On Sept. 10, James Packer’s $200 million megayacht IJE was harbored in Tahiti, where it was scheduled to stay for three months. A bailiff attempted to board the luxury liner to serve the film producer and financier and was told to return the following day because Packer was not there. When the bailiff returned as scheduled, IJE was pulling out of the harbor and heading to Bora Bora with the Australian billionaire onboard.
Meanwhile in Bulgaria, a process server was attempting to serve Millennium Films CEO Avi Lerner at his Eastern Europe studio, where the Megan Fox thriller Till Death was shooting. Simultaneously, disgraced film producer Brett Ratner and former Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara were being served at their homes in Los Angeles.
Sources say the four men were being notified of a petition filed Sept. 3 in Los Angeles Superior Court by a woman named Melissa Parker, who was facing off against Clark Grandin, Bruce Hamilton, Gregory Kemp and Walter Nelson. The names wouldn’t ring a bell with anyone in the Hollywood community. That’s because they are pseudonyms, with Parker being a stand-in for Charlotte Kirk — the British actress at the center of a scandal that has led to the ouster of two studio executives from their top perches: Tsujihara and NBCUniversal chief Ron Meyer. The defendants are, in fact, Ratner, Tsujihara, Packer and Lerner. The men have used these pseudonyms in legal documents since 2017 in an attempt to shield their identities amid explosive claims.
The petition, which is under conditional seal but has been viewed by THR, is aiming to vacate a gag order that has kept Kirk mostly silent amid a years-long legal saga involving some of Hollywood’s most prominent litigators. At the crux of the battle is an incident that took place at the Hotel Bel-Air the night of Sept. 26, 2013, and Kirk’s ability to speak freely about it. Little has been reported about the night in question beyond what THR published last year after obtaining text messages that detailed the lead-up in which Packer invited Kirk — a 21-year-old autistic woman with a fledgling acting career — to the hotel’s presidential suite with the promise of “the opportunity of a lifetime for u” and an introduction to “the most important man u can meet,” who turned out to be Tsujihara. According to the texts, Packer let her in, but somehow the two became separated, with Kirk writing of Tsujihara, “His [sic] not very nice!” “Very pushy!!” “He just wants to fuck noting [sic] else dose [sic] not even want To say anything!” In the final exchange of the night, Kirk appeared to grow more alarmed, writing “James!?” Packer replied, “U OK ?” “Be cool.”
The petition, filed by Kirk’s lawyers at Fagelbaum & Heller, fills in several blanks and paints a picture of Tsujihara engaging in nonconsensual sex facilitated by Packer, marking a dramatic turn in the narrative as it has been disseminated in the press but consistent with tips THR received back in 2017. According to the filing, “When [Kirk] arrived, she was introduced to a cocaine snorting [Kevin Tsujihara], CEO of [Warner Bros.] who shortly thereafter left and went into another room. Mr. [Packer] told Ms. [Kirk] that Mr. [Tsujihara] wanted to discuss her career further in the other room. Ms. [Kirk] entered the other room to find Mr. [Tsujihara] naked on the bed and demanding sex. When Ms. [Kirk] hurried to the adjoining bathroom and strongly objected by text message to Mr. [Packer], he ordered her to comply by replying ‘Be Cool”. When attempting to leave the room, the significantly taller and larger Mr. [Packer] blocked her from leaving and menacingly told her she had to have sex with Mr. [Tsujihara]. Desperate to have Petitioner comply, Mr. [Packer] offered her $30,000 to do as he demanded, which she did not accept. Fearing for her personal safety, being blacklisted and the destruction of her career before it ever began, she complied with Mr. [Packer’s] demands and engaged in non-consensual intercourse with Mr. [Tsujihara] under duress. [Kirk] later learned she was Mr. [Packer’s] offering to Mr. [Tsujihara] to further induce him to agree to a $450,000,000 deal between Mr. [Packer] and Mr. [Ratner], and Mr. [Tsujihara] and [Warner Bros.].”
Those details hearken back to accounts from November 2017 and raise questions about what executives at parent company WarnerMedia were told about Kirk’s claims and when. When THR asked Tsujihara in 2017 about Kirk and the hotel incident, he engaged legal counsel, denied any relationship with her and threatened a lawsuit. At the time, one source described the incident as nonconsensual and included details of Kirk’s flight to the presidential suite’s bathroom.
