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Is Hollywood bullying the next #MeToo?

New revelations about Hollywood producer Scott Rudin are a sad but unsurprising indictment on the entire industry and its practices

Scott Rudin is widely regarded as one of the most tasteful men in the film and theatrical industries. He has worked with many of the best writers and directors in the business for decades, and, if anything, the projects that he has stewarded have improved.

Back in the Nineties, his projects included everything from big hits like The Firm and Clueless to the more schlocky likes of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, but carefully cultivated relationships with the likes of Wes Anderson, Aaron Sorkin and the Coen brothers have resulted in the Oscar-winning likes of No Country for Old Men, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Social Network. In the theatre, he is a legendary producer whose Broadway shows typically feature the greatest actors from both Britain and America, and are usually vast commercial successes. Scott Rudin, by this metric, is nothing less than a visionary.

The overall sense given of Rudin is of a man who would launch into obscene arias of rage

It would also appear, unfortunately, that Rudin’s good taste goes hand in glove with a bullying attitude towards his staff that is almost deranged in its violent cruelty and sociopathic detachment from the real world. Two lengthy and carefully sourced pieces in The Hollywood Reporter and Vulture have reported dozens of his former assistants coming forward to describe the relentless psychological and, on occasion, physical bullying that Rudin visited upon them, remorselessly breaking them down to a point where they either quit or were fired, sometimes within hours of beginning their jobs.

There are too many shocking stories to repeat, but the overall sense given of Rudin is of a man who would launch into performative and obscene arias of rage, accompanied by acts of aggression. On one occasion when he reportedly went too far, allegedly smashing a computer monitor onto an assistant’s hand and necessitating the unfortunate young man to visit the hospital, it was suggested that Rudin’s first response was to call his lawyer and work out how, exactly, he might avoid any criminal charges for his actions.

And none of this is new, either. Kevin Spacey played a thinly veiled version of Rudin in the film Swimming with Sharks as far back as 1994, and in 2005, Rudin cheerfully estimated that he had been through over 100 assistants. A subsequent interview was entitled “The Most Feared Man in Town”. His reputation was a commonly known one. Anyone who went to work for him knew what they were getting into. They had to hope that they were able to remain in his good graces long enough to form the relationships that could ensure that, in a year or two, they could segue into a less frenetic working environment, and hopefully avoid PTSD as a result.

The revelations about Rudin’s behaviour have led to uncertainty in Hollywood. As at least one executive who regularly deals with him has remarked, after all of the appropriate qualifications, physical bullying is not seen as being in the same ballpark as the sexual assault and rapes visited upon his staff and actors by Harvey Weinstein. The Hollywood Reporter quoted some anonymous figures saying, “I’m not condoning the behaviour, but it’s hardly news that Rudin is a horrendous bully and if you worked for him, it’s on you”, as well as bemoaning the fact that “there are very few people with his level of taste and access to material.”

The only concession that Rudin has made to the stories, while denying many of the specific allegations, is to announce that he will “reflect” on many of the revelations and step away from hands-on involvement in many of the plays and films that he would have been shepherding in the post-coronavirus world. As the brother of one of his former employees put it, “It does not indicate any interest in actually doing better. All it appears to be is a shrewd PR strategy to avoid any real consequences.”

If you’re not guilty of sexual misconduct, you can get away with virtually any other behaviour

Many years ago, I briefly worked as an intern at Working Title Films, the closest thing that the British film industry has to a Rudin-esque organisation that largely specialises in prestigious and tasteful pictures. Over the fortnight or so that I spent there, I saw no instances of shouting or bullying from any of the figures in the company. The senior runners spoke glowingly about everyone in the organisation, from Working Title’s founders Tim Bevan and Eric Hayward to more junior members of staff. The closest that I saw to Rudin-esque behaviour was a senior development executive being briefly annoyed that she had been brought the wrong chocolate bar by another intern. Which is not to say that there would not have been raised voices and angry exchanges on other occasions, but it did not seem to be an accepted part of the company’s ethos.

Likewise, major West End producers such as Sonia Friedman and Nica Burns have achieved a similar level of success to Rudin without acquiring the reputation that he has. One can only speculate that there is a particularly male approach to the theatre business that leads one to shout, swear and throw one’s weight around, without managing to achieve any more in the process. It is widely known that Rudin is legendarily charming with “the talent”, but as the novelist and screenwriter Michael Chabon has revealed in an essay entitled Apology of a Rudin apologist, he could lose his temper with them as well, sending Chabon “a series of potent Rudin email bombs packed with nails, razor blades and personal insults”.

The impression given is of a man who has long since lost any kind of contact with normal reality, and for whom performative acts of bullying are now as mundane as sending a WhatsApp message. Yet his career still hangs in the balance. There has been no public cancellation of him in the same way that there has recently been of the likes of the actors Armie Hammer and Gina Carano, and one suspects that many of those who work with him are secretly hoping that this will clear up and disappear and that business as usual can resume in a while.

This is in stark contrast to the outrage that followed the various #MeToo revelations. It is worth remembering that, by the time that Weinstein’s career imploded, his company had been in decline for years, whereas Rudin’s plays and films have been some of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed in America. It remains to be seen whether these stories end his career, or if they simply suggest that, in the entertainment business, if you are not guilty of sexual misconduct, you can get away with virtually any other behaviour. As long, that is, as your productions continue to make money. And if so, this is a sad but unsurprising indictment on the entire industry and its practices.

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