Alec Baldwin remains brooding, defiant enigma in Rust shooting’s aftermath

Analysis: actor’s complex public persona remains intact as he faces charges in death of Halyna Hutchins

Whatever else has happened, or will happen, in the vividly eventful career of movie star Alec Baldwin, his name is destined to be linked with that of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, whom he tragically shot dead on a movie set in New Mexico in 2021. Baldwin accidentally fired a live bullet from a revolver being used as a prop. Now he faces criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter, despite a private legal settlement Baldwin reportedly reached with the Hutchins family.

Alec Baldwin’s mercurial, defiant, combatively emotional behaviour – which has been part of his presence as a performer and public figure – has been in evidence since the shooting. He gave an emotional interview last August in which he blamed the armourer and the props assistant but declined to blame himself and even exhibited notes of histrionic self-pity, talking about the acting jobs he had lost and thanked his wife, Hilaria: “If I didn’t have my wife, I don’t know where I would be right now …” Not a tactful thing to say, with Matt Hutchins mourning the loss of his wife.

Baldwin has no obvious desire to make a penitent retreat from the spotlight. Last month, he hosted the glitzy Ripple Of Hope ceremony in New York City, conferring the award on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for their activism on racial justice, pointedly praising their handling of “difficult circumstances in the press” and joking that he could be their “driver”. It was precisely the kind of celebrity-liberal nexus in which Baldwin is so bullishly at home.
Baldwin began his movie career as a hunky male lead in movies such as Working Girl (1988) and The Hunt For Red October (1990) but he morphed (and bulked out) into a complex, potent character actor – while often lamenting his failure to clinch Hollywood alpha status. It was a career pivot signalled by his unforgettable cameo as the bullying salesman in the movie version of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), snarling: “Always be closing.” In this new persona, he worked with directors like Woody Allen (of whom he has been a great defender) and Martin Scorsese, and got an Oscar nomination for his tremendous performance in Wayne Kramer’s enigmatic Vegas drama The Cooler.

But his celebrity brand got a turbocharge from his almost incessant appearances in the gossip media for chaotic behaviour: he separated with maximum acrimony from his wife Kim Basinger, and in a furious voicemail directed at his preteen daughter, leaked to the press, he called her “a rude, thoughtless little pig”, in that unmistakable bass rasp. He hit a paparazzo, got thrown off a plane for refusing to put away his electronic device, responded with icy resentment when Hilaria’s claims to a Spanish background were mocked, and furiously attacked the Daily Mail for suggesting that she had been tweeting during James Gandolfini’s funeral.

In effect, he became the real-life Mr Hyde to the likable – and brilliantly written and performed – Dr Jekyll persona created for him by Tina Fey in the TV comedy 30 Rock: Jack Donaghy, the cheerfully reactionary Republican television producer who has nothing but contempt for liberals. Baldwin also had a longstanding turn on Saturday Night Live playing Donald Trump.

When I interviewed Baldwin, I saw for myself how this complicated, fraught, charming man was perpetually “on”: like many journalists who met him, I found that it was like talking to Jack Donaghy, how Baldwin loved making people laugh, or at least thrill to his serio-comic, wolfishly grinning presence. His comedy career was very important to him. Watch his appearance opposite Jerry Seinfeld on the web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and you’ll see – despite all the laughs and kidding around – how wounded and sensitive he is, how desperate for super-celebrity status like Seinfeld’s. He is a brooding, saturnine presence.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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