‘ER’ Star Anthony Edwards: I Don’t See My Childhood Sexual Abuse as a ‘Tragedy’
As the ‘ER’ star makes his Broadway debut in ‘Children of a Lesser God,’ he tells Tim Teeman how opening up about alleged sexual abuse has helped him—and others.
Men come up to Anthony Edwards on the street to thank him.
“They will say to me, ‘It happened to me too,’” Edwards told The Daily Beast. “They have kept it to themselves, just like me. They say, ‘I’m not ready to talk about it yet, but I will.’”
Edwards, most famous for his role as Dr. Mark Greene on the NBC hit ER, was talking about the sexual abuse he says he endured between the ages of 12 and 14, and which he wrote about in a powerful Medium essay last year.
We were sitting in Edwards’ dressing room at Studio 54 theatre in New York City, where the 55-year-old actor is making his Broadway debut in a production of Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God, about the intense relationship of a speech therapist (Joshua Jackson) and a former student (Lauren Ridloff) at a school for the deaf.
Edwards said he was molested and his best friend raped by Hollywood producer Gary Goddard, who was his “mentor, teacher, and friend.” Goddard has denied Edwards’ allegations and remains on a leave of absence from entertainment design group Legacy/GGE, formerly the Goddard Group, which he founded.
Edwards told The Daily Beast: “The most important thing is to encourage people to not be afraid, to talk and to share. It only gets better once you start talking. I don’t look at what happened to me like a tragedy.”
Telling his story, sharing his story, and seeing its positive impact has “been incredible,” Edwards added.
Edwards wrote in his essay: “Only after I was able to separate my experience, process it, and put it in its place could I accept this truth: My abuse may always be with me, but it does not own me.”
Indeed, his heart is in theater: It’s where he got his start in acting, growing up in Santa Barbara. It’s where he got his first work as a professional actor, at 16. And now, 20 years and global TV stardom behind him, it’s where he’s returned to playing Mr. Franklin, an uptight and narrow-minded deaf school teacher.
“I think I’m envious of people like him, for whom the world is black and white, because the world is truly gray. I just love his ownership of his small pond,” Edwards said of his character.
A New York City resident of 15 years’ standing, Edwards is a longtime attendee of Broadway himself and likens acting in eight theatrical performances a week to another passion, race car driving. “I dabbled recreationally in a couple of races,” he said, smiling. “People think, ‘How can you drive around the same track?’ but there are so many curves and problems to it, there’s always room for improvement. It’s what actors keep coming back to.”
The youngest of five children, Edwards recalled the first play he performed in in junior high, Robert Bolt’s The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew, in which he played Obadiah Bobblenob. He operated the spotlight in another production involving one of his older brothers. “I fell in love with the theatrical space. I loved it. I don’t think I was ever the most talented at anything, but I was certainly most eager to be there.”
Edwards learned to tell jokes early, because “being funny in a big family was important.” His father was an architect, his mother a painter. He learned to surf, ski, and sail.
To execute the alleged abuse, Edwards said, Goddard made him feel as if he was “part of a whole thing,” a “special group.”
Edwards described his experience as, “Something minor was being done to you ‘over here,’ while ‘over there’ your friend is getting raped. It’s the way pedophiles work: They create a whole world. The whole cultivating and grooming and creating a world is as much part of the abuse as the sexual abuse itself. It’s all control. That control element is very abusive to the psyche, and you combine that with this happening in a world of performing, which is about love and friendship.”
Edwards had “survival techniques,” as he called them. He avoided staying overnight with Goddard and eventually “worked his way away” from him.
Goddard’s betrayal, as Edwards calls it, was made worse because it was mixed in with love; Edwards trusted him as his mentor and friend, “and so from that you form a conditional relationship to love. You think love follows certain rules. Being abused kicks you into a fearful place without even knowing it.”
Edwards told The Daily Beast he wasn’t molested daily, and that it took place simultaneously with becoming immersed with theater and acting.
“There was so much good at that time, and as with most abused people I compartmentalized it and put it away, and that’s how it became PTSD. Later in life I am meeting men in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s who are finally looking at something they have put away, because there’s so much shame in it.”
“22 years ago,” Edwards wrote in his essay, “I happened to run into Gary Goddard at an airport. I was able to express my outrage at what he had done. He swore to his remorse and said that he had gotten help. I felt a temporary sense of relief. I say temporary because when Goddard appeared in the press four years ago for alleged sexual abuse, my rage resurfaced.” (The 2014 complaint against Goddard, referenced by Edwards, that alleged teen sex abuse was voluntarily dismissed by plaintiff Michael Egan III.)
“You learn later that denial, the ability for people to lie and deceive themselves, pedophiles, goes very deep, and it’s why psychiatrists and therapists talk about how untreatable it can be,” Edwards told The Daily Beast.
