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Greta Scacchi, ’90s Screen Siren, Looks Back: Harvey Weinstein Harassed ‘Everyone’

The star of “Presumed Innocent” and “The Player” sat down in Marrakech to discuss the ugliness of the male gaze, Hollywood creeps, and the art of aging gracefully.

Liza ForemanDec. 12, 2019 5:29 AM ET

It’s a rainy afternoon in Marrakech, and the woman ambling gently across the lobby of the Mamounia hotel has nothing in her gait that suggests stardom.

Nothing that smacks of the headlines and trail that “Scorchy Scacchi” blazed across Hollywood when Greta Scacchi’s younger, iconically sexy self appeared in a string of cool films, including White Mischief, Presumed Innocent, and The Player.

Although she trained to be a serious actress, the award-winning thesp first made headlines for her nude turns in films. She was gorgeous. It was how our male-gaze-dominated movie industry responded.

Now that that mask has gone, Scacchi is free of some of the burdens that it brought to bear upon her existence (along with some riches, of course).  

“I felt really strangled when I was going through my heyday in the 1980s because one role after another was, hang on a minute, I am not a person in my own right. I am only being seen as a male fantasy,” she says. “I’m a reflection of what men desire. That felt very restrictive for a long time. So, partly, I’m rejoicing that I can play character parts and do other things now.”

Scacchi famously turned down the lead in Basic Instinct while she was in a relationship with Vincent D’Onofrio, the father of her first child.

“I remember I was very aware [of my looks] at the time, I was acknowledging how doors opened for me,” she recalls. “I was very much aware of it. I gave myself perhaps more stress and angst than I needed to because I only enjoyed it to a certain extent. I also resented it, because I wanted to prove that I was a serious actress, and I wish that I hadn’t worried so much about that. I wish I had enjoyed it with more abandon. I don’t mean sexually. I don’t mean that. I just mean that, you know, with less of a self-flagellating attitude, just enjoyed it for what it was because to a point you have to accept how the world works, and cameras just love smooth faces where the light does nice things. You can’t explain photogenicity. It’s magic and you only have it for a short period, that magic. Then it becomes something else and you are still acting, you are still a good actor, and I think you do carry on growing, and experience enriches an actor’s  abilities.”

While the #MeToo movement has led to a reckoning of sorts in Hollywood, Scacchi’s rise came decades earlier, when accountability for predatory behavior was virtually nonexistent.

“What can I say?” she says. “It’s such a big subject. There were many predatory types. It was rife. I don’t think it was necessarily more rife than in other walks of life, except that somehow it seems, well, just because famous people can be identified by the masses, it causes a little more of a stir, and it is certainly more attractive to newspapers if you can put recognizable names to a story.”

“I would say I had plenty of experiences [modeling] so that by the time I was 17, 18, I was ready to use my knee,” she says. “My mother had taught me: This is what they are for. This is why they are designed in that position, because you can really protect yourself. I never did karate. I learned about this [she taps her knee]. I learnt to be very audacious. I think perhaps being half-Italian, and from the desire to be an actor, I could make a scene. I could say what I wanted to say. I’m afraid that because it takes that while for a girl to walk down a street at night or across a station and look like they are busy and not open to intrusion because they haven’t got that experience, they are targeted. I’m afraid they really are targeted, and I don’t think that’s quite come across in this whole #MeToo discussion.”

As for Harvey Weinstein?

“Definitely when it comes to Harvey Weinstein it gets very insidious, because he definitely had a lot of power in Hollywood,” she says. “He did have the power to press buttons, let’s say, to make your career go. Luckily, by the time I had anything to do with him, I was 30. I was established. I certainly knew how to handle myself. Well, if he asked me for a massage, I would say: You are in the Ritz, they have got great masseurs downstairs.”

[Weinstein] asked everyone. It practically came out of his mouth involuntarily. It was so rife. I would tell him to call downstairs for one, in your dreams—but I could because I wasn’t vulnerable. I wasn’t young. I didn’t have anything to lose particularly.

Did he ask you?

“He asked everyone,” she says. “It practically came out of his mouth involuntarily. It was so rife. I would tell him to call downstairs for one, in your dreams—but I could because I wasn’t vulnerable. I wasn’t young. I didn’t have anything to lose particularly. Yes, maybe if I had wanted to cooperate with what he wanted, then maybe I would have had a more successful career, but I wasn’t going to do it that way. It was of no interest to me.”

Scacchi was serious about acting. She trained at the Bristol Old Vic theater company. Now 59, she is real and earthy. Her accent is British. Scacchi, who lives in the U.K., grew up in England with her English mother until she was 15, when they moved to Australia.

Now, she gets to play different roles. Scacchi, who was attending last week’s Marrakech International Film Festival for a spotlight on Australian cinema, played Mother Mary in A.D. The Bible Continues, which filmed in Morocco a few years ago.

“It starts with the Crucifixion. So there was old Mother Mary holding the bleeding body covered in lots of jam and dead flies,” she says. “After that, I had lots of time off, so I went to the desert, and the Valley of the Roses, and the Road of the Thousand Kasbahs, over to Taroudant, up to Fez, and Tangier. Essaouira. Chefchaouen. I started to think I was a good photographer for the first time in my life because it was so beautiful and inspiring.”

Our conversation turns to available roles for women. It was working in 2006 on an episode of Miss Marple that got her thinking about the depiction of older women on screen. Her other more recent credits include playing Bette Davis on stage and this year’s Aussie comedy Palm Beach, about a group of friends reuniting in middle age.

“I took part in a Miss Marple episode partly because, like everyone else who does Miss Marple, we loved Geraldine McEwan. On my last day, I was coming out of my trailer, and there was a knock on my door. I didn’t recognize her. It was Geraldine looking like a young university student with her red blond hair all shiny and straight and cut in a bob, and her sneakers and her anorak and scarf. Looking fresh-faced and like a young, hip person. Like an ageless person. I had only seen her with that little, curly haired white wig, the same kind that Maggie Smith has. That’s why I got the idea, ‘Oh, I see. We are not conveying women in their seventies, eighties, even sixties, as they are.’’

“I’m 60 next February. I look like this,’’ she continues. “In fact, I have no color in my hair whatsoever. We don’t go into a uniform. Why would we? We are different. It has changed. So many things are rapidly changing about how we behave. There is a lot of convention that has been turned on its head. But are we reflecting it in our films and stories?”