How much can you divine of a famous person from a chance encounter in the street? Perhaps not so much. But you might be struck by their sense of low-drama normality, their obvious attempt at trying to blend in with a crowd. That was the impression I got, for sure, of Alec Baldwin, the 63-year-old actor at the centre of real-life tragedy on a movie set in New Mexico.
In the days since the incident last week that resulted in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the wounding of director Joel Souza, Baldwin has expressed his deep remorse and shock. It appears he was given the weapon he fired by a movie crew member who told him it was a “cold gun”, and therefore safe to fire.
Alongside the tributes paid to 42-year old Hutchins, the incident has rightfully, resulted in calls for a full investigation into how this happened, to try and avoid such incidents again.
What has been surprising, even for our politically toxic times, has been the reaction from some on the right, who have used it to mock and attack Baldwin.
Their main motivation appears to be that the actor used to play the character of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, something that used to infuriate the former president and which appears now be fueling cruel comments from Trump’s eldest son, as well as others keen to secure his blessing. Donald Trump Jr has even been hawking T-shirts that read: “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people”.
After some pointed out the tasteless of that particular enterprise, Trump Jr responded on Instagram, saying: “For those who are out there doing the fake sanctimony about leaving Alec Baldwin alone let’s all remember that Alec Baldwin would be the first person pissing on everyone’s grave if the shoes were on the other foot. Screw him!”
Another pro-Trump voice, conservative pundit Candace Owens, sparked her own outcry after she tweeted — in a post since deleted — that the death of Hutchins during the filming of Rust could be seen as “poetic justice” for Baldwin’s criticism of Trump.
Meanwhile, Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance wrote a post a couple of hours after the incident that tagged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: “Dear @jack. Let Trump back on. We need Alec Baldwin tweets.”
Trump Jr and Owens may really think Baldwin is fair game. He did indeed portray Trump for several seasons, and defended his decision to play the role.
Once, after Trump called for “retribution” after an episode he did not like, Baldwin tweeted: “I wonder if a sitting president exhorting his followers that my role in a TV comedy qualifies me as an enemy of the people constitutes a threat to my safety and that of my family?”
But Baldwin is an actor playing the part of someone in a satirical show — a show that first started broadcasting in 1975. Whatever you think of Baldwin or his performance on SNL, nothing forgives what is being said by Trump Jr and others.
I don’t know Alec Baldwin. When I lived in New York, I used to bump into him occasionally in the area south of Union Square where The Independent had its offices. Baldwin had an apartment there and he could often be spotted. (Once, a senior editor visiting from London saw him in our regular bagel shop, which allowed us to be very blasé when he reported seeing him: “Oh Alec Baldwin, not him again!”)
Once, or perhaps twice, I approached him in the street and asked if he would do an interview for us about playing Trump. He said to email his office, but I never heard back.
On those occasions, he was polite but not gushing. One sensed he was trying not to stand out. He looked like someone you might have seen on TV a couple of days earlier, but was otherwise just another person making their way along a busy New York street. Indeed, he looked like the very same man captured in the photographs taken last week outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s offices after being questioned about the shooting. And in those images, he looks utterly distraught and bereft.
Using this moment of genuine tragedy either out of spite, or for some perceived political benefit, ought to be beneath all of us.