Beyond Harvey Weinstein: Hollywood Women Tell Their Casting Couch Horror Stories
The fall of Harvey Weinstein has been swift. In the last week, multiple reports have been published detailing decades of sexual harassment and assault, and more break every day.
In 2016, Rose McGowan opened up on social media about a sexual assault at the hands of a studio executive. Her words echoed a statement she’d made in a 2015 profile about her experiences, and she wrote of how the perpetrator was well-known but would never be exposed as well as how a female criminal attorney had advised her against pressing her case. In the wake of the fallout surrounding Harvey Weinstein (who paid her a $100,000 settlement in 1997, after “an episode in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival”), she’s become an emblem of the fight against sexism and sexual assault, calling upon the entire Weinstein board to resign in light of the news and calling out Ben Affleck for his hypocrisy regarding his support of Harvey. As the New York Times and New Yorker exposés were released, she also wrote, “Now am I allowed to say rapist”?
“There was no explicit mention that to star in one of [Harvey Weinstein’s] films I had to sleep with him, but the subtext was there,” wrote Heather Graham in a piece for Variety. Over a decade ago, Weinstein had called her into his office to offer her the chance to star in a movie he was producing, showing her a pile of scripts and telling her to choose whichever one she liked. She wrote that the conversation soon changed, as he told her he had an arrangement with his wife where he could sleep with other people when he was out of town.
Another career that suffered because of the casting couch culture was Rosanna Arquette’s. She told a story similar to Sorvino’s in the same New Yorker piece; she told Farrow that she had agreed to meet Weinstein to look at a new script, and was told to come up to his hotel room instead of the initial agreement to meet over dinner. She recalled that Weinstein met her wearing only a bathrobe, and grabbed her hand multiple times. She refused him, alleging that he told her that she was making a mistake, and she claimed that she’d lost a role because of him.
The degree to which Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was enabled by those around him in truly terrifying. In an interview with The New York Times, Judith Godrèche recalled meeting Weinstein when she was 24. She alleged that he had invited her up to his hotel suite to discuss a film of hers, Ridicule, and a possible Oscar campaign, but that once they were alone, he pressed against her and tried to pull off her sweater. She managed to escape, and when she called the female Miramax executive who had arranged the meeting, was advised not to say anything about it.
Emma de Caunes
French actress Emma de Caunes was already well-established in her career when she was approached by Harvey Weinstein, and told Ronan Farrow in an interview that she wondered what would happen to women who had nothing to fall back on in the same situation. She claimed that she met with Weinstein in 2010 after he told her that he had a script with a strong female lead, and was asked up to his hotel room, where he took a shower and then emerged naked. She left, and was deluged with calls from Weinstein over the next few hours as he offered her gifts and insisted that nothing had happened. “I know that everybody—I mean everybody—in Hollywood knows that it’s happening,” she said of Weinstein’s behavior. “But everyone’s too scared to say anything.”
The story that Asia Argento told The New Yorker about Harvey Weinstein’s abuse is truly horrifying. She alleged that Weinstein raped her when she was 21 years old, forcibly performing oral sex on her after inviting her to his hotel upon false pretenses, and after she repeatedly told him to stop. She later wrote and directed a film, Scarlet Diva, which contained a fictionalized version of the incident. “In the movie I wrote,” she said in the New Yorker piece, “I ran away.”
“There may have been other factors, but I definitely felt iced out [of Hollywood],” Mira Sorvino told Ronan Farrow in an interview with The New Yorker. “And my rejection of Harvey [Weinstein] had something to do with it.” She told Farrow about repeatedly rebuffing Weinstein’s advances, from an encounter in a hotel room at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival to a late-night visit to her apartment, both incidents that occurred under the pretext of furthering her career.
The former scope of Harvey Weinstein’s influence is particularly evident in Kate Beckinsale’s account of her encounter with Weinstein. She was only 17 when Weinstein asked to meet her at the Savoy Hotel, and similar to many of the other allegations leveled against him, greeted her in only a bathrobe. She left before anything occurred, but recalled being unsettled when he later asked her if anything had happened between them and realized that he couldn’t remember whether or not he’d assaulted her. She also wrote that a male friend who warned another actress about Weinstein was blacklisted after it was discovered he’d spoken badly of him.
In a recent Instagram post, Cara Delevingne shared her own story about Harvey Weinstein. The actress, who is openly bisexual, said that Weinstein had inquired as to her personal life, as well as being told to kiss another woman in front of him. He allegedly tried to prevent her from leaving and tried to kiss her when she refused to do so. She wrote that he repeatedly said things to her that made her uncomfortable, and that she’d been terrified by his behavior as well as the fact that “this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.”
