The news that Alec Baldwin has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, following the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins with a prop gun on the set of Rust, has come as a genuine shock to the film industry. Since the accident in October 2021, Baldwin has loudly protested his lack of culpability, even going so far as to sue the filmmakers for failing to check that the gun was not loaded. His career did not seem harmed in any noticeable way: he has several films either in production or awaiting release, and even made a brief...

The news that Alec Baldwin has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, following the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins with a prop gun on the set of Rust, has come as a genuine shock to the film industry. Since the accident in October 2021, Baldwin has loudly protested his lack of culpability, even going so far as to sue the filmmakers for failing to check that the gun was not loaded. His career did not seem harmed in any noticeable way: he has several films either in production or awaiting release, and even made a brief vocal cameo in the much-acclaimed Tár last year.

Although it’s entirely possible that the case will yet be dropped, or that Baldwin will be acquitted, the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence and substantial fine is enough to make even the most stalwart of thespians quake in their Gucci loafers. Although some actors have emerged from prison and rebuilt their careers — Robert Downey Jr. and Wesley Snipes come to mind — they have mostly been involved in drug or financial escapades. To cause another human being’s death, even involuntarily, is a harder ordeal to come back from.

For all of the Santa Fe district attorney’s melodramatic posturing — “On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice” — there’s no doubt that Baldwin faces a potentially career-ending disaster. Even if the case does collapse, he will still be forever marked with his involvement in the shooting.

Throughout his life, there have been numerous incidents that testify to his volatility, whether it was leaving a voicemail for his then-11-year-old daughter calling her a “rude, thoughtless little pig,” being forcibly removed from a plane for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends, or numerous run-ins with paparazzi.

Set against this, Baldwin is a magnificent and strangely underappreciated actor. Although he has made a vast amount of uninspiring nonsense over the years, he was a dynamic and charismatic figure in his ’80s and ’90s prime. And he had a monologue for the ages when he declared in the movie Malice in front of a malpractice tribunal, “I have an MD from Harvard. I am board certified in cardiothoracic medicine and trauma surgery. I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England; and I am never, ever sick at sea… you ask me if I have a God complex? Let me tell you something: I AM God!”

Even as the leading roles dried up around the turn of the millennium, Baldwin still managed to alternate between scene-stealing character roles for the likes of Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro. He also excelled in his uproarious performance as the arrogant — something of a recurring hallmark in his work — network chief Jack Donaghy in the sitcom 30 Rock, for which he deservedly won awards by the truckload. He turned a character who could have been an irritating blowhard into someone infuriating, hilarious, and far more likable than he had any right to be.

Alec Baldwin is a strange anomaly in Hollywood. Although he is politically liberal, a vegan, and supporter of endless left-wing causes, there is something pleasingly unchanneled about him, a refusal to do what he is supposed to do and play the game. One can only hope that the tragic circumstances of the Rust shooting can somehow be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Hutchins’s death is obviously far more important than anyone’s career, but it’s another indication that Baldwin’s wild, unorthodox life remains without peer or precedent. We shall see, with interest and trepidation, what comes next.