I’m sort of betwixt and between about Alec Baldwin, as the old saying goes. On the one hand, I recognize that he is a very bright, extremely talented actor, with a terrific sense of humor, and that rare ability to move seamlessly between comedy and drama, movies and TV. Hell, he’s even the host of a network game show, the rebooted Match Game, on ABC.
On the other hand, he has a reputation for being something of a jerk. He often comes off as a bully, he has publicly used a six letter anti-gay slur — you know the one I mean — and can be standoffish with the public. Now, having said that, I have never met or worked with him, but I know people who have, and they say he is a consummate professional. He shows up on time, knows his lines, is not ungenerous with his fellow actors, and basically does what he’s hired to do.
It’s why, even at 63 years old, he continues to be one of the busier actors in Hollywood, when so many others have lost their careers for boorish or criminal behavior. Baldwin has never broken the law, to my knowledge, and his boorishness doesn’t seem to show up on film sets, so there’s no reason for him not to be a sought after talent. Especially considering that considerable talent.
Which is why I was a bit taken aback by something he said in his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last week. It was the first interview he gave after the tragedy on the set of Rust, a movie in which he was starring and producing. We all know the story by now, but I’ll just say, for the record, that he was holding the gun when it went off and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, and wounded director Joel Silva.
I don’t say “fired” the gun, because that is now a point of contention, as Baldwin claims he didn’t pull the trigger. By his account, he was holding it and was working with Hutchins to discern the best way for him to wield it for the camera, the gun’s hammer was back, and when he let it go, the gun fired. The trigger itself was never touched, according to the actor. More than one other person has backed his account of this.
But that’s not really germane to this conversation, because I’m going in a different direction. It’s not that claim that he didn’t even touch the trigger, much less pull it, that stunned me, it was that he said that he is taking a step away from his career for the moment, a career about which he no longer seems to care — he actually said he “couldn’t give a sh*t” — and that his career might, in fact, be over.
That’s the part that made my jaw drop. Allow me to explain why.
When I think of people ending their careers, I think about people who behave badly, break the law, or are accused of something heinous. Your Kevin Spaceys (see last week’s column), your Randy Quaids, your Danny Mastersons. The list is long and illustrious, and includes people hit by scandal both fairly, like Armie Hammer and Jussie Smollett, and unfairly, like Paul Reubens; #MeToo casualties, like TJ Miller and James Franco; racist actions, like Michael Richards or Roseanne; being a generally awful person who is hard to work with, like Lea Michele; and being perceived as a fairly unrepentant anti-semite, like Mel Gibson.
What I have not seen is someone punished for their involvement in an accident that doesn’t appear to be their fault, especially when said person is a fairly big star with a strong following and a relatively solid record of success. True, an on-set death is not something with which we have a lot of experience, but still. An accident is an accident. There is no one who possesses even the slightest trace of rationality who believes that Baldwin is even remotely responsible for what happened, so why would that have a deleterious effect on his career?
Is it possible that Baldwin was being hyperbolic? Of course, it is. But there is a real sense of reality about it, as well. While I rationally can’t fathom why this would spell the end for him, I also acknowledge that he might actually be right. People might genuinely be spooked from hiring him again. After all, whether it was his fault or not, he was holding the gun when it fired and killed Hutchins and wounded Souza.
Would someone not go see a movie because Baldwin is in it? That’s probably already the case — I know plenty of people who won’t go see a Tom Cruise movie because of the whole Scientology business — but would it be crippling for a film? Would people openly revolt? Would they protest? Would they boycott the company that produced a film in which he starred?
I don’t know. I just don’t see it.
If Baldwin wants to step away from acting for a while, I certainly don’t blame him. I can’t imagine what he must be going through, and the guilt he must be suffering, just as I cannot conceive of the grief that Hutchins’ family is suffering. The whole thing is a waking nightmare, and that doesn’t even take into account the people who might still be on the hook for criminal charges, which is a whole other thing.
I don’t think I would suffer a whole lot if I never see Alec Baldwin on screen again, but I do think it would be something of a waste. I also think that it wouldn’t be the fairest case of a career coming to an end that I’ve ever seen. I know that fairness doesn’t always come into it — again, please see above in the case of Reubens, Paul — and that there are always extenuating circumstances, but this seems excessive.
Taking nothing away from the enormity of the tragedy, I tend to think that punishing someone for being involved in the event without being responsible for it only compounds that tragedy. And these days, there’s already more than enough of that to go around. We shouldn’t have to manufacture more.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.
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