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The ‘Rust’ criminal case may be over for Alec Baldwin. The career uncertainty is not

Alec Baldwin in business suit on a gala red carpet
Alec Baldwin attends the Roundabout Theatre Company’s annual gala in New York City in March.
(Charles Sykes / Invision via Associated Press)
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With the news that New Mexico prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against Alec Baldwin in the accidental shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film “Rust,” the actor took a big step toward putting the tragedy and the ensuing ordeal behind him.

Looking to get both the project and his career back on track, Baldwin has resumed production on the western, which restarted filming Thursday in Montana. With his career and image still battered, though, the way forward for the actor is hardly clear.

Baldwin, who stars in the yet-to-be-completed “Rust” and is one of its producers, was charged in January with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for his role in Hutchins’ death. But the case against Baldwin, who has vehemently denied responsibility for the fatality, soon began to crumble. Prosecutors downgraded the felony penalties against Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed in February, and last month the district attorney stepped down from the case.

“We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident,” Baldwin attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro said in a statement.

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New Mexico prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against Alec Baldwin in the fatal ‘Rust’ shooting, two people familiar with the matter say.

April 20, 2023

In their own statement, special prosecutors Kari T. Morrissey and Jason L. Lewis said that further investigation was underway and held out the possibility that Baldwin could still be charged in the future. “This decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled,” they said, adding that the felony charges against Gutierrez Reed are unchanged. A status hearing is set for the case on Friday.

While the weight of the criminal case has been lifted for now, Baldwin still faces lawsuits from Hutchins’ parents and sister as well as crew members. (The actor’s lawyers are seeking to dismiss the Hutchins family’s suit.) And beyond his legal woes, the actor faces deep uncertainty about his career.

Even before the “Rust” shooting, Baldwin — long considered one of Hollywood’s most versatile stars — had seen his career cool in the decade since he ended his run as smooth-talking network executive Jack Donaghy on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock.” His recurring turn as President Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” his most prominent role in recent years, came to an end in 2020.

In April 2021, months before “Rust” began production, ABC scrapped a sitcom that would have co-starred Baldwin and Kelsey Grammer as estranged former roommates after the pilot episode was completed.

With the kinds of meaty roles in major Hollywood productions he’d once enjoyed in films like “Beetlejuice,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” were largely a thing of the past, Baldwin had co-written the low-budget “Rust” and cast himself in the lead as an aging outlaw as a way to help rejuvenate his flagging acting career.

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After the shooting, Baldwin drew criticism for blaming others on the “Rust” set for the accident. “Someone is responsible ... but I know it’s not me,” Baldwin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in December 2021 — further battering a public reputation that had already weathered years of controversies, legal scrapes and social-media outbursts.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars, was killed on the set of ‘Rust.’ Here’s everything we know so far.

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As his troubles mounted, Baldwin found himself dropped from several planned projects, including the lead role in a spy thriller called “Chief of Station.” “I got fired from another job yesterday,” the actor told CNN in an interview in August, noting he had lost five roles since the shooting. “There I was all set to go to a movie, jump on a plane. … I’ve been talking with these guys for months and they told me yesterday, ‘We don’t want to do the film with you because of this.’”

But while major studios and networks have kept their distance from the embattled actor — who earned an Oscar nod in 2004 for the film “The Cooler” and has won three Emmys for his work on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” — Baldwin has continued to find work, albeit sporadically, in low-budget fare.

Months after the shooting, Baldwin traveled to the U.K. to film the hijacked-airplane action-thriller “97 Minutes,” executive produced by “Rust” producer Anjul Nigam. Last year, Baldwin and Nigam launched a new production banner, Persona Entertainment; its first project, the psychological thriller “False Awakening,” is set to star Baldwin as a psychologist trying to help a client who is sleepwalking.

Baldwin also has a handful of projects in the can, including the tornado disaster film “Supercell” — produced by “Rust” production company Thomasville Pictures and co-starring the late Anne Heche — and two animated family films, “Kid Santa” and “Billie’s Magic World.” Meanwhile, away from the screen, Baldwin has continued to host his weekly arts and politics podcast, “Here’s the Thing,” and last year hosted the true-crime podcast “Art Fraud.”

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It remains to be seen to what extent Baldwin will be able to professionally escape the shadow of the “Rust” tragedy. Speaking to CNN in August, Baldwin, who had publicly contemplated retiring from acting after his run on “30 Rock” ended in 2012, said that it was only owing to the encouragement of his wife, Hilaria, that he was persevering with acting at all.

“If I didn’t have her, I probably would have quit, retired, gone off, sold everything I owned, got a house in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “Just find something else to do, sell real estate.”

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