The defendants vehemently deny what is described in the petition.
“Any claims made against Kevin Tsujihara related to Ms. Kirk are legally and factually baseless, manufactured many years after their brief consensual relationship to unjustly seek the payment of money,” says Tsujihara’s personal attorney, Bert H. Deixler. “The relationship was pursued by Ms. Kirk and at all times understood by Kevin to be entirely consensual. While Kevin continues to regret the relationship and the impact it had on his family, he will pursue all legal remedies available to protect himself from extortionate claims and prevent false accusations against him.”
Says Marty Singer, on behalf of Packer, Lerner and Ratner: “My clients are the victims of a multimillion-dollar civil extortion plot perpetrated by Charlotte Kirk, her former boyfriend Joshua Newton and her latest paramour Neil Marshall. This so-called legal filing is simply the latest element of their ‘honey trap’ scheme to extort my clients with ever-evolving, outlandish false allegations of misconduct unless they are paid millions of dollars. This June, my clients commenced an arbitration proceeding against Newton, Kirk and their accomplices for civil extortion and related claims. In July, after reviewing the evidence, an arbitrator granted a preliminary injunction against them. That Injunction expressly prohibits them from filing any lawsuit against my clients in violation of agreements that they entered into.”
In response, Kirk and Marshall’s attorney Philip Heller says Singer is portraying his clients “as hapless and timid victims cowering behind their attorney, rather than exploiters of a young woman who suffers from autism.” He adds, “On behalf of our clients, there is no truth to the libelous allegation of ‘extortion’ or the other cliché-rich, but false, descriptions favored by Mr. Singer. But until our clients are permitted to speak by the court, we have no further comment.”
Adds Newton’s attorney Larry Caldwell: “Joshua Newton categorically denies all of Martin Singer’s provably false accusations against him.”
Whether or not consensual, what followed the night at the Hotel Bel-Air appears to have been a wide-ranging cover-up that involved some of Hollywood’s most powerful men including NBCUniversal vice chair Ron Meyer. THR has pieced together the three-year saga via a series of legal documents — most of them are not publicly available, while others are public but contain pseudonyms — and corroborated by email exchanges between the parties.
Though texts between Kirk and Packer from the night of Sept. 26 are inconclusive with regard to consent, the actress implied in subsequent texts obtained by THR last year that she felt coerced, writing to Packer in 2014, “u made me sleep with Kevin,” to which Packer replied, “I didn’t promise u anything or make u do anything. This is a very uncool conversation.” Kirk responded, “We all know the truth.”
Kirk also texted Ratner in 2015 to say she felt she had been “used as the icing on the cake for your finance deal with Warner Bros,” adding, “It’s gross what you all did to me!!!” Four days after the Bel-Air incident, Packer, Ratner and now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced a $450 million slate financing deal between their RatPac-Dune Entertainment and Warner Bros. (None of the materials reviewed by THR reference Mnuchin or suggest he was aware of any potential wrongdoing.)
By contrast, some of Kirk’s subsequent text messages also indicated friendliness with Tsujihara including ones from 2014 that said, “Really glad we saw each other,” after they met for drinks at Palihouse Hotel in West Hollywood, “u make me blush,” after he raved about her music video. That said, courts have increasingly recognized that friendly exchanges after alleged sexual misconduct are not necessarily dispositive of whether an earlier encounter between the same parties was consensual.
Still, this isn’t the first time that the Bel-Air incident has been characterized as coerced in legal documents that THR has viewed. Back in 2017, Kirk’s former attorneys at Johnson & Johnson, a top Hollywood litigation firm, finalized a draft complaint naming Tsujihara as well as Ratner, Packer and Lerner and stated, “Ms. Kirk repeatedly told Packer that she did not want to have sex with Tsujihara, but Packer insisted and demanded that she have sex with Tsujihara. … Ms. Kirk was forced to have sex with Tsujihara.” The complaint also referenced Kirk’s condition by noting, “Due to her autism and difficulty interpreting people’s self-interested conduct, Ms. Kirk was unaware that she was becoming a victim of sexual abuse.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s policy is to not name alleged victims of sex crimes. In earlier drafts of the texts story from March 2019, Kirk was referred to as an unnamed actress with Asperger’s syndrome. But in the lead-up to publication, Kirk issued a lengthy statement that appeared to end any question about whether she was a victim, saying, “I emphatically deny any inappropriate behaviour on the part of Brett Ratner, James Packer, and Kevin Tsujihara, and I have no claims against any of them.”
