Can Hollywood Turn Sex Assault Scandals Into Meaningful Reform? Judd Apatow On How To End Abuse Cycle

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Even though the list of powerful Hollywood actors, directors, and executives struggling to keep their careers after embarrassing sexual harassment headlines grows daily, the toxic tidal wave will wash out sooner or later. And then comes the opportunity for moral-minded industry leaders to use this shameful episode as a catalyst for reform after what has become the most traumatic Hollywood scandal since the HUAC communist witch hunt that blacklisted artists in the 1940s and ’50s. This exchange with Judd Apatow will be the first of a series of interviews Deadline will publish, as the industry tries to turn this horror show into something positive, so that it doesn’t take decades for abused women and men to have their stories heard, and the perpetrators can be held accountable and run out of town.  The interview happened before yesterday’s New York Times expose on Louis C.K., so that is not addressed here.

DEADLINE: With all of the accusations of sexual assault and abuse that have come to light in recent weeks, how can this moment be put toward meaningful reform? The victimization might be compounded by what I am hearing, and that is men saying they will avoid hiring women on movie sets or as assistants to avoid potential problems.

APATOW: The most unhealthy way to look at this is, “I can’t handle being around women.” When Mike Pence says, “I can’t do meetings alone with women,” that’s because he has some sort of mental problem. That’s not how the world works. Men and women work together. It’s men’s responsibility to respect people of the opposite sex. If men start saying, “I’m going to hire less women because I can’t manage this situation,” then that would be the worst possible outcome.

DEADLINE: The rationale was, if I say the wrong thing, it is less likely to offend a room full of men…

APATOW: Almost none of this is about indiscreet comments. Most of this is about violence and very serious harassment. There’s certainly a level of it which is about people being disrespectful, and they shouldn’t be, but the majority of this is about violent crime, and about why people in our industry were and are willing to ignore violent crimes to line their own pockets, or protect their careers.

That’s what this is about. How come people worked with Harvey Weinstein when they knew that he was assaulting people?

DEADLINE: Do you think they really knew he was assaulting people?


APATOW: Sure they did. Daryl Hannah said she called up everybody on Kill Bill and said, “I’ve had to put the dresser up against my door to keep Harvey Weinstein from pushing it in, from coming into my room.” How come all of the people that she contacted didn’t do anything? All they did, according to her, was take her off of the rest of the press tour. Nobody said, “I’m not going to work with Harvey again.” Nobody said, “I’m going to tell somebody in a position of power, so that he can be dealt with in the manner in which he should have been.” To me, that’s one of the prime examples of what’s wrong with our industry.

She told everybody. She told her director, I forget the specifics of the list. But she told people associated with the movie, and nobody did anything, and they went on to make more movies with him. It’s not that complicated. I work with all sorts of people. If one of the lead actresses of my film called me up and said, “I had to put a dresser up against the door because one of your producers was trying to push his way in,” I would never work with that person again, and I would tell somebody. So, why aren’t people telling people? That’s the issue.

DEADLINE: What’s your assessment on why it happened, and the willingness to continue working with Weinstein?

APATOW: Greed, it’s only greed. There’s no other reason. People don’t want to make waves. They don’t want their position in our industry to ever be diminished. And so, it’s the path of least resistance. They do nothing. It’s cowardly. There’s a big difference between hearing something at a party about people you’ve never met or don’t really know, and having direct knowledge of crime.

Bill O'Reilly
Associated Press

There are a lot of people who have direct knowledge of crime. There are people writing checks to women. There are lawyers and business managers and agents and managers and studio people who knew what’s happening. There’s no difference between this, and Fox being aware of Bill O’Reilly’s settlements, or what Roger Ailes is up to. It’s all the same thing. Are we okay with it? Why is it okay for Fox News to think that their on-air talent shouldn’t be punished when they have to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle sexual assault accusations? Of course it’s not okay. They should boot those people off the air, instantly.

It’s not like it’s one accusation. We’re talking about people with multiple serious accusations. And it’s the same thing with Harvey Weinstein, or anybody else. If you know, because you’re directly involved, that these things are happening, how come you don’t disassociate yourself?

DEADLINE: What should a guy like Quentin Tarantino do when he becomes aware of accusations of this nature?

APATOW: Don’t work with Harvey Weinstein. It’s not more complicated than that. Aren’t we allowed to say that if somebody harasses or commits violent crime against people in our industry, that we will decide not to work with them? This isn’t a lewd comment at a party. This is assault. If you know somebody is assaulting people or terrorizing people, why do you want to make the next movie with them?