“That day at the airport Goddard was remorseful, he said he was sorry that it had happened and that he’d gotten work and changed his life,” Edwards told The Daily Beast. "There’s part of you that goes ‘Thank god.’ That’s why when his name came up in the news again, the rage comes bubbling.
“You feel like taking a full-page ad in Variety to say, ‘This man is a liar.’ It is such a betrayal, especially when you are starting to heal. That’s what it did, it kicked me into finding out about it, and then you learn you are not alone and it’s such a relief.”
Edwards, who talked about the alleged abuse in therapy and a men’s group, was spurred to write the Medium essay having played a judge in Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders. Lyle and Erik claim they were abused by their father and Lyle also by their mother.
“I thought, ‘There is no shame here.’ Maybe this is a good time to say ‘This happened to me,’” Edwards said. “It happens to one in six men, perhaps this is a way to try and shake some of the stigma off.
“The anger’s big, and that’s why we have anger to motivate us into some kind of action. The important thing is to use it as the healthiest thing for yourself, which is why I wrote the essay.”
The California statute of limitations meant Edwards couldn’t pursue a legal case against Goddard, “but there was no reason to carry on covering up and maintaining that secrecy, which was also part of the code of co-dependency, part of the culture of abuse. You hear the same thing around alcoholism: people staying silent, and ending up denying the truth. Mariska Hargitay [his friend, and ex-ER and Law and Order: SVU colleague] told me to take care of myself first. That’s where the journey started.”
Edwards said he wasn’t surprised by Goddard’s denial of the content of his Medium essay.
“But what it did do ultimately was great: It enraged a whole other group of other people who had been abused, who thought he was lying and not taking responsibility. My intention wasn’t to get him, but I certainly have no problem saying what had happened. It’s not my responsibility as to whether or not what his reaction would be.”
Goddard didn’t reach out to him after the article came out. What, if anything, I asked Edwards, would he want from Goddard now?
“I want young boys to kept away from him, of course,” Edwards said firmly. “The damage that’s happened isn’t going to heal whatever he does. The damage has been done. The important thing is for me to let go. Let’s focus on the survivors and the fact that so much shame and secrecy is involved for survivors, but men particularly, and to say, ‘There’s no shame here. It’s OK. It happens, and there are ways to heal and recover from this so that a little boy can be a man.’”
In response to Edwards’ interview with The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for Goddard reissued the same statement given in response to Edwards’ Medium article. (A spokesperson declined The Daily Beast’s request to interview Goddard.)
“Gary first met Anthony more than 40 years ago. Gary was a mentor, teacher and a friend to Anthony, which makes this story all the more disturbing to him. As to the allegations that Mr. Edwards made in his post today, I can unequivocally deny them on Gary’s behalf.
“Gary played an important role in helping start Anthony’s acting career and acted as his personal manager. He has nothing but the greatest respect for Anthony as a person. Gary is saddened by the false allegations.
“The post by Anthony, as well as many of the news stories today reference a legal claim made against Gary approximately four years ago regarding sexual harassment.”
That complaint was withdrawn, and “demonstrated to be fraudulent as it was completely fabricated,” said Goddard’s spokesperson.
Edwards told The Daily Beast he was relieved to tell his story, and then to help others: “To be of service to myself was the first thing to do. Taking care of yourself is the opposite of being abused. It was new territory. It was nerve-wracking. You think, ‘I will melt if I do what is right for me.’”
He has seen “so many examples” of other men whose stories make his seem “mild” (his word). “There are so many people who have suffered so much more. It felt good to share, and good to talk. I’ve had a really, gratefully blessed life. I have a wonderful career, four beautiful children, I have so much to be thankful for.”
That Edwards has inspired others is “incredibly satisfying,” he said.
In his essay, Edwards writes that his mother initiated a conversation about Goddard when Edwards was a teenager. He wasn’t ready then. He wrote that he was recently “finally able to have the conversation that I wish I could have had with my mom when I was 14.”
Sadly, Edwards’ mother has dementia, and so her memory “is a little all over the place” in terms of what she remembers and does not. Edwards’ father died in January of this year, aged 93, and he and his son talked about the abuse as he was working on the Menendez drama. “One of the last conversations we had, he told me he was so glad I had talked and I had written that article. He was very proud of that.”
His parents were suspicious of Goddard, but “in that time there were no tools for speaking up. In our case, Gary Goddard was such a charming, incredibly charismatic figure and powerful in that world.”
The #MeToo movement is important, Edwards said, because people are finally speaking up about “the kind of abuse and treatment of women that was so horrific and so accepted. I look back to some of the movies in the ’80s and I think, ‘This is really inappropriate.’”
As he wrote in his Medium essay, Edwards thinks his father had PTSD resulting from his wartime experiences, meaning it was “very difficult for him to connect emotionally with his kids. He carried that with him his whole life and it manifested in comedy, telling jokes, being funny. Now you’d think, ‘What’s that person covering? Why is he always on?’”