“I had to defend myself,” Léa Seydoux told The Guardian. “He invited me to come to his hotel room for a drink. We went up together. It was hard to say no because he’s so powerful. All the girls are scared of him. Soon, his assistant left and it was just the two of us. That’s the moment where he started losing control. [...] We were talking on the sofa when he suddenly jumped on me and tried to kiss me.” The pattern of having an assistant there only to dismiss them is one that’s come up again and again in stories about Weinstein, but Seydoux’s statement that she wasn’t afraid of him is less common. She wrote that she was disgusted by the encounter, and that she’d known “what kind of man he was all along.”
In an interview with the New Yorker, actress Jessica Barth said that she’d been invited to a business meeting at a hotel, and told to go up to Weinstein’s room after arriving. She alleged that he demanded she give him a naked massage, as well as offering to put her in his next movie. When she refused, he made a comment about how she’d need to lose weight in order to make any progress in the industry, and gave her the number of one of his female executives in an attempt to keep her from getting upset.
“You see, nothing happened to me with Harvey,” wrote Claire Forlani. “By that I mean, I escaped 5 times.” In a Twitter post, she recalled meeting Weinstein at a hotel and repeatedly trying to avoid his advances. She also alleged that Weinstein asked her for a massage, as well as telling her about other actresses that he’d slept with and what he’d then done for their careers. She continued to say that, for a long time, the repercussions for speaking out — not only against Weinstein but against others perpetrating the same behavior — had been impossible to deal with.
The pattern of false auditions continues with Romola Garai, who detailed her own encounter to The Guardian. Her story also begins with an invitation to a hotel room only to find Weinstein in a bathrobe. Garai recalled that she felt violated by the power that he was exerting over her. She was only 18 at the time of the incident. “The transaction was just that I was there,” she said. “The point was that he could get a young woman to do that, that I didn’t have a choice, that it was humiliating for me and that he had the power.”
One of the most high-profile actresses to speak out against Harvey Weinstein has been Angelina Jolie, who told the New York Times that she’d had a “bad experience” with Weinstein in her youth and had avoided working with him thereafter. She also said that she tried to warn others against working with him.
As the daughter of Blythe Danner and Bruce Paltrow, Gwyneth Paltrow was born into Hollywood, and knew Harvey Weinstein from a young age. As such, it came as a shock when, after inviting her to his hotel, Weinstein tried to massage her and invited her into the bedroom. She told the New York Times that she immediately left, and told her then-boyfriend Brad Pitt about the incident. Pitt confronted Weinstein at a film premiere, warning him never to do it again.
Thandie Newton, the striking English actress who’s starred in films like Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness, and more, opened up to CNN last February about being sexually abused by a casting director during her teen years. “The director asked me to sit with my legs apart, and the camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt,” said Newton. “[He asked me to] put my leg over the arm of the chair, and before I started my dialogue, think about the character I was supposed to be having the dialogue with and how it felt to be made love to by this person.” Newton further claimed that the director requested that she touch herself before focusing his camera between her legs, and also that the unnamed perpetrator allegedly circulated the video at parties. In 2013, Newton led a protest on behalf of One Billion Rising in London calling for an end to violence against women, and for gender equality.
In the November 2012 issue of Elle, Susan Sarandon revealed she had a “disgusting” casting-couch encounter when she was just starting out as an actress. “It was not successful—for either of us,” the 66-year-old Oscar winner told the magazine. “I just went into a room, and a guy practically threw me on the desk. It was my early days in New York, and it was really disgusting. It wasn’t like I gave it a second thought. It was so badly done.”
At 19, shortly after moving to Hollywood from South Africa, Charlize Theron was introduced to a producer’s casting couch. “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal,” Theron told OK! magazine in 2009. He was in his Hugh Hefner pajamas—I go inside and he’s offering me a drink, and I’m thinking, My God this acting stuff is very relaxed. But it soon becomes very clear what the situation was. I was like, ‘Not going to happen! Got the wrong girl, buddy!’
