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George Clooney is speaking out about gun safety on set following the Oct. 21 fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins and the wounding of director Joel Souza during production of the Alec Baldwin-starring Western Rust in New Mexico.
During a discussion with Marc Maron for Monday’s episode of the WTF podcast, Clooney reflected on his time working on sets and the tragedies that happened to friends Jon-Erik Hexum, who fatally shot himself in the ’80s on the set of CBS’ Cover Up with a pistol loaded with blanks, and Brandon Lee, who was accidentally shot and killed on the ’90s set of The Crow by another actor who fired an improperly prepared revolver.
“That was a series of stupid things. … My cousin Miguel was going to be his best man the next week at their wedding,” said the actor-director when discussing his close relationship with Lee. “Brandon and I played ball and hung out at the Hollywood Y three days a week. We were buddies. You know, this was his big break.”
Clooney also broke down the mistakes that led to the fatal shooting: “The first unit, low-budget probably, … I don’t even remember if the guy was even a union prop guy, sent it down to a second unit … [because] they wanted to use the same gun. … It was the guy’s girlfriend that was the prop assistant. They didn’t have dummy bullets, so they made them by taking the gunpowder out and putting the bullet back in. … She takes the bullets out of the cylinder and one of the shells, one of the bullets, had lodged in the barrel of the gun.”
Clooney said that, after the gun was sent back to first unit, “No one checks the barrel. No one notices of the six shells, one of them is missing the bullet and hands it to the first unit. They put a full load in it. The actor — which you never do with a full load — points it directly at Brandon and pulls the trigger, and it’s like getting shot with a normal bullet. And killed him.”
Clooney said that because of what happened to Lee, he continues to abide by safety protocols whenever given a prop gun. “Every single time I’m handed a gun on the set … I open it, I show it to the person I’m pointing it to, I show it to the crew. Every single take, you hand it back to the armorer when you’re done and you do it again,” he said.
On the set of Rust, Baldwin fired the prop gun that fatally shot Hutchins and wounded Souza. An investigation is currently underway about how the gun fired by Baldwin came to be loaded with live rounds.
Clooney, who said he doesn’t know Baldwin personally, added, “I’ve been on sets for 40 years and the person that hands you the gun, the person that is responsible for the gun, is either the prop person or the armorer, period.”
Rust’s firearms specialist, identified as armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, has said through her attorneys that she didn’t know where the live rounds came from and that a number of factors made the set “unsafe.” A recent report from The Hollywood Reporter highlighted how Rust featured a hodgepodge group of producers with little to no experience. Baldwin was one of the film’s six producers.
“Why for the life of me, this low-budget film with producers who haven’t produced anything wouldn’t have hired, for the armorer, someone with experience,” Clooney said, calling unverified reports of staff on set using the prop guns for target practice “insane” and “infuriating” if true. “We need to be better at making sure the heads of our department are experienced and know what they’re doing.”
Authorities have said that Rust assistant director David Halls handed the weapon to Baldwin and announced “cold gun,” indicating that the weapon was safe to use. Clooney called that a term he’s “never heard.”
Clooney added that he doesn’t believe “there’s any intent by anybody to do anything wrong” and called the Rust shooting a “terrible accident,” but stressed the importance of always checking every prop, noting “it’s harder” when trying to distinguish between a dummy bullet and real bullet.
“After Brandon [Lee] died, it really became a very clear thing: Open the gun, look down the barrel, look in the cylinder, make sure,” he said. “It’s a series of tragedies. But also, a lot of stupid mistakes.”
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