LOS ANGELES — With the announcement on Thursday that criminal charges will be filed in the accidental shooting in 2021 of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Western “Rust,” Alec Baldwin is likely to see his already damaged career erode even further.
Baldwin, who starred in the yet-to-be-completed “Rust” and was one of its producers, will be charged by New Mexico prosecutors with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the fatality. Baldwin shot Hutchins in the chest on Oct. 21, 2021, while rehearsing a scene with her and the film’s director, Joel Souza, who was wounded.
In a statement following the announcement, an attorney for Baldwin, Luke Nikas, said, “This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice. Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set. He 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.”
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 on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” which earned him two Emmy Awards for his performance as smooth-talking network executive Jack Donaghy.
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” 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.
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.
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.”
In October, Hutchins’ family reached an undisclosed settlement with Baldwin in a wrongful-death suit. As part of the settlement, filming on “Rust” is supposed to resume this year with the cinematographer’s husband, Matthew Hutchins, as executive producer. But the decision to finish the film has been controversial, and the charges against Baldwin will probably complicate the production schedule.
At age 64, Baldwin already likely faced dwindling career prospects. But with the announcement of criminal charges, which could be punishable with a mandatory five years in jail if Baldwin is found guilty, the actor could find it difficult to get cast in anything. Actress Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2019 stemming from the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, has not appeared onscreen since, and many in Hollywood are unlikely to want to be associated with an actor who’s been implicated in a far graver matter that has received massive global attention.
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 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.”