DEADLINE: These things are all in gradations, it seems. What line should be drawn regarding consequences of behavior of Weinstein, of Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner or other Hollywood luminaries who have been called out? Bad behavior in this industry been almost celebrated in the past, to a degree.

APATOW: I think there’s a big difference between crime and people who act horribly. It certainly gets more complicated when you’re just a pig, and you don’t treat people well, and that is something that people are going to have to talk a lot about, what do we do with lewd people. I don’t have any specific answers for that. I think we all should treat people well, and then we won’t have that problem.

So we don’t know what to do about people who spoke in a gross manner, 20 years ago. It’s a very complicated issue, and we need to have a lot of discussion to figure it out. But there is enough very serious crime to acknowledge, to start. And we still haven’t dealt with that. We still haven’t dealt with why Bill Cosby’s representatives were fine, knowing how many women he was paying off, and why they didn’t quit. That’s a big issue.

We should start there. If you’re the head of a studio, and someone tells you, “Why don’t you confront Harvey Weinstein? Why don’t you confront him?” Did anyone ever seriously confront him? The other day, Alec Baldwin said, “We have been hearing for decades that he raped Rose McGowan.” Well, did you ever ask him about it? Did it ever come up? Did you ever ask somebody who finances his films or distributes his films why they’re comfortable doing that? The fact that he paid off Rose McGowan has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a creative person in our industry should decide to work with him or not.


That doesn’t settle the issue. He still raped somebody. Who cares if he made a settlement? You still shouldn’t work with him. That is what we all need to confront: how are we going to decide who we shouldn’t work with? But in the most extreme cases, it seems pretty clear. We shouldn’t be making TV shows with Bill Cosby. We shouldn’t be putting on new shows with Bill O’Reilly. We shouldn’t be starring in movies produced by Harvey Weinstein. There are cases which are also complicated, and everybody has their own set of ethics about it, and those debates will continue. But there are very clear cases where people are getting hurt, and their lives are being ruined by people.

There are Mossad agents involved. Former Mossad agents! So, I tend to start with the most obvious cases, and go, “For the people who knew, why didn’t you care?” I don’t think most people knew. I didn’t know. I thought Harvey Weinstein was emotionally out of control, so I stayed away. I didn’t know anything about his sex life till a few years ago, when—what was the name of the woman who went to the police?

DEADLINE: The model and aspiring actress Ambra Battilana Gutierrez wore a wire after she went to the NYPD with claims Weinstein forced himself on her.

APATOW: That was the first time I had heard about it. But there were people who knew, and I get very concerned when I hear that he was setting women up. That he would ask for a meeting with an actress, make sure it happened late in the day at a hotel, with a whole bunch of other people. Slowly, the assistants and other executives would disappear, and then finally, someone would say, “Oh, Harvey wants to meet with you upstairs instead.” And the person wouldn’t want to be rude, and next thing you know, they’re in a potentially dangerous situation. Did none of those executives and assistants understand what was happening, if he did it all the time?

I would say this: If I did that every other week, my staff would understand what was happening, that I was putting myself in a situation where I was alone with an actress. And why didn’t they say anything? I understand why, because they’re terrified. They don’t want their careers to be destroyed. But now we have to create a situation where people feel like they should try to tell people. They should come up with ways to warn people, because what are we really talking about? We’re talking about trying to protect people in our industry, men and women, from getting abused.

DEADLINE: Some have linked this toxic culture to President Donald Trump, because of that Access Hollywood outtake where he brazenly told Billy Bush he could grab a woman inappropriately. But these scandals have been very damaging to the industry’s reputation. Is there some collective effort that can be taken to create a mechanism that protects the powerless from these powerful people? After all, being able to enjoy the riches and success that brings power is not a birthright, and people clearly are using their leverage in twisted and abusive ways.

Access Hollywood

APATOW: I don’t think this is about Trump, because it was happening before Trump. It took 40 accusers to come forward before people took the Bill Cosby situation seriously. There were several accusers on The Today Show a long time ago, who made very specific complaints, and they were completely ignored. And he was still touring the country and getting TV specials and movie and series deals. They were completely ignored. Why? I think people are disgusted by Trump’s actions, that Access Hollywood tape, and it certainly reminds people that this type of thinking and behavior exists.

But all this was happening before that. I think that we clearly need to get a lot of the leaders in our industry together to discuss what can be done. It seems essential that we create ways for people to come forward. Obviously, people don’t come forward when ex-Mossad agents are creating fake identities to dig up dirt on accusers and journalists, trying to find out what’s happening.

