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She Wrote the Memo That Helped Take Down Harvey Weinstein. She’s Finally Ready to Talk.

As a young exec, Lauren O’Connor alerted her colleagues to her boss’ toxic behavior, but even after her memo leaked and helped launch the #MeToo movement, she remained silenced by NDAs. “I thought this was going to be a secret I had to carry my whole life.”

Lauren O’Connor was alone at a deli in an office park in Santa Monica, having a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich while on her lunch break from Amazon Studios, when she suddenly, terrifyingly, found herself front-page news. It was Oct. 5, 2017, the day The New York Times published its first piece alleging that Harvey Weinstein had been paying off sexual harassment accusers for decades, a story that would kick off a wave of revelations, firings and court cases across industries. As soon as the story broke, O’Connor’s cellphone started to explode with so many messages that it crashed, and she began to feel woozy and faint at the table.

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The then-30-year-old development executive had been having trouble eating since about a week earlier, when reporters from the Times told her that they had obtained and planned to publish a blistering memo she had written in 2015, while she was a creative executive at The Weinstein Co. Over the next few days, O’Connor had bought a burner phone to call and warn her parents that, as she says now, “something was probably about to happen” and she had laid low, fearing that Weinstein was having her followed by a private investigator. (Later news stories about Weinstein’s use of former Mossad officers to collect information about women and journalists revealed her instincts were right.)

The memo, which O’Connor had addressed to multiple executives at the company, described a pattern of sexual harassment and other misconduct by Weinstein, calling the studio “a toxic environment for women.” O’Connor hadn’t leaked the memo to the Times, but she had known its potential impact when she wrote it two years earlier and left what had once been her dream job at The Weinstein Co. in New York. Since then, she had been quietly trying to set up a new life in Los Angeles.

“And then the article published, and my life as I knew it ended,” O’Connor says.

As O’Connor tells this story, she’s curled up on the sofa of an airy apartment on L.A.’s Westside that she shares with her partner and their two cats. Now 35, she has another dream job, as head of IP acquisitions at Amazon Studios, and, after five years, she can finally eat a grilled cheese again without it sparking a flashback.

But O’Connor’s experience as a whistleblower has been costly both financially and emotionally — she estimates she spent more than $200,000 on lawyers and therapy in just the first two years after the story ran. “There was an irony in a movement about consent and ownership of voice” — the #MeToo reckoning — “to feel as if I had none,” she says. Constrained at first by a nondisclosure agreement with The Weinstein Co., and then by fears that she wasn’t emotionally prepared to express herself, O’Connor is finally ready to speak publicly about her experience.

“My circle got really small,” O’Connor says, of her life in the months after The New York Times story published. “I didn’t trust anybody. There’s a lot of duality and paradox in being publicly praised, but privately, your finances are falling apart, you’re losing the ability to relate to anybody, … you’re not sleeping, you’re losing weight no matter how much you eat, the press are knocking down your door. Your life is just not yours anymore.”

“There was something so simple about just telling the truth,” says O’Connor about documenting Weinstein’s pattern of abuse in a several-page internal memo she knew could end her career.
“There was something so simple about just telling the truth,” says O’Connor about documenting Weinstein’s pattern of abuse in a several-page internal memo she knew could end her career. Photographed by Jessica Chou

O’Connor’s memo was a key part of the paper’s Pulitzer Prize–winning package, and her words supplied a prominent pull quote in the page-one piece: “I am a 28-year-old woman trying to make a living and a career,” the Times quoted O’Connor’s memo as saying. “Harvey Weinstein is a 64-year-old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” This fall, movie audiences can hear O’Connor read her own words in the Universal movie She Said, an adaptation of the book by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the Times reporters who broke the Weinstein story.

It was a gutsy memo to send in any workplace, but especially at The Weinstein Co. in 2015, when Weinstein was still a feared and powerful executive with the ability to make and break careers with a single phone call. He had hired O’Connor in 2013, and she entered the company wide-eyed and eager to learn about development producing. “It was almost childlike, my level of excitement,” O’Connor says. “I was determined to prove myself.”