Most casting-couch tales involve anonymous producers, but in 1998, Jenny McCarthy named names. In an interview with Movieline, the actress claimed she was harassed by Steven Seagal. “I went to the audition for Under Siege 2 with, like, 15 other Jenny McCarthys. These girls came in and out of his office and I was last. Steven comes out and goes, ‘Hmm, so you’re last.’ I’m thinking, ‘Shouldn’t a casting person be doing this?’” McCarthy continued, “When I said, ‘Well, I’m ready to read,’ he said, ‘Stand up, you have to be kind of sexy in the movie and in that dress, I can’t tell.’ I stand up and he goes, ‘Take off your dress.’ I said, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘There’s nudity.’ I said, ‘No, there’s not, or I wouldn’t be here right now.’ He said again, ‘There’s nudity,’ and I said, ‘The pages are right in front of me. There’s no nudity.’ He goes, ‘Take off your dress.’ I just started crying and said, ‘Rent my [Playboy] video, you a—hole!’ and ran out to the car.” A spokesman for Seagal denied McCarthy’s allegations: “Warner Brothers casting for the film Under Siege 2 has confirmed that Jenny McCarthy never auditioned for a role on Under Siege 2. Her claim is completely false.”
During a 2010 interview with Elle, Gwyneth Paltrow was asked if she had ever had a casting-couch experience. “Yup,” she told the magazine. “When I was just starting out, someone suggested that we finish a meeting in the bedroom. I left. I was pretty shocked. I could see how someone who didn’t know better might worry, ‘My career will be ruined if I don’t give this guy a blow job!’”
While researching Get Happy, his biography of Judy Garland, author Gerald Clarke was shocked to learn that The Wizard of Oz star had been sexually molested while she was a teenage actress at MGM. “The worst of the lot,” Clarke told ABC News, “was Louis B. Mayer, the head of the studio. Mayer would tell her what a wonderful singer she was, and he would say ‘you sing from the heart” and then he would place his hand on her left breast and say “this is where you sing from.” This went on for about four years until finally Judy got up enough courage to say to him: ‘Mr. Mayer, don’t you ever do that again. If you want to tell me where I sing from, just point.” Instead of firing her or getting into a fury, Mayer sat down and cried and he said ‘How can you say that to me, to me who has treated you like a father.’”
Having achieved success does not protect some actresses from casting-couch advances. In 2009, Transformers star Megan Fox told British GQ: “Any casting-couch shit I’ve experienced has been since I’ve become famous. It’s really so heartbreaking. Some of these people! Like Hollywood legends. You think you’re going to meet them and you’re so excited, like, ‘I can’t believe this person wants to have a conversation with me,’ and you get there and you realize that’s not what they want, at all. It’s happened a lot this year actually.”
When it comes to casting-couch experiences, actresses have long memories. In 2007 Helen Mirren lashed out at director Michael Winner for an encounter that occurred in 1964. During a TV interview with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan, Mirren recalled how Winner made her flaunt her body and turn around for him. “I was mortified and incredibly angry,” the Academy Award-winning actress said. “I thought it was insulting and sexist, and I don’t think any actress should be treated like that—like a piece of meat—at all.” Asked about the incident, Winner told The Guardian: “I don’t remember asking her to turn around but if I did I wasn’t being serious. I was only doing what the [casting] agent asked me—and for this I get reviled! Helen’s a lovely person, she’s a great actress and I’m a huge fan, but her memory of that moment is a little flawed.”
Men are not exempt from the casting couch, of course. Nor are children. During an interview with Nightline last year, actor Corey Feldman said, “I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia. That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry … It’s the big secret.” Feldman, now in his early 40s, continued: “I was surrounded by [pedophiles] when I was 14 years old … Didn’t even know it. It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize what they were and what they wanted … till I went, Oh, my God. They were everywhere.”
“I lost a role on a big TV series because I wouldn’t bend over a chair in a producer’s office for ‘just a quickie,’” Lisa Rinna told Pop Eater’s Rob Shuter about an encounter she had at 24. “'Just pull your panties down and bend over and the role is yours,’ he said to me.” Years later, Rinna said, she saw the man on a red carpet and confronted him about the incident. “I know everyone in this town,” she told him, “and if you ever do what you did to me again to anyone else I will tell everyone your dirty secret.”
Throughout her career Marilyn Monroe traded sexual favors with producers, actors, and perhaps even JFK to get ahead. But not everyone was interested at first. According to Barbara Leaming’s 1998 biography of the actress, “When Marilyn approached Howard Hawks one weekend in Palm Springs, the director made it clear that he saw nothing special about her. He thought she was stupid and told her so. He wasn’t even interested in a sexual encounter.” Years later, however, Monroe described Hollywood as “an overcrowded brothel.”