It is a very dangerous environment, and a lot of times, people come forward, and they are treated horribly or ignored. There are very real reasons why people don’t speak up. People’s lives are destroyed, and people don’t want to be identified as being a part of this type of crime, and they don’t want to be thought of as a victim. They want their own identity. It attaches something to them.

DEADLINE: There’s a connotation of shame attached, isn’t there? Either for having these events happen to you, or for coming forward with them?

APATOW: You want to be who you are. You don’t want to be the person involved in this criminal act. There are a lot of very understandable reasons why it’s difficult to come forward, but it’s not just about the victim. There are other people who have information, and we need to set up ways in which we encourage people to warn people in the community about what criminals are doing. For instance, all these people have agents, and a lot of agencies know about this. They know about the rumors, or they know specifically, because they’re involved in these people’s businesses.

Agents set up these meetings. Every time Harvey Weinstein meets with a woman, an agent set up the meeting, or a manager set up the meeting, and there are plenty of agents that know to make sure there are several people in the meeting. There are many agents who say, “You can meet my client, but I’m going to be there.” But if they know this, if they know that these women are in a potentially dangerous situation, why are they not taking steps to prevent this person from operating within the industry? I would say you need the heads of agencies, studios, management companies to say, “We want to hear what you know. We want you to help us ferret this out.” We need to encourage people to come forward, and we need people at the highest levels to say, “I don’t want to do business with people who behave this way, even if they generate a lot of money.”

And that is a big part of this. Certain people generate a lot of money, and everyone says, “It’s not my business to get involved.” Maybe it should be everyone’s business to get involved and say, “I don’t want to work with the guy that terrorizes all the women.” It’s as simple as that. Or, if I hear you raped somebody, the ethical thing to do is to tell the police, and not be a part of the process that pays off the women. You can say, “I’m not going to do that,” and you can just call the police.

DEADLINE: Realistically, was that too much to have asked before, when careers would have been jeopardizing by those coming forward?

APATOW: Who knows what happens? I don’t know. If the entire industry encourages a certain type of ethical behavior, hopefully the environment changes. We want people to feel like doing the right thing will be greeted with positive energy.

I’m sure some people think, “If I call the police on Harvey Weinstein, is it going to hurt my career?” And we want them to think, “No, people are going to say you’re a great person for trying to protect these actresses.” That’s what we want; that’s how this should work.

DEADLINE: As a leader in this industry, what do you think the likelihood is that heads of industry can galvanize a process where we’ll never see this happen again?

APATOW: Well, we’re always going to see it happen again. We just might reduce it…

DEADLINE: Why do you say we’ll always see it happen?

APATOW: Because there’s always rapists, there’s always murderers. There’s always people who commit sexual harassment. It’s just about how we deal with it. It’s never going to be gone, but we can say it’s not acceptable at all, and then hopefully it changes the frequency. I think that’s happening; I think that will happen. I do think that this is going to change the way a lot of people do business. I’m very hopeful about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to go away completely. Creeps are creeps, and they’ll look for ways…

DEADLINE: …To use the leverage of being able to give a woman her break, and turn it into degradation…

APATOW: To do what they do. But I don’t know if people in the industry ever thought it was their responsibility to speak out and try to stop this. And that’s a shame. Look at what happened with Bill Cosby. All these women came forward, and they were ignored. Then Hannibal Buress made a joke about it, and his joke was very simple. He said, “Google it.” You know, “It’s real. Google it.” And he did some funny jokes about it, but he had a very simple point. Why didn’t you believe these women? And who is saying that in our industry when they hear about these crimes? It’s heartbreaking. When you’re young, it’s very easy to have someone break your spirit. I’m sure there are an incredible amount of women that quit the business, and young actors who quit the business because people victimized them. I know of people who said, “This isn’t worth it, if that’s what this environment is.”

DEADLINE: And you’re talking specifically about predatory acts, and not the withering screaming from an unhinged boss that can crush a young person’s spirit.

APATOW: Yeah. But when you’re disrespected and treated like a piece of meat, a lot of times, it kills your dream, because who wants their life to be about that? That’s the more complicated part about it. There’s a predatory nature to this. There’s locking people in hotel rooms and blocking the door, but there’s also people dangling their fame and access to the industry as a way to manipulate young people into having sex with them, or getting them to do things they don’t want to do, and that’s a much harder problem to solve, but it still crushes people’s spirit when they face that.

DEADLINE: Of the women who’ve come forward, perhaps none was more upsetting than Annabella Sciorra. You saw her on The Sopranos and you’re like, “Where has this actress been?” After reading her account of rape by Weinstein in Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker article, perhaps that was the answer to the question.