Still, there’s a curious history with regard to that statement and the labyrinthine legal drama that has kept Kirk unable to tell her side of the story — even as she is depicted in the press as a manipulator who took advantage of titans of industry. It began in May 2017, when she retained Johnson & Johnson and prepared to sue in civil court and seek damages over promises she felt were made about her career and a subsequent alleged smear campaign that supposedly prevented her from landing work as an actress.
As Warner Bros. CEO, Tsujihara would have had a fiduciary duty to notify his parent company when he became aware of the draft complaint, and sources say he did. Warner Bros. was particularly vulnerable at the time to bad press given that it was in the middle of a deal to be acquired by AT&T for $85 billion — a move that was being vigorously fought by the Trump administration on antitrust grounds.
Sources say Meyer, who first met Kirk in May 2012 after approaching her at a Universal party in her native U.K. when she was 19 and pursued her for months while making career introductions and promises, inserted himself into the drama and talked Kirk out of filing the Tsujihara lawsuit.
So, instead, Kirk entered into private mediation with Packer, Tsujihara, Ratner and Lerner. With power litigator Marty Singer representing the four men, a settlement was reached that would pay Kirk $3 million over 24 months plus above-the-line billing in three films made for Lerner’s Millennium. A $500,000 penalty would be incurred for each film role that did not come to fruition. Kirk’s boyfriend at the time — director Joshua Newton — became part of the settlement agreement when he accompanied her to mediation discussions on Aug. 9, 2017, that stretched until 4 a.m. According to an email exchange between Kirk and her Johnson & Johnson attorney Douglas Johnson, she accused her lawyers of bullying her into the settlement agreement, an allegation she repeated in a recently filed lawsuit against the firm.
Newton would receive $1 million toward the budget of a film about the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson titled Nicole & O.J. that Kirk would star in and Newton would direct. Ratner would produce and even enlisted his friend F. Lee Bailey as a consultant, according to emails viewed by THR. (Bailey was part of the so-called Dream Team of lawyers that defended O.J. Simpson and was particularly interested in the screenplay, which posits that the former football star was not the killer.) The settlement bound Kirk and Newton to a confidentiality agreement — a controversial practice that is now prohibited in California in certain filed cases involving sexual assault and harassment.
In an added twist, Meyer was added to the settlement document as a released party under the pseudonym Paul Stevenson, allegedly without Kirk or Newton’s knowledge — a move that is detailed in a civil lawsuit recently filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by a Jane Doe against Johnson & Johnson that references five John Does, who are clearly Packer, Tsujihara, Ratner, Lerner and Meyer. Kirk is Jane Doe in the publicly available suit, and the phone number listed matches that of her fiancé, director Neil Marshall.
Two months after the settlement was finalized, an event that none of the parties could have anticipated occurred. Harvey Weinstein — the powerful mogul whose sexual misconduct was well rumored in the industry — was exposed in New York Times and New Yorker articles as a sexual predator, ushering in Hollywood’s #MeToo era. Weinstein, too, relied on confidential settlement agreements to stave off public accusations, and, like Kirk, many of his alleged victims had taken payment in exchange for their silence. In the span of weeks, high-profile industry figures would be accused of sexual misdeeds and watch their careers evaporate overnight.
At the time, Meyer began working to ensure Newton’s loyalty. On Oct. 17, 2017, he sent Newton an email from his NBCUniversal email account, saying, “I spoke to Brett. He sounded very positive. Let’s get this closed and move on to positive things, especially making your film.” The film in question was an untitled Holocaust movie penned by Newton (Newton and Meyer are both children of Holocaust survivors). Ratner would produce the film for Universal instead of producing Newton’s Nicole & O.J., which he decided was too polarizing. It wasn’t the first time that Meyer’s actions as NBCUniversal chair appeared to benefit Kirk or Newton’s career. In January 2016, he arranged for Kirk to read for the female lead in Universal’s Tom Cruise film The Mummy with the studio’s casting department, according to internal emails viewed by THR. Though the overture likely would have been impressive to a young actress like Kirk, it seems improbable that she could have landed the role given that she had no significant credits under her belt at the time (Annabelle Wallis was announced as the lead two months later).
