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Actor Michael Shannon says the 'Rust' fiasco is about more than gun safety -- 'this is what comes of making a movie on the cheap'

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

In October 2021, when “Rust” star and producer Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with a pistol containing live ammunition that should not have been on a movie set, a lot of actors nowhere near that incident in New Mexico thought a lot of things.

For Michael Shannon, “the main thing was: This is what comes of making a movie on the cheap.”

A Chicago stage veteran and two-time Academy Award nominee for supporting performances in “Revolutionary Road” (2008) and “Nocturnal Animals” (2016), Shannon, the co-star of Showtime’s “George & Tammy” and the recent, bullet-strewn theatrical feature “Bullet Train,” has played his share of gun-wielding hit men, lawmen and underworld adversaries in a prolific 31-year career in film and television.

He has worked around massive, deafening explosions coupled with hazard-prone strafing from the air (“Pearl Harbor,” one of two Michael Bay projects he’s in). He has followed gun safety protocols on low-budget, medium-sized and nine-figure film projects. “Fastidious” is his word for the on-set armorers he has worked with. He has, he says, also seen younger fellow actors “do some crazy, stupid (stuff) with guns over the years on set. Like it’s no big deal.”

Last week, Baldwin was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter by the Santa Fe County, New Mexico, district attorney’s office. The “Rust” armorer responsible for firearm safety on the set, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, was likewise charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Meanwhile, “Rust” first assistant director Dave Halls agreed to a plea deal on a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon. Halls allegedly is the one who called out “cold gun,” meaning: The pistol about to be handed to Baldwin for his next scene is safe, either empty or containing decoy or “dummy” rounds.

 

Was Baldwin criminally negligent for not checking his pistol before rehearsing, with his finger on the trigger? Shannon has some thoughts on that. I talked to him because I wanted to hear an actor discuss his experience with firearm safety protocol, in Shannon’s case on everything from “Boardwalk Empire” to “The Iceman.” More recently, the actor made his feature directorial debut on “Eric Larue,” based on the Brett Neveu drama (first a Chicago premiere, at A Red Orchid Theatre) set in the eerie aftermath of a school shooting.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: We’ve read a lot from variously informed people about whether Alec Baldwin deserves these involuntary manslaughter charges, whether they’ll stick, and what appears to have failed completely with the safety protocols on “Rust.” For those of us who’ve never handled firearms on a movie set, walk us through the process.

A: Sure. It’s not a sloppy procedure, in my experience. It’s very, very meticulous. On most sets, if there is any activity that’s considered potentially risky in any way, shape or form, they start the day with a safety meeting the assistant director runs. They go through all the possible dangerous on-camera activity, and how we’re going to handle that to make sure nobody gets hurt. That’s how the day starts. And all of the armorers I’ve worked with have been super fastidious about what they do.

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