EXCLUSIVE: It’s fair to imagine that Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Amy Pascal hasn’t had a peaceful moment since November 24, when a hacker’s skeleton emblem appeared on Sony Corp. computers around the world and signaled the arrival of a hack attack that has created unprecedented havoc for a media empire. The breach shut down every computer and e-mail; digital copies of unreleased films were posted; confidential data, ranging from employee information to e-mails from executives, was dispersed to media outlets and served up to embarrass and hobble the Sony regime. Pascal’s e-mail exchanges have been a focal point in the latter portion of this nightmare. Suddenly, one of Hollywood’s most accomplished female executives, a risk taker with a reputation for taste and strong talent relationships, felt like the girl who fell down the rabbit hole.
I have tried since to get Pascal to give Deadline readers a glimpse of what it has been like to weather this storm. She relented today, hours before the premiere of the controversial Sony comedy The Interview. The timing of the release of that film, about the attempt by bumbling journalists to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has created speculation that it might be a factor in this sophisticated hack attack.
DEADLINE: I’ve urged you to speak about this crisis for a week. So today you are. Why?
PASCAL: I didn’t want to talk before. I didn’t want to make this about me. Everyone at this company has been violated and nobody here deserved this. Then the most hurt email came out…I’m so disappointed in myself, that I ever would have had such a lapse in my thinking. Of all the things I thought might be said about me, this was the last one, and I feel awful. There are people here that I work with I love, and I don’t want them to be disappointed in me. I am mostly disappointed in myself. That is the element of this that has been most painful for me. I don’t want to be defined by these emails, after a 30 year career; I was even willing to let it all happen. But I’m just not going to do that now. Clearly, there are things that you say in a rash moment without thinking them through, and it takes ten seconds to say something stupid. When it’s blasted and it might become the way you are defined as a human being, I have to say it. It’s just wrong. It’s wrong about me. And it’s wrong to do to anyone.
DEADLINE: Did you apologize to the president?
PASCAL: I don’t know Barack Obama. I worked really hard for him in both of his campaigns. I am inspired by him. I…I’m embarrassed, deeply.
DEADLINE: Rev. Al Sharpton just came out with a statement highly critical of your comment. How do you react to that?
PASCAL: I know I screwed up. So I called him and we spoke. And we are going to try to use this as an opportunity to make things better.
DEADLINE: Can you describe what it’s like to find yourself under siege, having to apologize for private e-mail thoughts dug up by these hackers?
PASCAL: I’m not a victim here. I’m going to be fine. It’s really hard on our employees. Their Social Security numbers are on display, there are potential identity theft issues. None of them deserved this. No one deserves this.
DEADLINE: You’ve run a studio for a long time, and you feel you understand the media and suddenly you find your old e-mails served up salaciously. What’s going through your mind in relation to what’s happening to you, and your studio?
PASCAL: That what this is, really is, is a crime. It’s stolen property. They’re stealing private property. It’s hard to believe what has gone on. I don’t want to say anything bad about journalists to you Mike, but it’s hard to swallow that otherwise reputable outlets are trafficking in this. I’m shocked. It’s like having someone go through your trash and talk about what they found.
DEADLINE: Nobody has died of embarrassment, but this seems very invasive.
PASCAL: Mainly, it’s distracting. I have a company to run, I have movies to get out. I have Annie to get out and The Interview. I have next year’s schedule of films. I have 6,000 people who work here.
DEADLINE: How do you not allow yourself to be a victim, and is there something you hope people reading these e-mails will factor into their thought process?
PASCAL: What you’d like to say is, don’t read them. Can we all make a pact not to read these, whether they’re mine or somebody else’s? Because I’m not the last person this is going to happen to. It would be wonderful for everybody to be willing to be forgiving of each other, and to not engage in this.
DEADLINE: That’s a lofty ambition; I want a pony but that isn’t happening, either. So address that question again, knowing that media outlets are serving this stuff as fast as it comes in, and people are gorging on it.
PASCAL: Look, I understand these things are juicy, salacious and tempting to the people who are reading them. I would ask that they reserve some kind of judgment about those stolen e-mails defining someone. This one e-mail was really hard for me. Otherwise, I realize I’m just going to have to move forward. I cannot worry every day, about the next thing that’s going to be read by the town about me, something I said in a moment of weakness, stupidity or tactlessness.
I’ll apologize to everybody, every day, but I have to run this company. That means taking care of the employees here and so I have to be strong because I have a big company here. The truth is, all anyone is talking about are these e-mails. It is important not to forget that a crime was committed and that this is the new way of the world. This could have happened to anyone. It happened to Target and it happened to Home Depot. This is what’s happening, and we have to figure out how to defend ourselves and how to take care of ourselves in this new world.
DEADLINE: Any closer to ascertaining who did this and why?
PASCAL: That’s not something I can talk about and that can’t be my focus here. For me, this is about moving forward.
DEADLINE: If people are concerned about working at Sony because of the leaked Social Security numbers and these e-mail breaches, what would you say to them?
PASCAL: That we’re going to have the best security in the business by the time this is over. I would also hope everyone remembers this might be about people not wanting us to release a movie. That’s another issue we should be talking about, something we need to band together about, and not divide with all this gossip.
DEADLINE: You’ve made bold unauthorized films before, including The Social Network and Zero Dark Thirty, and you took the leap on The Interview…
PASCAL: And that can never, ever change. No one will tell us what movies to release, ever. Nobody should be able to intimidate a company to not to do its business.
DEADLINE: Did Sony ever weigh not releasing The Interview?
PASCAL: No, because Michael and I are completely confident in it, and determined to release the movie.
DEADLINE: Still, there was discussion…
PASCAL: We wanted to make sure that everything in the movie was respectful, but the truth is, it’s a comedy. A comedy. It’s meant to be entertainment, and that’s what it is. I think when people see the movie they’re going to know that. Look, I don’t want to play defense here. I am eager to get back on offense, believe me. And I will. I just hope people understand that you prove yourself and your character and values over a long period of time, and that you should not be defined by an occasional stumble or a bad moment. That’s not fair.