Two weeks after Meyer’s email to Newton, Ratner was accused of sexual misconduct by six women in an L.A. Times story. Separately, a woman accused Ratner of rape in a Facebook post, which he denied (he sued the accuser for defamation, and both sides eventually dropped their claims). Like other news outlets, THR began looking more closely at Ratner and his alleged sexual misconduct. On Nov. 1, 2017, separate sources provided THR with the narrative of the night at Hotel Bel-Air that mirrors the one detailed in Kirk’s recent complaint, prompting queries about the incident to Time Warner.
That’s when Tsujihara began pressuring parties close to Kirk for an amended settlement, claiming that the Time Warner board — led by Jeff Bewkes — required a preapproved statement from Kirk to corroborate Tsujihara’s denials of wrongdoing in the event that the Bel-Air story ever became public, according to a knowledgeable source. Warner Bros. also conducted an investigation but Kirk’s attorney says she was never approached, which would seem unorthodox, according to experts in investigations, given that she was the alleged victim. (A WarnerMedia rep said, “We do not comment on investigations past or present.”) Around the same time, Kirk’s attorney Douglas Johnson informed her that the opposing side was refusing to honor the settlement agreement unless it was amended to include the prewritten statement. In December 2017, an amended settlement was signed that included a preapproved statement. The language of the statement was identical to that which was given to THR 17 months later in response to its texts story. Newton would receive an additional $2.5 million toward the budget of Nicole & O.J. to compensate for the fact that Ratner — now with a tarnished reputation — would no longer be a viable producer for that film or for the Holocaust project.
The following year, Kirk continued to be put forward for roles in Lerner films. But behind the scenes, Lerner disparaged her to directors, both for her acting ability and her character. Singer called that assessment “false, fabricated and categorically denied.”
But one filmmaker source tells THR, “Lerner said, ‘She can’t be hired because of “her thing,”‘” in reference to her Asperger’s. Sources say Lerner had been depicting her as a honeypot to directors for years. One such director was Marshall, who didn’t know Kirk when he was casting for the Millennium film Hellboy. According to a 2020 arbitration document shared with THR by a third party as well as subsequent legal pleadings, Lerner allegedly offered up information about Kirk with regard to Packer, Ratner, Tsujihara and Meyer. The 2017 conversations were legally recorded by Marshall, which is not uncommon for a director discussing a film and script notes with a studio boss. According to the arbitration document, Lerner told Marshall about a group of top industry players who were deliberately exploiting Kirk’s acting aspirations as well as taking advantage of her autism and passing her around as a sexual prize. When Marshall began dating Kirk in 2018, he told her about the way she had been characterized by Lerner, according to sources, prompting her to threaten to sue Lerner for breach of contract.
All the while, the Bel-Air incident kept rearing its head. In September 2018, an anonymous letter was sent to Tsujihara’s new boss, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey. The letter raised a series of explosive questions about whether a top Warner Bros. executive had promised speaking roles to an actress, identified only as “CK,” in exchange for her silence. WarnerMedia retained the law firm Munger Tolles & Olson to investigate, but the firm found no evidence of misconduct (again, Kirk apparently was not contacted).
Instead, Stankey, who is now CEO of parent company AT&T, promoted Tsujihara in February 2019. Two days later, THR published its texts story that detailed promises by Tsujihara to make efforts to help Kirk get Warners TV and film roles, marking a culmination of 17 months of reporting on the subject.
In the hours before publication, Singer shot off an urgent email to Kirk’s attorney Douglas Johnson. “You and your client have been aware of the proposed story for nearly a full day and have had ample time to respond to THR. Should [Kirk] fail to do so prior to the publication of the proposed story, she will be in material breach of contract and exposed to substantial liability,” Singer wrote. “Ms. Kirk has an affirmative duty to instruct her spokesperson (you) to issue a statement to THR consistent with the pre-approved statement, as set forth in the parties’ agreement … We trust that your client will abide by her contractual obligations and take immediate steps to do so.”