O’Connor grew up in a close-knit, Irish Italian Catholic family. Her father worked for the CIA, and she was born in Thailand and moved often — to Germany, Japan, Northern Virginia. “It sounds nerdy, but books were my friends,” she says. She studied English and media studies at the University of Virginia, and by the time Weinstein recruited her, she was a hungry young literary scout working for Marcy Drogin, one of the premier consultants studios hire to identify books to adapt. The opportunity seemed well worth enduring what O’Connor had heard about Weinstein. “I knew he was a tough boss,” she says. “I knew he was a yeller. But I didn’t know anything about his reputation with women. People talk about the whisper network, but if you were a baby executive like myself, you didn’t know.”

O’Connor quickly became an executive on the rise, working long hours and traveling with Weinstein. Her first indication of trouble came when she was flying private with him and he asked her to get a phone number for a flight attendant. Weinstein told O’Connor that the attendant had done a good job, and he wanted to hire her for future flights. Taking the request at face value, O’Connor did as she was asked but later learned from a colleague that Weinstein had used the number to ask the flight attendant out on a date and became angry after she turned him down. “I felt sick to my stomach,” O’Connor says. “I wish I had changed a digit.” The instinct that something was wrong was so vague and ephemeral, O’Connor didn’t know what to do with it. “How do you report, ‘Something feels off?’ It’s not normal to assume your boss is raping someone behind closed doors.”

There were other chilling moments. O’Connor was in a car with Weinstein when she heard him place a call to someone in the media about a woman named Ambra Gutierrez. It is Gutierrez, a Filipino Italian model, who alleged that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2015 and who wore a wire with him under the instruction of the NYPD. The New York District Attorney’s office declined to press charges against Weinstein at the time. The day after O’Connor watched Weinstein place this call, unflattering stories and photos of Gutierrez began appearing in the press. “The next day it’s bikini photos, articles making up scandals,” she says. “I just remember being terrified, terrified for this woman, terrified that I’m sitting next to a man who can do this, and feeling paralyzed.”

Around that same time, O’Connor was in L.A. with Weinstein, staying in her room at the Peninsula Hotel, when she got a knock at her door in the middle of the night. Before she worked at The Weinstein Co., in her early 20s, O’Connor had been sexually assaulted, and that experience, she says, would color everything that she did next. O’Connor answered the door to see one of Weinstein’s young female assistants looking distressed. “She didn’t say the full story of what happened at the time, but she said enough,” O’Connor says. “Having been assaulted myself, I recognized my own expressions on her face. It’s a certain kind of pain. I remember saying to her, ‘If you ever want to report this, I’ll back you up.'” The experience solidified O’Connor’s growing fears about Weinstein. “It was no longer a question of if that gut feeling was right, but more, how do you do something?” she says. “How do I say something without betraying her confidence and putting a target on her back?”

A few days later, O’Connor was in an edit bay with Weinstein in a room full of men. They had all been working for hours and Weinstein was frustrated and barking insults. He turned to O’Connor and apologized. “He said I looked like a young Maureen O’Hara, and a babe without my glasses on,” O’Connor says. She quickly realized, after months of watching Weinstein victimize other women, that she could report the offhand comment without endangering anyone else. “That was something that I could put on paper that only had to do with me.” O’Connor drafted an email to HR. In her mind, she was creating a record of Weinstein’s behavior so that if the assistant who had come to her hotel door wanted to report him, she wouldn’t be alone. At the end of the email to HR, she wrote, “This is not nearly the first time something of this nature has occurred.” That sentence was, she knew, a provocation.

O’Connor was called into a meeting with HR and told them she needed to speak with a lawyer, which she did. She went home that night and wrote down everything, every troubling interaction she had witnessed with Weinstein, with dates and locations. “Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Intellectually I knew I was about to blow up my life, and I was terrified. But there was also something so simple about just telling the truth.” In November 2015, O’Connor sent her several-page memo to the Weinstein executives. Her hope was that the company’s board would put a stop to his behavior. Within hours of her sending that memo, O’Connor says, Weinstein’s attorneys, David Boies and Alan Friedman, called her attorney. Within four days, she signed an agreement to leave the company, which included a withdrawal of her complaint and a settlement — after taxes, less than $75,000, roughly a year’s salary, which she spent on legal bills within a few months of the Times story running. O’Connor also asked for and got a letter stating that a withdrawal of her complaint was not a withdrawal of the allegations. “I needed a piece of paper that essentially said, ‘I’m not a liar, and this exit agreement does not mean I don’t stand by what I said.'” She signed a strict nondisclosure agreement (NDA). “I thought this was going to be a secret I had to carry my whole life,” she says of the contents of her memo, “that I could never talk to a future husband about, never tell my family about.”

