy weapons in future. “Real guns should never be used on a set,” she said.
Matthew Arkin, an actor who has been shot at with dummies or blanks for his part in an episode of the CBS show “Criminal Minds,” argued that actors are at the bottom of the chain of command when it comes to weapons.
“It’s abominable, I think it’s horrible,” Arkin said of the pending charges against Baldwin. “A film set is an environment of experts and I’m supposed to be expert at the acting part, not the props, not the weapons.”
More than a year after “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot on the film’s set near Santa Fe, star-producer Alec Baldwin and the movie’s armorer are being charged in her death.
Lisa Ann Walter, who plays Melissa Schemmenti on the ABC sitcom “Abbott Elementary” and is a member of the executive committee at SAG-AFTRA, said actors shouldn’t take the blame in gun accidents.
“If you’re requiring that an actor be in charge of armory or stunts, that’s not what we’re there to do,” Walter said.
She said she once felt safe on film sets with guns, but no more.
“Things like this just make you feel like you never know what could go wrong,” Walter said. “The training, the top-notch union crew and most importantly the time to plan the stunts and effects is absolutely integral to safety on the set, otherwise you get these tragic results.”
Walter is planning to raise a motion with SAG-AFTRA to ban the use of real guns and use fake weapons with effects done in post-production. She would like the rules to be incorporated into the upcoming contract negotiations this year with producers, she said.
Fisher said she would back such a motion.
Crabtree-Ireland said some members have told him “they may no longer participate in productions using real firearms because of the risk they would be exposed to criminal sanctions.”
After the “Rust” tragedy in 2021, many shows were quick to ban real guns from their productions and shift to toy guns known as airsoft guns. Dwayne Johnson, known as the Rock, was among the first high-profile performers to say he would not use a gun in the future.
Although legislative attempts to ban guns from film sets have failed, Crabtree-Ireland said that there is interest in a move toward using more non-lethal replica weapons like airsoft guns.
After the shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, proposed legislation to ban guns on sets has been scaled back and no changes have been made.
Other actors have chimed in with support for Baldwin.
“No way in hell actor Alec Baldwin should be charged with any negligence whatsoever,” Mickey Rourke said via Instagram. “Most actors don’t know anything about guns especially if they didn’t grow up around them.”
Some actors noted that safety procedures already in place have kept them safe in countless productions over the years using real guns. And there was also surprise that the assistant director, who is in charge of safety on sets, would get a lesser charge than the performer using a gun.
Dave Halls, assistant director on “Rust,” agreed to plead guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon in a deal resulting in a suspended sentence and six months’ probation. He will be testifying against Baldwin, according to the prosecutors.
However, some actors privately and publicly supported the charging decision, noting that Baldwin was more than an actor in the production: He was also one of its producers.
“[I]nvoluntary manslaughter seems appropriate. He was a producer/authority figure on the production,” actor Ethan Embry tweeted.
Baldwin has said his role was limited to creative decision-making, not budgets or hiring, and that he was not to blame for the fatal shooting.
“This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice,” said Baldwin’s attorney, Luke Nikas of Quinn Emanuel, adding that his client “relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
Actor Alec Baldwin will face criminal charges in the accidental, on-set fatal shooting of a cinematographer. What now for ‘Rust’?
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