Investigation into the shooting of Halyna Hutchins by Alec Baldwin on the set of “Rust” is likely months from completion, but Baldwin took an opportunity to shape the narrative during an interview broadcast on ABC Thursday. He offered a finely tuned account of the tragedy where he bears no responsibility for Hutchins’ death. “There’s only one question to be resolved, only one,” he said. “Where did the live round come from?”
That was the thesis statement linking many of the composed comments Baldwin made during the interview. Toward the end of the hour-long special, George Stephanopoulos asked the actor whether he felt guilt around Hutchins’ death.
“No, no,” Baldwin answered. “I feel that, that someone is responsible for what happened and I can’t say who that is, but I know it’s not me. ”
Baldwin’s sit-down was his first since the October 21 incident. During a rehearsal, the actor discharged a gun, firing a bullet that hit and wounded director Joel Souza and fatally struck Hutchins, the cinematographer. Prior to the shooting, first assistant director David Halls erroneously informed the set that the gun contained no live ammunition before handing it to Baldwin. Baldwin said there were not supposed to be any live rounds on set.
Since then, much of the of news coverage and speculation, along with a pair of lawsuits, center around allegations that the low-budget Western was plagued with safety issues, enough to make most of the camera crew quit in protest the day before Hutchins’ death. Multiple reports suggest that it began with producers who cut costs by hiring inexperienced key crew members such as second-time feature armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed.
Thursday’s special included an except from a resignation letter sent by camera man Lane Looper to producers that stated, “During the filming of gunfights on this job, things are often played very fast and loose. So far, there have been two accidental weapons discharges.” Baldwin said when Looper told him he was quitting, he didn’t bring up any safety issues. “He goes, ‘My men need better hotel rooms.’”
Said Baldwin, “I did not observe any safety or security issues at all in the time I was there,” adding that he heard no complaints from crew.
Baldwin faces two opportunities for blame in his roles as both actor and producer. There’s Baldwin the actor, who practiced removing the gun from his holster and aiming it toward the camera when it discharged during a marking rehearsal. Baldwin said he took direction from Hutchins as she planned shots from a monitor next to a camera that was pointed at Baldwin.
“She says, ‘Go to your right. Okay, right there. Alright do that, go a little bit lower.’ She’s getting me to position the gun,” Baldwin said. “I said to her ‘OK, now in this scene, I’m going to cock the gun.’ I said, ‘Do you want to see that?’ And she said ‘Yes.'”
Baldwin said he proceeded to cock the gun with continued direction from Hutchins. “I let go of the hammer of the gun and the gun goes off,” he said. “The trigger wasn’t pulled. I didn’t pull the trigger.”
Then there’s Baldwin the producer, one of six credited on the production. That title corresponds to a wide range of responsibilities on set, from those making hiring and budget decisions to vanity titles.
“I am a purely creative producer,” Baldwin said. “My authorities as a producer are casting and script, which are actually married to the role of being a lead actor in a film. There are basically two types of producers who are really in charge of production: people that raise the money and the people who spend the money. My consultations or approvals were completely about casting and about the script. I don’t hire anybody in the crew.”
Baldwin’s question about the source of the live round in the Colt .45 is central to the ongoing investigation by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. On Tuesday, the New York Times published a story with the headline “How Did Live Ammunition Get on the ‘Rust’ Film Set?,” sourced from some of the latest court documents filed as part of the inquiry.
The Times reported that investigators are trying to determine whether Seth Kenney of PDQ Arm & Prop, who provided the production with blanks and dummy rounds, may have sent live ammunition to set as well. Crew members told police that the ammo came from several sources, including Kenny.
After the shooting, prop master Sarah Zachry inspected the box of ammunition on a props cart and discovered some cartridges did not rattle — one of the features that can distinguish dummy rounds from live rounds. Dummy rounds often rattle because they contain a ball bearing instead of gunpowder.
In an interview for the ABC special, Kenny said it was impossible the live rounds came from his company, as he “rattle tested” each round before they were sent.
A civil lawsuit filed last month by gaffer Serge Svetnoy, which names Baldwin, alleges that a desire to cut costs by producers led them to hire an insufficient number of crew numbers and hire an inexperienced armorer in Gutierrez Reed. He alleges that Zachry failed to inspect the gun before handing it to Gutierrez Reed, who either failed to inspect it “or loaded the Colt Revolver with at least one round of live ammunition.” Halls, too, failed to check it before erroneously alerting the set that the gun was “cold,” and Baldwin failed to check the gun when Halls handed it to him.
The ABC special included an audio clip of George Clooney, where the actor said he always checks guns himself when he’s on set. But that’s not what Baldwin does, he said, as a matter of practice that he began in his earliest experiences as an actor.
“If you have your protocols, you’re checking the gun every time, well good for you. Good for you,” Baldwin said. “What I was taught by someone years ago … If I took a gun and I popped the clip out of a gun, or I manipulated the chamber of a gun, they would take the gun away from me and redo it. The person said ‘Don’t do that … We don’t want the actor to be the last line of defense against a catastrophic breach of safety. My job, they told me — man or woman — my job is to make sure the gun is safe and that I hand you the gun.'”
Gutierrez Reed’s attorney last month released a statement alleging that the armorer is being “framed” and that evidence was “tampered with.” Baldwin said he believes that is unlikely.
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies last month said there is no evidence of sabotage on set, nor does she believe it is a possibility. She added that investigators do not yet have an answer about how live ammunition ended up on set.