Police haven't even issued a final report about the shooting accident that took the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set on the Western film Rust. But star Alec Baldwin — who held the gun that fired the deadly bullet – went on national TV on Thursday to answer probing questions about a tragedy that has attracted loads of national attention.
It's not something a big-name celebrity at the heart of a gigantic public controversy usually attempts. But after his measured, prime-time interview with ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos — during which the actor broke down in tears several times while describing aspects of the tragedy — Baldwin emerged as a man who pushed back on criticism and told his story, without raising any new, damaging questions.
Alec Baldwin Unscripted featured an hourlong report on the accident, including a lengthy interview with the actor. He expressed remorse and regret for the incident but remained confident he wouldn't be charged with a crime and was not at fault.
"Someone is responsible for what happened, and I can't say who that is," Baldwin told Stephanopoulos in the interview, which was recorded in advance. "But I know it's not me."
Hutchins was killed when the Colt .45 revolver Baldwin was holding unexpectedly fired a bullet, striking her and film's director, Joel Souza, who was injured in the shoulder. Baldwin told Stephanopoulos that he was following Hutchins' instructions while aiming the gun, as the cinematographer was looking at a monitor, trying to figure out the best position for filming a scene.
The actor said they were running through a "marking rehearsal," which involved him adjusting the gun's position several times. Baldwin said he pulled back the gun's hammer, cocking it, but insisted he never pulled the trigger.
"I cock the gun. I go, 'Can you see that? Can you see that? Can you see that?' " he added. "And then I let go of the hammer of the gun, and the gun goes off."
Why is he speaking out now?
Baldwin told Stephanopoulos he was talking now — even though he has already been named in two civil lawsuits and police have not issued a final report to the district attorney — to combat "a number of misconceptions" about what happened.
"I feel like I really can't wait for that process to end," the actor said. "I wanted to ... say that I would go to any lengths to undo what happened."
During the interview, Baldwin — who was also a producer on the film — made several important points about the circumstances of the incident, which seemed focused on limiting his perceived culpability:
• He stressed he was a "purely creative producer," who focused only on casting and the script and not on who was hired in technical jobs or why.
• He said he hadn't been told of any safety concerns on the film's set before the accident.
• Some Hollywood professionals, including star actor George Clooney, have said they always personally check firearms they are using to make sure they are safe. But Baldwin insisted his practice over 40 years of acting was to trust the professionals hired to oversee the props, including guns. When Stephanopoulos asked him directly, "What is the actor's responsibility?" Baldwin replied, "To do what the prop/armorer tells him to do."
• He said assistant director Dave Halls handed him the prop weapon, telling him it was a "cold gun," meaning it wasn't dangerous. Speaking about Hutchins, Baldwin noted, "she and I had this thing in common; we both thought [the gun] was empty ... and it wasn't."
• While carefully declining to name anyone who might be responsible, Baldwin swatted away a theory advanced by an attorney for Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who served as the film's armorer and key prop assistant, that the bullet could have wound up in his gun as an act of intentional sabotage.
(Attorneys for both Gutierrez Reed and Halls, contacted by NPR after the special aired, say they have no new comments to add in the wake of Baldwin's statements.)
• Baldwin teared up while talking about how well-regarded Hutchins was by her colleagues – and how her young son will grow up without a mother – but Baldwin also said he feels no guilt. Because, the actor said, he is not responsible for what happened.
"There's only one question to be resolved ... only one," Baldwin said. "That is: Where did the live round come from?"
Well-prepared and on-message
Thursday night's report also featured interviews with other sources, including an arms vendor who said he provided guns and dummy rounds to the production. But Thursday's report was centered on the interview with Baldwin, featuring lots of promotional ads for a longer, two-hour program next week on ABC's newsmagazine 20/20 about the accident.
Stephanopoulos, who told viewers of Good Morning America on Thursday that he had known Baldwin for years, asked substantive questions, but wasn't overbearing. Baldwin seemed well-prepared and on message, speaking in a forum that had journalistic credibility but that wouldn't be too bruising. The program itself occasionally had the feel of a highly produced Dateline NBC episode, with ominous music swirling in crucial moments.
While insisting he didn't want to sound like a victim, Baldwin did note that he has struggled with the public criticism sparked by the accident, marveling that former President Donald Trump weighed in to accuse him of purposefully shooting Hutchins, calling it "surreal." Saying the accident was the worst thing that ever happened in his life, the actor added that he dreams about the shooting "constantly" and isn't sleeping.
But when Stephanopoulos asked whether his acting career was over, Baldwin said he wasn't sure but added he's scheduled to start production on a new film in January.
It is tough to know how much this interview contributed to public understanding of the accident, beyond fortifying Baldwin's contention that he is not substantially at fault.
But it should serve as a master class on how a celebrity can get their story ahead of a damaging public controversy, even as lawsuits are flying and a police investigation is ongoing.