Goddard, Edward thinks, saw that paternal lack in the young Edwards and so set out to play a corresponding role. “It’s the misrepresentation of love, like ‘I’ve got your best interests’ and you believe it. So when my mom said, at 14, ‘What’s going on?’ I said, ‘No, Gary’s great, Mom. There’s no problem.’
“That’s what is hard for people to wrap their minds around. People ask, ‘Why didn’t you say something?’ It’s been said in a sexist way to women for so long. It’s always going to be a challenge. There’s always going to be room for darkness, abuse. There are bad people out there doing stuff.”
Edwards’ alleged abuse by Goddard didn’t put him off acting; it actually made him more trusting, loving, and communicative in his art, he said. He found an agent, a manager, he didn’t get into any self-destructive behavior. It changed the way he formed intimate relationships, he said, but he does not elaborate on how.
Edwards is enjoying being on stage. As one of the hearing cast in Children, he is learning so much from the deaf and hearing-impaired cast, he said. It’s such an emotional play, it’s good to hear from him that they exercise and laugh together.
Of Joshua Jackson’s (Pacey from Dawson’s Creek; Cole in The Affair) performance as the lead, playing a character and interpreting Ridloff’s character for other characters and us, Edwards is “pretty amazed. I call him Ginger Rogers. He’s doing more than Fred, while dancing backward, in heels.”
Being in a play at Studio 54 reminds Edwards he came to the venue when he was 21 and it was the infamously hedonistic nightspot of yore. “It wasn’t its heyday, but it was full-on disco with people going crazy.” Around the same time, he and Helen Hunt were flatmates in SoHo.
There was theater and movies before ER. But, although he had appeared in Top Gun (as the ill-fated "Goose") and independent movies too, he was “beginning to fade a bit,” and considered a move to directing.
Then the pilot for ER came like a bejeweled gift: Edwards immediately noted the quality of the writing. “It turned out to be the best acting job ever.” The heads of NBC were against it, Edwards recalled, and then test audiences saw it, registered their delight, and the rest is shaky hand-held, shooting blood, and drama-filled romances, TV history.
“George worked really hard, and he’s super smart, and he’s done such good things both as a director, actor, and activist,” Edwards said of co-star George Clooney. “George was always about that from the day I met him. He was very concerned socially and politically. He knew what he wanted to do, and hats off to him.”
Edwards smiled, recalling the moment he, Clooney, and their fathers attended a Super Bowl, flying on an NBC company jet.
All four of Edwards’ children were born during his time on the show.
He and his ex-wife Jeanine Lobell, who ran a cosmetics company, moved to New York; after ER, Edwards walked away from acting and fame to raise them. “I never felt any pressure about my career, and I’ve never met a man who said he wished he’d spent less time with his kids [oldest son Bailey, and three daughters Esme, Wallis, and Poppy] when they were little,” he said.
Edwards said that Bailey, now 24, looks set to be the only child to follow his father into the acting profession.
Unlike his co-star Clooney, the paparazzi kept away from Edwards. He laughed that outside the stage door every night, kids of the original viewers of the show now ask for his autograph, as it’s being repeated on Hulu. In his time away from acting he ran, learned to fly planes, and took a year off to travel the world with his family.
Edwards and Lobell were married for 20 years. Now divorced, he is in a relationship with fellow actor Mare Winningham, whom he has known for 35 years.
Five months ago Edwards became, he revealed smiling, “the benefactor of a miracle of medicine. This,” he said, lightly gripping his side, “is a brand new hip.” He is already back to running 5K around Central Park.
Edwards’ 89-year-old mother is in an “excellent” memory care facility in Los Angeles near his sister. He sees her a lot. “She is very much a glass half-full woman. She’s happy. She may not remember all things, but boy she likes to eat and laugh and talk about her memories. She’s safe and happy. She may forget how many kids she has, but she knows that kid when they’re there.”
As we said our farewells, I asked Edwards what he would say to male survivors of abuse.
“After giving them a hug, I’d say, ‘You’re not alone,’” he replied. “It’s a really simple way to start. Then go to a website like 1 in 6 [on whose board Edwards sits; its name was taken from the estimated number of men who have been sexually abused or assaulted], and start your journey. Read people’s accounts of what happened to them, and find ways to get help. Start the conversations to get help.”
His four children were “proud” of Edwards opening up about what had happened to him. “They were a little scared about what the response might have been, but it was pretty clear that whenever anyone has an opportunity to stand up, they should.”
Yet Edwards wants to retain stewardship over the terms of the discussion he started. He has not accepted invitations to speak on TV about the alleged abuse, “because then it becomes about me, and what was done to me, and that doesn’t seem right.”
Edwards was determined to tell his story so it would help others, he emphasized, and then sighed again over one in six men having been sexually abused or assaulted.
“It means,” Edwards said quietly, “that millions of guys are silently going, like, ‘What the fuck happened?’’’
Children of a Lesser God is at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, New York City, until Sept. 9. Book here.