Actors worry about the fallout over ‘Rust’ criminal charges

Actors worry about the fallout over 'Rust' criminal charges

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.

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 share among the members of Hollywood’s largest union.

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.”

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 mishaps.

“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,” Walker 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.

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.

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 previously said his role was limited to creative decision making, not budgets or hiring, and that he was not to blame for the tragedy.

“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.”

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