The actor said they were running through a "marking rehearsal," which involved him adjusting the gun's position several times. Baldwin said he pulled back the gun's hammer, cocking it, but insisted he never pulled the trigger.
"I cock the gun. I go, 'Can you see that? Can you see that? Can you see that?'" he added. "And then I let go of the hammer of the gun, and the gun goes off."
Why is he speaking out now?
Baldwin told Stephanopoulos he was talking now—even though he is named in two civil lawsuits already and police have not issued a final report to the district attorney—to combat "a number of misconceptions" about what happened.
"I feel like I really can't wait for that process to end," the actor said. "I wanted to ... say that I would go to any lengths to undo what happened."
During the interview, Baldwin—who was also a producer on the film—made several important points about the circumstances of the incident, which also seemed focused on limiting his perceived culpability:
• He stressed he was a "purely creative producer," who focused only on casting and the script, not who was hired in technical jobs or why.
• He said he hadn't been told of any safety concerns on the film's set before the accident.
• Some Hollywood professionals, including star actor George Clooney, have said they always personally check firearms they are using to make sure they are safe. But Baldwin insisted his practice over 40 years of acting was to trust the professionals hired to oversee the props, including guns. When Stephanopoulos asked him directly, "What is the actor's responsibility?" Baldwin replied, "To do what the prop/armorer tells him to do."
• He said assistant director Dave Halls handed him the prop weapon, telling him it was a "cold gun," meaning it wasn't dangerous. Speaking about Hutchins, Baldwin noted, "she and I had this thing in common; we both thought [the gun] was empty ... and it wasn't."
• While carefully declining to name anyone specifically who might be responsible, Baldwin swatted away a theory advanced by an attorney for Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who served as the film's armorer and key prop assistant, that the bullet could have wound up in his gun as an act of intentional sabotage.
(Attorneys for both Gutierrez Reed and Halls, contacted by NPR after the special aired, say they have no new comments to add in the wake of Baldwin's statements.)
• He teared up while talking about how well-regarded Hutchins was by her colleagues—and how her young son will grow up without a mother—but Baldwin also said he feels no guilt. Because, the actor said, he is not responsible for what happened.
"There's only one question to be resolved ... only one," Baldwin said. "That is: Where did the live round come from?"
Well-prepared and on-message
Last night's report also featured interviews with other sources, including an arms vendor who said he provided guns and dummy rounds to the production. But Thursday's report was centered on the interview with Baldwin, featuring lots of promotional ads for a longer, two-hour program next week on ABC's newsmagazine 20/20 about the accident.
Stephanopoulos, who told viewers of Good Morning America on Thursday that he had known Baldwin for years, asked substantive questions, but wasn't overbearing. Baldwin seemed well-prepared and on message, speaking in a forum that had journalistic credibility, but wouldn't be too bruising. The program itself occasionally had the feel of a highly produced Dateline NBC episode, with ominous music swirling in crucial moments.