On the WTF With Marc Maron podcast, the Oscar-winning actor weighed in on last month’s movie set disaster in which a gun discharged by Alec Baldwin shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza. Clooney said the deaths of actors Brandon Lee in 1993 and Jon-Erik Hexum in 1984 — who were both friends — made gun safety on the set of the utmost importance, so he’s in disbelief over what transpired with Rust.
The 60-year-old actor, who said he doesn’t know Baldwin very well, said he doesn’t think there was “any intent by anybody to do anything wrong,” describing it all as “a terrible accident.”
However, he said there is a very specific protocol actors follow — similar to sentiments expressed by Matthew McConaughey.
“Every single time I’m handed a gun on the set — every time — they hand me a gun, I look at it, I open it, I show it to the person I’m pointing it too, I show it to the crew,” Clooney said. “Every single take.” Then, “You hand it back to the armor when you’re done.”
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He said, “Part of it is because of what happened to Brandon. Everyone does it. Everyone knows” that is the protocol to follow. “Maybe Alec did that — hopefully he did do that. But the problem is dummies are tricky because they look like real [rounds]. They got a little tiny hole in the back [from which] somebody’s [removed] the gunpowder.”
Clooney said because of the likeness, he doesn’t just inspect the gun visually.
“I mean every time I get handed a six-gun,” or a gun that holds six cartridges, “you point it at the ground and you squeeze it six times,” Clooney said, noting “It’s just insane” not to.
Clooney discussed the finger-pointing, including at first assistant director David Halls allegedly being the one to declare the gun a “cold gun” and giving to Baldwin, who considered it safe to use.
“I’ve never heard the term ‘cold gun,'” Clooney said of his years of movie-making. “I’ve never heard that term. Literally. They’re just talking about stuff I’ve never heard of. It’s just infuriating.”
He said he’s “been on sets for 40 years and the person that hands you the gun, the person who is responsible for the gun, is either the prop person or the armorer. Period.”
Amid the investigation, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department has said in court documents that the chain of command with the gun the day of Hutchins’s death began with prop master Sarah Zachary taking it from a locked props truck and giving it to armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed. Gutierrez Reed, who is 24 and served as armorer on just one other major film, loaded it with rounds from a box of dummies, but one of the rounds was apparently live ammunition. Gutierrez Reed claims she showed the gun to Halls, who, for his part, has said he didn’t thoroughly inspect it before then giving it to Baldwin. Baldwin, rehearsing for a scene, discharged the gun and a live round killed the 42-year-old director of photography.
He blamed the production company for “skimping” on the indie movie. (Baldwin is also a producer on the film.)
“A 24-year-old person shouldn’t probably, with that little experience, be heading up a department with the guns and bullets,” he said of Gutierrez Reed, who is the daughter of Thell Reed, a well-known Hollywood armorer.
He said in disbelief, “Why for the life of me this low-budget film with producers that haven’t produced anything wouldn’t have hired for the armorer someone with experience.”
He said the fact that there was live ammo mixed in with dummies, “That is insane. It’s insane. It’s infuriating.”
Clooney spoke of being friends with Hexum, who died after a set incident involving a gun in 1984, and was even better friends with Lee. He talked about how he and Lee, as aspiring actors, played basketball three times a week together at the Y in Hollywood. He called The Crow Lee’s “big break,” and revealed his cousin, actor Miguel Ferrer, was to be the best man at Lee’s wedding a week after The Crow was to wrap.
Clooney talked about the “series of stupid things that happened” leading to Lee’s death, regarding the handling of the gun. Ultimately, a bullet from a dummy round got lodged in the tip of the gun barrel and nobody was aware of it — nor was it inspected. The bullet then became dislodged when a blank was fired, by actor Michael Massee, at Lee during a scene. Lee died at age 28.
Clooney hopes Hutchins’s death changes a lot of how weapons are used and handled in productions.
“After Brandon died, it really became a very clear thing of: Open the gun. Look down the barrel. Look in the cylinder. Make sure,” Clooney, who went through gun training to make Three Kings, reiterated. “It’s harder with dummy bullets, I have to say, because if you stuck six dummy bullets in your hand, you would think they’re real bullets.”
He added, “It’s a series of tragedies, but also a lot of mistakes. A lot of stupid mistakes.”