Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams went on the record with Vanity Fair this morning about the sexual harassment they experienced with James Toback early in their careers while auditioning for his movie Harvard Man.
Their experiences, previously unreported, are similar to allegations made public earlier this week by 38 women (now more than 200) who said they’d been sexually abused by Toback. Those allegations, chronicled in Glenn Whipp’s weekend Los Angeles Times story, included descriptions of how Toback lured women into hotel rooms for auditions only to sexually harass them and even masturbate on them.
Blair cooperated off the record with Whipp, and her account in Vanity Fair is shocking, as she claims that Toback threatened her life after their encounter. While Toback has been accused of baiting women on the street, both Blair and McAdams say their meetings with the filmmaker were arranged by their talent reps at the time.
Blair tells Vanity Fair‘s Krista Smith and Julie Miller, “After he finished, he told me, There is a girl who went against me. She was going to talk about something I did. I am going to tell you, and this is a promise, if she ever tells anybody, no matter how much time she thinks went by, I have people who will pull up in a car, kidnap her, and throw her in the Hudson River with cement blocks on her feet. You understand what I’m talking about, right?”
“He looked at me with those bug eyes that had just raped my leg. And I said, ‘Yes. I understand,'” Blair tells Vanity Fair.
For years Blair was scared to speak out against Toback, but recently has become irate over Toback’s denials.
“None of us are asking for money, for jobs, or for fame…What I do want, in my dreams, is for someone bigger than me to call him out. I want to light the pyre of public opinion,” the Legally Blonde actress tells Vanity Fair.
Following the reports about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse two weeks ago, Blair began indicating on Twitter that Toback was also guilty of targeting women. What stirred Blair up was a recent Huffington Post article published by a female writer at the Venice Film Festival with the headline: “James Toback Gets Us, He Truly Gets Us in ‘The Private Life of a Modern Woman.’”
“I kept thinking, ‘O.K., is there a big actress who is going to come out so that she can be the face of this? I want to bring as much awareness to this harassment as possible because I want Toback to be held accountable,” Blair said.
Toback in the wake of the Los Angeles Times and Vanity Fair reports has denied the accusations made against him.
“When he called these women liars, and said he didn’t recall meeting them and that the behavior alleged could not be attributed to him, I just felt rage and an obligation to speak publicly now,” Blair said.
When Blair was sent by her talent reps in 1999 to meet Toback, she was informed that the Bugsy screenwriter could make headway for her on the indie film scene. She had just completed Cruel Intentions, but the movie had not been released yet. What was supposed to be a restaurant meeting changed when Toback called the actress to his hotel room.
Toback began getting into Blair’s head, sending mixed signals from compliments to downright insults. When she mentioned that she had an estranged relationship with her father, Toback said, according to Blair, “You know, I could have him killed.” By the end of their meeting, Toback indicated to Blair again that he could put a hit on anyone who crosses him.
“Now I’m even more nervous, because he’s told me I have no confidence, he said he could have someone killed, and he said we had a connection—which no one had said to me before in this business. I really believed that when he started to talk . . . that he was going to be my mentor. That is how he got into my brain. You know, in acting classes they get into your personal history and connect that to work. So this conversation didn’t seem that strange. It seemed like he was concerned that I would not be seen as the actress I had the potential to be, and that he could do for me what he did for Robert Downey Jr.,” said the actress.
Forty minutes into their meeting, Toback asked Blair to take her clothes off and do a monologue naked. Her response: “Why would my character need to be naked? She is a lawyer in a courtroom.” Toback coaxed Blair into taking her sweater off. When she refused to have sex, the filmmaker sexually rubbing against her.
Later on when Blair was told that Toback wanted to see her again, she told her rep, “That man is vile. And I never want to be in a room with him again. Do not send any girls or women to him.”
McAdams was a 21-year old theater student from Toronto when she took a meeting with Toback in 2001. She had wowed him in her audition, and he was insistent that they workshop a scene from Harvard Man. She arrived to find magazines spread on the floor, and Toback saying that he’d just masturbated to her.
McAdams said Toback had her read reviews of his movies aloud, then he went to the bathroom, returning to inform her that he just pleasured himself thinking about her. Toback asked to see McAdams’ “pubic hair,” according to the article. “Eventually, I just excused myself. I can’t remember how long I was there…I was very lucky that I left and he didn’t actually physically assault me in any way,” McAdams tells the magazine.
When McAdams informed her agent at the time, the woman became angry, but also conceded some knowledge that Toback had a salacious means of auditioning actresses. “That is when I got mad, because I felt like I was kind of thrown into the lion’s den and given no warning that he was a predator. This was something that he was known for doing already. I was so surprised to hear that,” says the Spotlight Oscar nominee.