In a primetime interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, Alec Baldwin tried to convince the public that he was in no way at fault for the fateful filming of cameraman Halina Hutchins on the set of Rust.
But the decision to appear on national television during an active criminal investigation and amid two civil lawsuits was a highly risky tactic that could make matters worse for Baldwin, according to several legal and public relations experts who spoke to The Times.
Former Assistant US Attorney Neam Rahmani, who co-founded Los Angeles-based West Coast Trial Lawyers, called the interview a “mistake” because Baldwin’s testimony could be used against him in court, but is useless for the defense. …
“This is a truly unpromising situation in terms of legal implications,” Rahmani said. “His statements can be used against him; everyone knows it. But his testimony cannot be used as a substitute for testifying, because they are rumors. An actor and public figure has illegal reasons for giving interviews, but as a lawyer, there is no reason why you should ever do an interview like this. It can only backfire. “
Baldwin’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an interview that aired Thursday, Baldwin said he did not expect to face criminal charges over the matter, although an investigation is ongoing. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is closely scrutinizing the actions of Baldwin, as well as Assistant Director Dave Halls and gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez Reed, during an investigation into the October 21 shooting that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Sousa.
“Knowledgeable people and even within the state have told me that it is unlikely that I would be charged with a felony,” Baldwin said.
But officials have not ruled out charges against Baldwin. New Mexico’s first district attorney, Mary Carmack-Altvis, said on Friday that she “had not made a decision on whether or not to prosecute those involved in the shooting.”
“Everyone involved in the handling and use of firearms on set had a responsibility to behave in a manner that would ensure the safety of others, and it appears that certain actions and inactions have contributed to this outcome,” Carmack-Altvis said in his statement. statement.
In an hour-long television news, Baldwin, who also produced Rust, said he should not be blamed for the October 21 incident at Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico. He became emotional at times, bursting into tears when he talked about Hutchins and how her peers admired her.
Baldwin was holding a Colt .45 revolver during a rehearsal for a low-budget western when the rifle fired a live bullet that killed Hutchins and wounded Sousa. During rehearsal, Halls handed the actor a revolver and told him, “It’s a cold gun,” meaning the gun was empty or contained empty cartridges, Baldwin said.
“Someone put a combat bullet in the gun, a bullet that shouldn’t even be on the ground,” Baldwin added. “Someone is responsible for what happened, and I cannot say who it is, but I know that it is not me.”
Veteran Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Lara Yeretsyan said Baldwin’s defense was rational and his display of emotion was appropriate. According to Yeretsyan, although it didn’t help his case, it probably didn’t hurt.
“Typically, most criminal lawyers don’t want their clients to be interviewed on ABC so the world is watching potential criminal charges,” said Yeretsian, who represented celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson. “But sometimes you know it won’t hurt, and I don’t think he said anything that will come back to pursue him from the side of criminals.”
But other legal experts said parts of Baldwin’s interviews could be problematic for the actor best known for his roles in 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. Some have expressed skepticism about Baldwin’s claim that he did not pull the trigger of the revolver after pulling the trigger.
Baldwin said he needed to cock the hammer to fire, but not fire.
“The trigger was not released,” he said. “I didn’t pull the trigger. I cock my gun. I say, “Do you see this? Can you see what? Can you see what? ‘ And then I release the trigger and the gun explodes. “
Lawyer Jeff Harris, who has worked on personal injury and death cases on film and television, said it would be reasonable for Baldwin to believe the gun was safe to use on set if he had been given assurances by the crew members responsible for the weapon. … “It would be unreasonable to expect an actor to check each round individually,” Harris said.
But if investigators determine that the trigger was fired, contrary to Baldwin’s claim, it could undermine his credibility. “If a single-action revolver worked fine, it shouldn’t have fired without pulling the trigger,” said Harris, familiar with the type of weapon being used.
“Now you have recorded how an event happens that you have to live with,” said Harris. “This is either impossible, or, conversely, if there is a defect in the firearm, he will have to find an expert who can reproduce what he describes.”
The one-on-one meeting with Stephanopoulos was the first official interview Baldwin gave after Hutchins’ death.
Baldwin previously spoke to photographers who followed him and his family in Vermont in late October. In footage of the meeting received by TMZ, Baldwin described the Rust crew as “a very, very well-oiled team making a film together” in New Mexico before “this terrible thing happened.”
Last month, Baldwin again defended established working conditions at Rust by sharing on Instagram posts on social media by a crew member who said complaints about the set were exaggerated.
“I think at every level he dealt with this out of control and impulsive, not strategic,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Los Angeles-based Reputation Management Consultants.
First assistant cameraman Lane Luper and six other crew members quit Rust on October 20, the night before filming, citing gun safety issues on set, not getting paid, and lack of housing for people. in Albuquerque, about 50 miles from the ranch where the film was filmed.
Baldwin said in an interview on Thursday that he was unaware of the complaints about security issues on set. He said that the day before some of the crew members were fired, he had been warned of problems with hotel rooms for the crew and that he was willing to return some of his salary to help pay for the rooms, but the crew did not show up the next day. …
The actor also said he did not believe in sabotage on set, when asked about the charges brought by Gutierrez Reed’s lawyer.
Rust Movie Productions said in a statement the day after Hutchins’ death that she was unaware of official safety complaints on set and that she was conducting her own background checks and working with the authorities. In a later statement, a spokesman for the manufacturing company said, “Looper’s safety claims are clearly false.”