UPDATE: Alec Baldwin briefly returned to social media late Friday night to retweet an article with a headline about how he was “Told Prop Gun Safe Before Fatal Shooting.”
The article from Variety cites an affidavit filed by investigators, which said that the gun handed to Baldwin on the New Mexico set of the film “Rust,” and used in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, was declared safe by the production’s assistant director.
Original story follows:
Alec Baldwin and his influencer wife, Hilaria Baldwin, have bolstered their careers by being extremely active on Instagram, with the highly opinionated actor regularly sharing his reflections on culture and politics and the couple constantly disseminating images of their happy life with their six young children.
But crisis management and public relations experts say that Baldwin and others close to him, especially Hilaria, face intense scrutiny in the coming weeks, due to Baldwin’s role in the shooting death Thursday of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of the actor’s latest movie, “Rust.”
For that reason, the “30 Rock” star and his wife need to keep a low profile and to take care with any public statements or in how they are seen in public, said Evan Nierman, founder of the crisis management and P.R. firm Red Banyan.
“Every gesture, every part of his appearance, every public statement will be scrutinized,” said Nierman. “He needs to be very cautious and controlled. … He even needs to make sure he’s not photographed out having dinner with friends, or laughing at a joke, or even seen smiling. It would be easy for someone to take a photo or video of him and spin it and attack him. If you’re a mega-celebrity, one of the ways you take away opportunities for people to do that is to stay out of the public eye.”
Staying out of the public eye also means that Baldwin needs to suspend sharing his views on social media about other topics, or promoting upcoming projects or even posting cute family photos, as if life in the Baldwin household goes on, Nierman said. It’s also important that Alec and others close to him not say too much about any hardships he or his family are suffering in the wake of Hutchins’ death and Souza’s injury.
“If he starts talking about other issues, he runs the risk of being criticized for not paying enough attention to what’s happened or not being empathetic to Hutchins’ family or not understanding the gravity of what’s happened,” Nierman continued.
This restraint also applies to Hilaria Baldwin, 37, who reportedly left the couple’s Manhattan apartment Friday morning, the New York Post reported. Baldwin was photographed Saturday at a Santa Fe hotel with Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their 9-year-old son.
Hilaria Baldwin is known for regularly posting selfies, which show her executing yoga poses or trying to look alluring while breastfeeding one of their two babies. The Boston-born-and-reared Hilaria also continues to lament the way she’s been criticized on social media. Earlier this year, she was caught falsely presenting herself as “half-Spanish” for 10 years, likely to build a brand as a glamorous European immigrant.
About three hours before the shooting, Hilaria Baldwin shared an Instagram Story image of Baldwin on FaceTiming from New Mexico. The actor had had visible bags under his eyes and appeared drawn during the conversation.
“She reflects on his brand,” Nierman said. “It’s incumbent on her to adhere to those same practices. It would be advisable for her or him to do something on social media that expresses their grief for Hutchins, something very heartfelt that reflects the statement he put out on Twitter (Friday). Then let that be all the say for a time.”
In his two-tweet statement, Baldwin called the death of Hutchins on the set of the Western film “a tragic accident.” The actor, who has been a fixture in film, TV and theater since the 1980s, said there “are no words to convey my shock and sadness.”
Nierman praised Baldwin’s statement for being “short and sweet” and for also stating the fact that he’s fully cooperating with the police investigation. Nierman said that’s about all Baldwin or anyone close to him needs to say at this point.
Hutchins, 42, died Thursday after Santa Fe County Sheriff’s authorities say Baldwin fired a “prop gun” that also wounded the film’s director, Fremont native Joel Souza, 48. Souza was treated and released from a Santa Fe, New Mexico hospital.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Baldwin, also a producer on the film, was rehearsing a scene at the Bonanza Creek Ranch that involved a gun fight. The Times also reported that members of the camera crew had walked off the set to protest working conditions, which they said included complaints of long hours, long commutes and problems collecting their paychecks. Morever, crew members expressed concern about two accidental prop gun discharges that occurred days earlier.
In the coming days, weeks or months, Baldwin’s reputation and career depends heavily on what the investigation shows about what led to Hutchins’ death, said Eric Schiffer, chairman of the Los Angeles-based firm, Reputation Management Consultants.
“If this was a terrible accident, and Baldwin were my client, I would be advising him to keep a lower profile in the short term,” Schiffer said. “I would tell him to do what he can behind the scenes for the families and the crew who are shaken by this.”
Schiffer emphasized that “behind the scenes” means that neither Baldwin nor his wife should broadcast efforts he is making on behalf of Hutchins’ widower and family. It’s possible that these details could leak to the media, but Baldwin’s public efforts should come off “as authentic,” as if they “come from the heart,” Schiffer said.
On Friday, Hutchins’ widower, Matthew, declined to say much, but issued a statement to confirm that Baldwin had been in touch and was being “supportive,” the Daily Mail reported.
Schiffer said Baldwin also should do what he can to make sure that he’s as transparent as possible about his role in the shooting. Baldwin’s career is in a precarious, “debilitating” position, Schiffer said.
Having spent time on film sets, Schiffer is among many industry insiders who have expressed shock over how such an accident could happen in 2021, given all the strict safety protocols that are supposed to be in place when firearms are used on film and TV sets.
Schiffer, moreover, agreed that Baldwin is a polarizing figure in U.S. culture, known for his outspoken liberal politics, personal controversies, famous temper and fights with reporters. That means there’s a segment of the U.S. population that would be ready to pounce on any sign that Baldwin acted “outside the bounds” of proper procedures. As a producer of the film, he may face added legal liability.
“If this was not an accident, or showed terrible judgement on his part, this will haunt him forever,” Schiffer said. “It will come down to whether producers and studios want to work with him again. I don’t think it will kill his career. But a pariah-set of clouds will follow him for some time. The incident will be tattooed to his forehead because it’s hard to unring the death of this person.”
But if authorities find that the shooting was an accident, Baldwin may become a hugely sympathetic figure, whose career could easily survive.
Nonetheless, Huchins’ death is “a huge personal tragedy” for Baldwin, and it remains to be seen whether he will able to process the trauma enough that he can resume his career, Nierman added.
“If he doesn’t have a personal crisis or meltdown of his own, he will move past this,” Nierman said. “It ended a life but it won’t end his career.”
This story has been updated.