Michael Shannon Talks Rust Tragedy And Alec Baldwin Charge: ‘It’s A Nightmare’

The news recently broke that actor Alec Baldwin will face criminal charges concerning the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. It's already been 16 months since Hutchins was killed on the set of the Baldwin-produced western Rust, and as authorities concluded their investigation, many conversations have sparked over the safety of film sets. Actor Michael Shannon has handled his share of firearms while on a film set, and the Bullet Train actor has weighed in with his honest thoughts regarding the nightmarish tragedy.

The Take Shelter actor recently spoke with The Chicago Tribune (via People) regarding his viewpoint on onset firearm safety. Shannon said when it comes to having guns in your movie, "that's no place to cut corners." And in Shannon's opinion, that's precisely what Rust producers did when they hired Hannah Gutierrez-Reed as an armorer. The Boardwalk Empire alum added that he believes the armorer was "unqualified" for the job. He told the publication:

The armorer should've brought the gun over to him and said: Here is your firearm. It is empty. Or maybe (the weapon) has decoy or dummy rounds in it; you pull the trigger, nothing happens. But you never settle for walking up to an actor and handing the gun over without showing them what's inside of it. Ever. That was the cataclysmic event on Rust.

The onset incident was indeed cataclysmic. In October of 2021, as cameras were being adjusted, a prop gun held by Alec Baldwin reportedly discharged, resulting in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the injury of director Joel Souza. Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed have both denied any culpability in the incident. Baldwin even did a televised interview defending himself, insisting he never pulled the gun trigger. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed has cast blame on PDQ Arm & Prop, even filing a lawsuit against the company responsible for selling the dummy bullets to the production. However, neither changed the mind of the Santa Fe District Attorney, who has filed involuntary manslaughter charges against both the actor/producer and the armorer. 

Michael Shannon says he doesn't condemn Alec Baldwin. As a matter of fact, he "feels" for him but is quick to point out that onset tragedies, like the one that occurred on Rust, should be expected if corners are cut to produce a film on the cheap. The actor continued: 

I'm not condemning Alec. I feel horrible for the guy. It's a nightmare. I feel terrible for everyone on that production. But this is what happens when you lowball and cut corners and hire people that may not be qualified, and pay them next to nothing, and make the movie on the cheap. People get jobs in this business because they're willing to work for a low enough fee. I see it all the time.

While the two-time Academy Award nominee made it clear he wasn't trying to disparage Baldwin, he stated unequivocally that he believes actors are responsible when handling firearms on set. Michael Shannon issued a warning to all of his fellow performers. He said:

Never put your finger in the trigger hole unless you're going for a take. If you're holding a firearm between takes, which you shouldn't be, you point it at the ground until somebody comes and collects it from you.

It's unclear how the legal proceedings between Baldwin and the Santa Fe District Attorney will ultimately shake out. However, there will undoubtedly be a lot of eyes on the case, which could influence fundamental changes in weapon handling on film sets. Perhaps an actor of Michael Shannon's caliber giving his opinion about the situation will also help move the needle toward a safer working environment for film crewmembers. 

Ryan LaBee

Ryan graduated from Missouri State University with a BA in English/Creative Writing. An expert in all things horror, Ryan enjoys covering a wide variety of topics. He's also a lifelong comic book fan and an avid watcher of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon.