Groundbreaking journalism that exposed decades-old accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault beginning with Harvey Weinstein has ended the careers of a growing list of powerful Hollywood men. In most cases, the only sympathy went toward women (and a few men) who were forced to swallow the shame of sordid deeds kept secret for years until they courageously came forward. As journos look for the next men to expose, some have wondered how far all this will go, or what happens when one of those men is adamant he didn’t do it. After all, few of these stories have been accompanied by police reports, DNA evidence or criminal prosecutions.
After a storied 50-year career as actor and producer that includes two Oscars, Michael Douglas finds himself accused of something tawdry he says he didn’t do: masturbate in front of a former employee. Noticing that too many of the recent stories could be best described as She Said, He’s Gone, Douglas was uncomfortable waiting to be the villain in a narrative crafted by either The Hollywood Reporter or Variety, two publications he said have reached out to possibly publish allegations involving an employee claiming something happened over 30 years ago, which he vehemently denies. Even though he understands he is inviting scrutiny by volunteering details that could harm his career if other women come forward with more accusations, Douglas felt strongly enough that he would prefer to have some control over the narrative that he asked to tell Deadline his story. The accusation story most likely will follow elsewhere, but in this moment of “she said, he said” trial by journalism, it was never specified whose version had to be first. So here, Douglas states his case.
DEADLINE: Why are you coming forward before an expose story that may or may not surface, when your preemptive move will draw attention and create controversy all its own?
DOUGLAS: I felt the need to get ahead of this. It pertains to me but I’m also getting a sense of how it reflects in our culture, and what is going on today. I see it as a cautionary tale. Right before the holidays in December, the day my son got early acceptance to the college he wants to go to, when we were all ecstatic, I got a message from my attorney that The Hollywood Reporter wanted to do a story about an employee that worked for me approximately 32 years ago. She claims that, One, I used colorful language in front of her, not at her, but that I used colorful language. Two, she claims that in conversations I had in front of her, on the phone, that I spoke raunchily, or dirtily with friends of mine, in private conversations. I fired her eventually, for the work she was doing, but Three, she claims that I blackballed her from the industry and stopped her form getting another job.
And then, Four, she claims that I masturbated in front of her. My attorney was asked, “Do I have any comment?” I said, “Yeah, let me speak to the reporter.” I tried to think to reach back 30-plus years to try to remember. I remembered this woman: sophisticated intelligent, good sense of humor. A novelist, who has written books and published novels and was an active feminist, and proud of it. My head was reeling. I just couldn’t put this together. I’ve had no contact with her, in thirty-plus years. I talked to the reporter and said, “Listen, as far as using colorful language in front her, I apologize. None of it was directed at her; she didn’t say it was. It was my office and that was the tone that I set and as far as conversations with friends.” I work out of my house, my apartment in New York at the time, to the best of my recollection. As to colorful language, she may have overheard private conversations, and if she was offended, she could have excused herself. As far as blackballing her, that was completely untrue. She was a lady who was involved in development at my company, and we just didn’t have a good development record in the time she was there, so I just moved on. I never blackballed her. If people from the industry called me to ask about her, I would have been honest, but I never blackballed her.
Finally, masturbating in front of her? I don’t know where to begin. This is a complete lie, fabrication, no truth to it whatsoever.
The reporter told me, “She did say that you never harassed her, never touched her,’ and I said … OK. So I didn’t know where this comes from. The reporter said, “Let me digest this, and we’ll sit on it over the holidays and get back into it after.” My family had a lovely holiday, we came back and literally on the day of my arrival, The Hollywood Reporter got in touch with me and said, she’s running around, possibly trying to give this story to other people, so we’re going to run with it. I said, I don’t think that’s justification, just because you might get scooped, to run a story like this. My attorney did say they had been approached by Variety or somebody else, asking if there was anything going on.
I was floored. I didn’t know what to say and I tried to digest it. The accusations are minimal, except of course for the idea of masturbating in front of her. She supposedly had three friends who would back her up, that she had mentioned this to. I pride myself of being so supportive of the women’s movement. My mother was an actress, and I myself married to an actress and have been supportive of this movement wholeheartedly, through all my years. I was forced to look over my past. I’ve had up to 20 female executives who worked at my company in different areas over the years. Over 20 producers I partnered with on pictures have been women. Not to mention all the actresses I’ve worked with and the hundreds of performers. How am I, in a 50 year career in this industry, dealing with an employee 33 years ago who perhaps is disgruntled that I let her go, even though I have never heard from her in 32 years. And a legitimate trade publication is going to try and print this story? There is no corroboration, just that they found out somebody else might run the story.
DEADLINE: Clearly, the most serious thing being alleged is that you masturbated in front of a woman who worked for your company. You deny it. It doesn’t sound like there are other witnesses who observed it?
DEADLINE: Just to be completely clear here. Are you saying that you never harassed this woman, or anyone else, in such a salacious manner as she has alleged to a journalist?
DOUGLAS: Absolutely; that’s exactly what I am saying.
DEADLINE: It almost seems like those man in jeopardy movies you used to make in the ’80s. What’s it feel like to be targeted, based on someone making an allegation, and if a journalist can find several friends of hers who say she mentioned it to them, that is the bar for publication?
DOUGLAS: It’s extremely painful. I pride myself on my reputation in this business, not to mention the long history of my father and everything else. I don’t have skeletons in my closet, or anyone else who’s coming out or saying this. I’m bewildered why, after 32 years, this is coming out, now. As I say, I will fess up to colorful language, but the issue of masturbating in front of her? That rung is something I’ve only heard about the last year. It’s not an expression that related to the ’80s. So I thought it stunk. And I tried to figure out, why the hell would somebody do this? The part that hurt the worst is having to share something like this to your wife and your children. My kids are really upset, has to go to school worrying this is going to be in some article about me, being a sexual harasser. They’re scared and very uncomfortable.
My wife has a long career, and as a woman, she has been very supportive. So what is this? The woman, it turns out, is a blogger. We’ve had to do some quick research, and she has mentioned my name sometimes in her blogs. Nothing terrible. It leads me to believe she either has or is trying to get a book deal. I can’t believe that someone would cause someone else pain like this. Maybe she is disgruntled her career didn’t go the way she hoped and she is holding this grudge. It has caused tremendous stress to me for something I believe I have nothing to regret or feel responsible for.
I’m certainly regretful if she was offended by the language in the ’80s, but this other thing, she would not be getting a story in a trade paper with these other issues. The one that she raises, is the reason for that story.
DEADLINE: So that is why we are speaking?
DOUGLAS: I had the choice of waiting for a story to come out, one that will clearly get picked up by other newspapers and magazines, and then I have to sit there and try to defend myself. Or, try to share with the public, a little ahead of the story, my thoughts and concerns. Again, I am sorry if I used coarse language with my friends. But this is really debilitating. It can have a large effect on my career. And also, I think it really sends a message out.
DEADLINE: What message?
DOUGLAS: Look, I support the #metoo movement with all my heart. I have always supported women, along the way. This is the kind of step that can set that movement back. Being accused, without a chance [to defend yourself] in court. To not even really have the information in front of you, to be able to argue or defend yourself. There is no due process, no chance of seeing evidence in front of me from my accuser. It worries me. I saw Sheryl Sandberg, warned about a potential backlash in this area. I’m just happy to be able to present my story. I’m grateful to have the support of my wife and my kids who’ve had to share this with me. It has been a complete nightmare. It’s really hard to conceive that I have to defend myself against a situation that is 32 years ago, and it was not what they are saying it was.
DEADLINE: In some of these cases, women said, this happened to me and it created an avalanche of other women coming forward with similar tales. Are you prepared for that, and do you fear that volunteering this allegation, that others will come forward?
DOUGLAS: No, I don’t, except that I’ve had a few people call me, who’ve been approached by The Reporter, people I worked with over the years who’ve been told, we’re doing this story on Michael Douglas and harassment. Do you have any comment to make? They are reaching out trying to get any corroboration. Everything that has been said to me, I have reason to believe that no one else has come forward. I’ve worked with women my entire life. It has never been an issue. And now it’s an issue, with a woman who was there 32 years ago, who happens to be a writer, who happens to write blogs, who says she wants to write a book about her life, and a chapter about me, and yet, that is lost in the accusations in the period we’re in right now.
My reasons are personal in coming forward. But I’m going to continue the way I’ve always treated women, as equals and my peers. Working closely with them. I would hope that as a cautionary tale, we will be careful about accusing, and being accused. If a tabloid like the National Enquirer came forward with a story like this, they usually show you the story and you comment. Now, we’re in a situation with an industry paper, where they’re doing a story but won’t share it with you, and finds the need to take someone of my repute and reputation in the business after all these years, to have to share a story publicly. As if they’re doing a service, other than exploiting a situation.
DEADLINE: And you are concerned that your career could be defined by this? Is there any evidence?
DOUGLAS: There is no evidence. This would not be presented in a court of law. This is way past the statute of limitations. I can only imagine this has come up to hurt someone, or to benefit someone in a book deal so they can write a chapter on me? I find this whole thing really irresponsible and it hurts people who are supportive of this movement and who believe in it. This is my own personal taste. I don’t live in Los Angeles. I hope this movement continues to grow, but that there is care shown in who is accused and how the accusation is handled.
DEADLINE: When you read the articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker about Harvey Weinstein, it’s clear why women waited so long to speak up. You can feel their pain and it’s understandable why some who harbored shame for so long, would finally speak up. It feels like you feel that this isn’t that.
DOUGLAS: I’d confess to anything I thought I was responsible for. And it was most certainly not masturbating in front of this woman. This reeks. I would have respected if she had reached out to me any time over these years, to share her pain or concerns and I would have been the first one to respond. But this, going directly to the newspapers or whatever you want to call them, it just reeks of something else. I’m upset. It wasn’t the new year I had anticipated. I’m having a hard time understanding it. I’m very grateful to my family and business associates around me. I’m fearful, I have jobs going with studios who all seem to be supportive at this time. I’m hurt, really hurt and offended and I wonder if people realize when you do something like this, it hurts a lot more than just one person.
DEADLINE: So, rather than wait for a potential story and let it hang over your head, you’ve chosen to come out ahead of it with the information, to have more control over your narrative?
DOUGLAS: That is correct.