Harvey Weinstein at a pretrial hearing in L.A. in 2021
Harvey Weinstein at a pretrial hearing in L.A. in 2021. Etienne Laurent-Pool/Getty Images

In early 2016, O’Connor moved to an apartment in Marina del Rey and started a job at Amazon. In 2017, the summer before the Times story ran, she got a phone call from someone claiming to be a reporter working on a story about the “seedy side of Hollywood.” When she googled the person, there was no record of them or their work. She realized the supposed reporter was working for Weinstein, fishing for information. “That was the first moment where I was like, ‘Oh, he’s watching me.’ ” Over the next couple of months, she also deflected inquiries from NBC producer Rich McHue, who was working on a Weinstein story with Ronan Farrow, and the Times’ Twohey. She heard from an industry friend that someone from the Times had called them trying to verify a document she had written. At this point, she says, “I’m terrified because of my NDA but also hopeful the truth comes to light but also horrified about what could happen to me if it does.” On Sept. 29, as she listened in silently, the Times reporters told her lawyers that her name and parts of her memo would be published; O’Connor’s lawyer asked that her name be withheld for her protection, but the Times declined.

Immediately after the Times story ran in 2017, O’Connor emailed the HR department at Amazon. “I said, ‘I did not leak this, do I need to be concerned about my employment?'” HR assured her that her job was safe and said if she needed to take time off, it would be no problem. Members of Amazon’s film team called to tell her they supported her. O’Connor credits her Amazon colleagues for backing her immediately, before the hashtag #MeToo began to trend. “It meant a lot that the team I was working with rallied around me, regardless of who he was in the business,” she says.

The next few weeks are a blur: O’Connor left L.A. for a while and stayed with family and friends, trying to process her sudden ubiquity in the news. “I felt my personhood reduced to a pull quote,” she says. As the story ballooned, she declined every interview request because of her NDA. In order to comply with the subsequent investigations of Weinstein, O’Connor needed to have a lawyer request that she be subpoenaed because of her NDA. Eventually, she found lawyers to help her pro bono, but by that point she had already taken on enormous debt. In March 2018, The Weinstein Co. announced in the press that it was lifting its NDAs, but the company never sent O’Connor or her lawyer anything to indicate that she was released. O’Connor was still afraid to speak, but she began to slowly pop her head out, participating in a documentary about Weinstein that went to Sundance in 2019 and talking on life coach Mike Bayer’s podcast.

In 2021, producer Dede Gardner reached out. Gardner knew O’Connor from when her company, Plan B, was working to make Barry Jenkins’ Underground Railroad adaptation at Amazon, and she was now producing She Said, the adaptation of the Times reporters’ book, to be directed by Maria Schrader and star Carey Mulligan as Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Kantor. “Lauren is fierce and formidable and fucking smart and such a reader,” Gardner says. “Her memo is a really important part of that story’s trajectory. We knew we wanted to hear the memo in the movie over the footage of the report. But I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if it were her voice that reads the memo?'” Though O’Connor was initially anxious about the experience, reading the memo for the film turned out to be healing. “I look back at my younger self and I’m like, ‘You did really good, kid,’ ” she says. O’Connor faults the practice of using NDAs with how voiceless she felt at the beginning of the news cycle but says, “The news had to come out, and the impact of that is greater than what I had to get through.”

Carey Mulligan (left) and Zoe Kazan as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor in She Said.
Carey Mulligan (left) and Zoe Kazan as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor in She Said. Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

This fall, O’Connor saw Weinstein in person for the first time since she left his company, in a downtown L.A. courthouse, where he faces seven counts of rape and sexual battery stemming from allegations made by four women who say he groped or raped them. If convicted as charged, Weinstein, who is serving a 23-year prison sentence in New York, would face a life sentence in California. “It was strange,” O’Connor says. “I don’t think it’s simply that he is sitting on trial, but more so where I am in my life that I realized he doesn’t have power anymore. I’m not afraid of him anymore.”

This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.