Charlotte Lewis, the British actress who came forward last week and claimed that Roman Polanski had raped her twice in his Parisian penthouse on the Avenue Montaigne when she was 16 years old, has been directly contradicted by a source who seems at least as reliable as she is: Charlotte Lewis.
The now-42-year-old Lewis made headlines at a May 14 press conference in Los Angeles with her attorney Gloria Allred, when she said that the fugitive director had abused her “in the worst way possible” a quarter century ago. Polanski remains under house arrest in his chalet in Gstaad as Swiss authorities contemplate whether or not to extradite him to Los Angeles over a 33-year-old statutory rape case involving a 13-year-old girl. Lewis also gave a statement to legal authorities in L.A., and said that she hopes that Polanski “gets what he deserves.”
“I knew that Roman had done something bad in the United States, but I wanted to be his mistress,” Lewis said, according to Liberation. “I wanted him probably more than he wanted me.”
But in 1999, Lewis gave a very different account of events in an interview with Britain’s News of the World. In that interview, which was unearthed by the French daily Liberation on May 17, Lewis asserted that she actually had a six-month tryst with the Polish-born filmmaker when she was 17. “I knew that Roman had done something bad in the United States, but I wanted to be his mistress,” Lewis said, according to Liberation. “I wanted him probably more than he wanted me.”
In that 1999 interview, Lewis never mentioned any sexual abuse and she said that their relationship ended when Polanski introduced her to Warren Beatty, who was scouting for the film Ishtar, and she claimed that they soon began an affair. The earlier interview also detailed a deeply troubled past, including her forays into prostitution at age 14 while Lewis was still in Catholic school. And Lewis spoke of her cocaine addiction and hinted at flings with an array of celebrities—she has been linked to her Golden Child co-star Eddie Murphy, Mickey Rourke, and Charlie Sheen.
There were immediate questions about the validity of Lewis’ recent allegations, given that she was cast in Polanski’s 1986 film Pirates, and appeared at the Cannes film festival on his arm years after the alleged incident. And in an interview the year of the film's release, Lewis asserted, “I’d love to have had a romantic relationship with [Polanski], and a physical one. You can’t help falling in love with him. But he didn’t want me that way.”
Today, though, Lewis blames the 76-year-old director for her inability to enjoy a healthy relationship with a man, and for her past bouts of bulimia, according to a May 17 interview with the Mail on Sunday. When the newspaper asked her why she is speaking out now, she said it is to counter pro-Polanski elements in Hollywood, not for hush money.
According to Lewis’ account in the Mail, Polanski, who was three times her age when they met, told the aspiring starlet that he slept with every actress he worked with. “That’s how I get to know them, how I mold them,” she claims he said. Lewis fended off his alleged groping and left, but later returned to him after calculating the opportunity that might otherwise slip away at a time when her family was struggling financially. Two weeks later, she returned to Paris for a screen test with him, and she was cast in Pirates.
One of Polanski’s French lawyers says that they are contemplating legal action against Lewis.
Eric Pape has reported on Europe and the Mediterranean region for Newsweek Magazine since 2003. He is co-author of the graphic novel Shake Girl, which was inspired by one of his articles. He has written for the Los Angeles Times magazine, Spin, Reader's Digest, Vibe, Courrier International, Salon, and Los Angeles from five continents. He is based in Paris. Follow him at twitter.com/ericpape