In the email, which was obtained by THR, Singer is referring to the 2017 amended settlement. Behind the scenes, Meyer and Tsujihara appeared to be coordinating in managing the PR crisis. In an email exchange from that same day, Tsujihara forwarded the preapproved statement to Meyer, who forwarded it to a Kirk confidant (THR has viewed the exchange). Five days later, as Tsujihara’s fate at Warner Bros. hung in the balance, Kirk was pressured to release a second statement clarifying that she was not a #MeToo victim, written by publicist and Meyer friend Howard Bragman, that included the line, “There are real victims of #MeToo in our industry and my heart goes out to them. I applaud them and support them — but, I’m just not one of them.” In response to that pressure and the proposed statement, Johnson emailed Kirk, saying, “Hey Charlotte. I want you to see how bad the bad guys want you to make that statement. Ron and Kevin are working together. It is all a set up for them to turn the story on you. These people aren’t your fiends [sic] and are using you to take the heat off Kevin. This is why they want this further statement made right away — to help Kevin keep his job.” What followed was a battle behind the scenes for Tsujihara to remain, which confounded industry observers at the time.
Though he ultimately was ousted 11 days later after THR’s story published, Tsujihara never received any public condemnation from Time’s Up. (He previously had made a substantial donation to the influential anti-sexual harassment organization.) Stankey threw him an emotional going-away party that was detailed in the press. WarnerMedia conducted a third investigation, the results of which have never been reported.
By summer 2019, Kirk was growing increasingly frustrated with her attorneys at Johnson & Johnson. After learning in late 2017 that Meyer had been added into the original settlement agreement, she demanded that he be removed to no avail. In summer 2019, she parted ways and remained without an attorney for a couple of weeks. She had been receiving quarterly payments as part of the 2017 settlement agreement, and on Aug. 1 of that year, the payment never arrived. She reached out to Singer via email, asking about the missed payment and reiterating that she wanted Meyer removed from the agreement or else she would file a public suit. “The reality is [Meyer] deceived me all along and he was really just trying to protect himself and his friends — your clients. Since then, everything he has told me, advised me, directed me to do has been for the sole purpose of keeping your clients happy and Ron’s reputation safe, even to the point of getting involved in influencing me what to say to the press.” (That allegation was echoed by recent court documents.) Two days later, Singer informed Kirk that she was in breach of her confidential agreement.
On Aug. 11, 2019, Kirk retained Bernard & Bernard in connection with claims against Meyer, Ratner, Tsujihara and Packer, according to the retainer agreement. While her new attorneys seemed eager to go after Meyer, they appeared to be less interested in Singer’s clients, who she claimed owed $1.8 million. But she continued with the firm on the Meyer litigation, and the NBCUniversal chair agreed to a mediation to be held on Nov. 12, 2019. The parties settled with Kirk getting $2.5 million and agreeing to a confidentiality agreement. Additional details are unknown.
Kirk then split with Bernard & Bernard and signed with John Cowan, a San Francisco attorney whom Singer wound up suing for civil extortion in June along with Kirk, Newton and Marshall. Due to a clause in the 2017 settlement agreement, only Singer and Douglas Johnson were allowed to have copies of the document. Any lawyer who wanted to view it had to sign an NDA, which Cowan is said to have signed, leaving him open to a suit for alleged breach. That’s when the legal machinations became particularly complicated. Marshall and Newton were engaged in separate discussions to schedule mediations with Meyer, despite Meyer later claiming in a statement upon his ouster on Aug. 19 that he was being extorted by unnamed third parties later identified as Newton and Marshall. “At some point, I’m sure the people who made the extortionate demands will have to confirm what they did. Written words are powerful evidence,” Meyer’s attorney Howard Weitzman later told THR.
Several news outlets have reported that the FBI is investigating the matter, but THR has not been able to independently verify that any such investigation exists. NBCUniversal told THR that it has not been contacted by the bureau, nor have Kirk, Marshall or Newton, according to their attorneys.