APATOW: This has been happening since the creation of the movie business—watch the documentary about Marilyn Monroe. The old studio heads expected all these women to sleep with them, and some version of that type of abuse continues to this day. It might not be with studio heads, but producers and other actors or actresses. The other day online, someone put up an article from 1945 with Maureen O’Hara complaining about this, in 1945. So, it’s a good thing that it’s being discussed, but there’s a lot more coming.

You can feel that it’s just the beginning, because there are a lot of people who’ve been afraid to talk for a long time, and they feel like things are changing, and they can finally come forward. And I would assume this is going to happen through the summer.

This Ronan Farrow story sounds like it took him half a year to write. A lot of these stories will take a long time to develop, and for journalists to get their facts straight, and obviously, we want to make sure that the facts are accurate.

DEADLINE: Yeah, a misstep could be costly.

APATOW: Yeah. It’s going to take a long time for some of these stories to be told. There are probably still people who are terrified to speak up, or aren’t sure they want to deal with any of this.

DEADLINE: We’ve seen that. If you can’t get a job, you’ve been victimized twice, haven’t you?

APATOW: Or when the Bill Cosby thing came out, if you went on Twitter, there were a lot of people calling these women gold-diggers, questioning whether or not it’s true. And then I met a bunch of his victims at charity events, such as one for the Rape Treatment Center. And you can tell it had affected their entire lives, people that it happened to in the ‘70s, and the second they started talking about it, you can see that it damaged them in a way that continues to show itself to this day.

DEADLINE: It’s a defining experience in their lives.

APATOW: And nobody got rich. People say they’re gold-diggers; well, who’s rich off of this Cosby situation? Nobody. People are very inclined to see ulterior motives, but that’s not what’s happening here.

I think leaders in the industry should get together—the heads of the studios, the heads of the agencies, the heads of management companies, the heads of production companies—get together in a room, and share their experiences, and talk about how they manage their employees and their sets, and try to come up with constructive ways to approach this, going forward. That’s what you need. The other day, United Talent Agency dropped Bill O’Reilly as a client. That’s what agencies should do. When the Bill Cosby thing came out, CAA dropped Bill Cosby as a client. There are probably a lot of ways that we can create…

DEADLINE: Accountability?

APATOW: Accountability for everybody. But people should talk about what happened. I think people are just beginning to realize that they should speak up. I’ll talk to agents, and they’ve known about Harvey forever. But you could tell that they never thought they were going to be the person to try to make the leap and sound the alarm. We need to find a way to make it possible for them to do that.

I’m sure there are ways to do it that don’t put people’s livelihoods at risk. I certainly would encourage that, and would be happy to be a part of it, but I think that would be important. We do have to look at what happened, specifically. That’s why, when we talk about Fox News, and we hear that Bill O’Reilly made some 32-million-dollar settlement, the questions are very clear. When did Fox know about the settlement? If they didn’t know how big the settlement was, why didn’t they know? If they didn’t know the details of the accusation, why didn’t they know? How did they decide to handle it the way they handled it, which was to let him write a check, and then give him a new contract?

Clearly, that was a mistake. So, what are they doing now, and what did they learn from that process, and what can they teach everybody else, so that when they’re in a similar situation, they can handle it better? There’s a lot to learn from these mistakes.

DEADLINE: Weinstein reportedly had it in his contract where he could pay for settlements and not lost his job for morals causes. It seems unfathomable, in retrospect.

APATOW: Yeah. Those people need to come forward. If Bob Weinstein had a certain contract with his brother, he should be part of that discussion. “Why did you have that particular contract? What did you think protected your company? How did you guys, on purpose or on accident, protect your brother? And what would you do differently going forward? Looking back, what would you have done five years ago, ten years ago, 20 years ago?”

Bob Weinstein

I guarantee you that a lot of these women went to Bob Weinstein and said, “We need to do something about your brother,” or agents said, “How do we stop your brother from doing this?” And it’s very difficult. No one wants to admit the mistakes they made, but that’s what we need. We need someone to come forward and say, “I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have,” and then we can try to decide what should he have done. What should he have done when he heard about it decades ago?

DEADLINE: As you’ve mentioned, in circumstances like this, someone must have been in the know.

APATOW: Someone’s writing a check.

DEADLINE: Should there be a reckoning for those who enabled long term abusers?

APATOW: Yes, absolutely. Everybody should come forward and discuss what happened. I’m sure none of those people want to, and probably most will do everything they can to hide what happened. But every time Harvey writes a check, there are multiple people involved in that decision. Someone is negotiating. Someone is hiring a private investigator to dig up dirt about the accuser.