“Contrary to Mr. Meyer’s false portrayal of my client, Joshua Newton, as an alleged ‘extortionist,’ Mr. Newton has legitimate legal claims against Mr. Meyer and NBCUniversal including breach of fiduciary duty that will be described in detail in Mr. Newton’s lawsuit against NBCUniversal and Mr. Meyer,” says Caldwell. “NBCUniversal and Mr. Meyer reneging on their commitment to make Mr. Newton’s Holocaust movie is one of the bases for Mr. Newton’s legal claims that were being negotiated when Mr. Meyer abruptly publicized, then terminated the confidential mediation.”
On June 18, Singer obtained a temporary restraining order against Kirk in his clients’ civil extortion case, which effectively muzzled her from speaking to the press even after a media tsunami ensued following THR identifying her as the unnamed woman who led to Meyer’s ouster. An emergency arbitrator also issued a preliminary injunction that prevents her from filing suits in California courts against Tsujihara, Packer, Ratner and Lerner. But it didn’t dissuade her from filing a suit July 1 as a Jane Doe against her former lawyers Johnson & Johnson. That suit, which is public, offers a rich trove of information about Kirk’s seven-year plight if you know who the John Does are. Among the claims in the suit are that “defendants allowed the release of one JOHN DOE 5 into the settlement without plaintiff’s knowledge or approval. Plaintiff had actionable claims against the JOHN DOE 5, and had no idea that he was being secretly released into this Settlement Agreement.” Douglas Johnson declined comment about the suit or any of his interactions with his former client.
The claim that Meyer, who is John Doe 5, was added at the last minute, would appear to be backed up by a letter from Douglas Johnson to Singer on Nov. 20, 2017. Johnson wrote, “After discovering that Mr. Meyer’s name was added to the settlement agreement without Ms. Kirk’s consent, I contacted you to determine how this could have happened, and in response, you mentioned that Mr. Meyer’s name was added by mistake and that Mr. Meyer was unaware of the fact that his name was added. However, the circumstances indicate that Mr. Meyer conspired with the other parties in order to force Ms. Kirk to settle, so that he could secretly add his name into the settlement agreement without having to pay any consideration.”
That letter also outlines a series of sexual harassment claims that Kirk had against Meyer, including that Meyer set up fake casting and film shoots in order to convince Kirk that she had secured her promised roles so that he “could continue to demand sexual favors.” Johnson pointed to Kirk’s role in the Universal film Non-Stop, which was allegedly dubbed a lead role by Meyer, but she never appeared in the final film.
A spokesperson for Meyer says, “This is false.”
Meanwhile, despite the emergency arbitrator’s temporary restraining order, Kirk nonetheless filed her petition to vacate the gag order Sept. 3.
According to the petition, “Ms. [Kirk] was victimized by a cabal of entertainment industry elites each who believed they could use and abuse her with impunity and then hand her off. Second, Claimants demanded that their shameful conduct remain secret.”
As for Meyer’s statement, which claimed he “made a settlement, under threat, with a woman outside the company who had made false accusations against me,” the petition offered a withering assessment. “Mr. [Meyer] had every incentive while negotiating a severance package with his company to release the statement he did so that he could control the narrative and attempted to induce Petitioner [Kirk] to break her silence and give him an excuse to declare a breach of their contract.”
On Oct. 2, a judge will decide whether the petition can be kept under seal. It could prove to be a groundbreaking case that tests the enforceability of confidentiality agreements, which have a long, ugly history in Hollywood as a tool to prey upon the most vulnerable, according to California Sen. Connie Leyva, who spearheaded SB-820, which bars such confidential agreements and became law in 2018.
“Secret settlements have been a way for primarily men to get away with assaulting women and perpetuating this bad bad behavior,” says Leyva, who was speaking broadly about such agreements. “The passage of this bill made me so happy. I just hope that it does not allow perpetrators to continue to take advantage of mostly women for their own self-interest.”
All the while, Kirk inhabits a strange netherworld of the #MeToo era — an alleged victim who has garnered little public support despite the fact that she was an autistic 20-year-old living in a foreign country when she first encountered Ratner, Packer, Lerner and Meyer in 2012.
In the meantime, she remains unable to speak out and address the situation — a necessary step to resume her career as an actress. Still claiming to be owed $1.8 million from of the original settlement agreement, she faces a pivotal moment in her case. For now, Kirk cannot publicly address the Hotel Bel-Air incident, a night that mobilized some of the most influential men in Hollywood and their high-paid lawyers to keep her silent.