DEADLINE: Isn’t that what Anthony Pellicano did before he was put behind bars?

APATOW: Yeah: Who was involved in that process, and why were they involved in that process? And how do they feel about it now? It takes a lot of people to get anything done. So, what would we wish would’ve happened? Would we have wished that a lawyer would’ve said, “You know what? I’m not going to take this case.” Marty Singer makes a lot of money representing people accused of sexual harassment and rape. Why does he take those cases? He’s making a concerted effort to keep criminals on the street. Yes, everyone deserves to be represented. It’s not unethical to hire a lawyer, but why personally does he want to be in that business? Why does he feel comfortable calling all these accusers liars, or saying his client is calling them liars?

He has a family. He works with women all the time. Why do you want to attempt to have all this go away? And I think he’s just one of hundreds of examples. There’s a lot of money to be made dealing with the legal situation surrounding all of these people. But we all decide whether or not we want to make money off of that, and that’s not that different than being a partner of his, or working at his company and saying, “I’m going to turn a blind eye, because I’m making a pretty good salary right now. Who am I to screw up my situation?”

Well, maybe you should screw up your situation, if it’s going to protect people from violence. People fought to keep Bill Cosby on the street, and then he committed more acts of violence. I just don’t understand how people’s conscience allows them to do that type of work.

DEADLINE: Hollywood has never been known as the most moral place. How likely is it that some of these things that you’re calling for will happen?

APATOW: I think a lot of it’ll happen, and make things a lot better. Even now, you make any TV show or movie, there’s a very serious sexual harassment seminar that happens before the start of production. In a lot of ways, they’re very effective, and probably the industry has changed a lot in the last 20 or 30 years as a result. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Doesn’t mean it solved everything, but I guarantee you sets are more respectful now than they were in 1975. That just needs to continue, and we have to keep learning what we can do better to protect more people.

But that was helpful, and I also think part of this is a lack of female executives, a lack of female showrunners and directors, and as we do everything we can to give opportunities to people who should have more opportunities, that creates an environment that is more supportive of women.

DEADLINE: Changing the old boys network…

APATOW: Absolutely. Look at the boards of these companies where this is happening. You don’t see many women. And that’s on purpose, because that’s the person who says no. I was saying this to someone the other day—we have a show on HBO, and HBO said, “We want half of your directors to be women.” I assume they’re doing that on all of their shows, and I don’t know if they succeed all the time, but it’s clearly a big priority to HBO. That will make a big difference. Part of it is to not just give women opportunities, but to break new people, because it’s very easy to give all the jobs to the same 20 people.

It’s about who are you going to give a big break to, so that we have more underrepresented people breaking into directing or breaking into show writing or producing. It is about the big break.

DEADLINE: Everybody got here because they got some break, but that part sounds like a hard thing to police, making sure that the gatekeepers don’t tie giving breaks to their own sordid ulterior motives.

APATOW: In hiring directors, you mean?

DEADLINE: And in hiring actors, perhaps more importantly.

APATOW: Yeah, well, that’s it. I think a lot of it is about educating young actresses and actors. “Here’s what you need to be aware of, here’s what your rights are, here’s what’s improper.” People don’t realize what’s improper, sometimes. It’s very easy for someone to say, “I’m interested in you.” You know, Bill Cosby would say, “I’d like to mentor you. Come over to my apartment, I’m going to teach you how to be a better actress.” And most people want to feel like someone who’s talented, someone they look up to, is being supportive and positive.

But maybe people need to understand the dangers that are out there, so that they can protect themselves. There are certain situations people should not be in. Nobody should be in a hotel room having a meeting. Just below every hotel room is a restaurant, or a conference room, or a sitting area. There’s no reason to go up to anybody’s room. Maybe people need to learn more about that. Here are the warning signs.

Just like people say, “This is a dangerous space to be in,” there are certain spaces which are dangerous. We have to educate people to weed a lot of these people out, but we also have to educate people to not be in certain situations. We have to do all of that.

We can ask questions. I talked to my agents and said, ‘What’s your agency doing? They’ll tell me and I said, ‘What does Disney do, and what does a small production company do? And is it working for you?” There are certain companies where we are seeing a lot of it and certain companies where we are not. What’s the company doing that is not having these issues? Some have had these issues and dealt with them very well. They’ll say, we had a bad guy, and we got rid of him last year and this is what happened. Other companies might say, we had a bad guy, we tried to deal with him. And then he did it eight more times, and then we got rid of him.

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