×
Skip to main content
Got a tip?
Newsletters

The Making of ‘She Said’: “We All Felt We Didn’t Want to Give Harvey Any More Airtime”

Director Maria Schrader’s drama, starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as the New York Times reporters who took down the mogul, offered an opportunity to honor the survivors, including a role for Ashley Judd.

There’s a photo of the moment right before The New York Times published its very first story about Harvey Weinstein’s systemic sexual harassment. Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor are there, along with their editors at the newspaper. They’re gathered around a computer, giving the story one last read and waiting to press the button that would change not just Hollywood, but the world, sparking a movement that would leap from country to country. The second that She Said screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz saw the picture, with a composition that’s sort of Washington Crossing the Delaware meets The Last Supper, she knew it had to be a pivotal moment in the movie. “It became this iconic image to me,” she says. The film that she would go on to write, about the now-famous journalists whose Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation kicked off the downfall of the most terrifying man in Hollywood and reignited Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement, doesn’t actually deal with any of that aftermath. Instead, it dedicates its two-plus hours to the work that led up to it.

Related Stories

She Said, which expands on the book of the same name, follows Twohey and Kantor after they begin receiving tips about Weinstein’s abusive behavior, tracing their professional and personal lives in 2016 and 2017 as they uncover more and more about the system that kept the film producer in power despite decades of whispers (and more than whispers). Dede Gardner, president of Plan B Entertainment, read the Times‘ article (“Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades”) like everybody else when it was published Oct. 5, 2017 — but she immediately looked to its byline. She reached out to the journalists, who were fielding calls from multiple filmmakers with an interest in the rights to their story, but they were still deeply entrenched in reporting the follow-ups to the original investigation, focusing on questions of complicity and enablement within the system, and the idea of a film felt as theoretical as holding Weinstein to account once did. “I was like, ‘Sure, let’s take a few minutes from actually investigating the movie producer to talk about the still-remote idea that a movie could be made about this,’ ” Kantor recalls with a laugh.

Gardner and her partners at Plan B won out thanks to their track record of bringing sensitive stories — like Moonlight — to the screen and their clear interest in prioritizing accuracy and integrity in the retelling. By 2018, Gardner was in London meeting with Lenkiewicz, a British playwright who had recently penned the script for Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience, the drama about a lesbian couple in the Orthodox Jewish community starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. “I’d read the [Times] article and been to the Women’s March, so the topic was very potent to me,” Lenkiewicz says of the proposal from Gardner to write a screenplay about the investigation. She said yes nearly immediately, and began informally interviewing Kantor and Twohey — everything from phone conversations about their reporting process to pancake breakfasts at Twohey’s Brooklyn home. All the while, the two reporters were working on the manuscript that became She Said, feeding Lenkiewicz chapters as they came in. “The book felt like a life raft [during the scriptwriting process],” Lenkiewicz says. “It was like swimming in an ocean and then, all of a sudden, here’s a boat.”

“We shot the Times newsroom scenes when the building was empty because of the pandemic,” says Kazan. “Going into the building, it was like everyone had been raptured.”
“We shot the Times newsroom scenes when the building was empty because of the pandemic,” says Kazan. “Going into the building, it was like everyone had been raptured.” Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

She Said is, in one way, a traditional newspaper thriller. The reporters meet sources in secret, they’re followed by mysterious SUVs (which we now know to be the ex-Mossad agents hired by Weinstein to track actresses and journalists he suspected might expose him), and attention is paid to the Times staff’s looming fear that what happened to these women might never make it to print. But in stark contrast to All the President’s Men or the more recent Spotlight, incredible attention is paid to the personal lives of the women investigating the story and the survivors whose accounts made the story possible. Director Maria Schrader, who boarded the project fresh from the critical success of her Netflix mini­series Unorthodox, leaned in to the onscreen vulnerability and intimacy she had honed during that project. Kantor and Twohey take phone calls while loading lunch boxes, they conduct research after putting children to bed, they coordinate child care with their husbands before leaving on a reporting trip. The survivors — Laura Madden, Rowena Chiu and Zelda Perkins are shown most prominently — are given full backstories. We see them as bright-eyed girls entering their dream jobs, and again as middle-aged women deep into their alternate lives, on the paths taken after Weinstein robbed them of everything. “I tried to give each character as much complexity as I could, to look at each of them as a potential protagonist of their own movie,” says Schrader. “I didn’t want anyone reduced to messengers to help the story evolve.”

Mulligan, as Twohey, interrogates Weinstein adviser Lanny Davis (played by Succession’s Peter Friedman) about payouts to women in the Times cafeteria. “A part of her really relished taking on these men,” she says of how she approached portraying the reporter.
Mulligan, as Twohey, interrogates Weinstein adviser Lanny Davis (played by Succession’s Peter Friedman) about payouts to women in the Times cafeteria. “A part of her really relished taking on these men,” she says of how she approached portraying the reporter. Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

That process actually began as Lenkiewicz wrote the script. She gave each of the women — famous and not — featured in Kantor and Twohey’s work the chance to decide the extent of their involvement in the project. Ashley Judd, whose account of assault at the hands of Weinstein led off the initial Times story, chose to play herself in the film. “I know she thought about it very carefully,” says the screenwriter. “She was so brave in speaking out, and had suffered a huge loss in her career because of Weinstein, and I imagine there was a sense of healing, and finding a voice, in being in the film.” Lenkiewicz went on a world tour of sorts to meet the other survivors. She met Madden, who was first assaulted by Weinstein in Dublin in the ’90s, at home in Wales. Perkins — who attempted to curtail Weinstein’s abusive behavior through the terms of her Miramax separation agreement and now campaigns against the use of NDAs — offered a long conversation in London’s Hyde Park (“She was so motivated,” says Lenkiewicz). She met Chiu in London, too — Chiu wasn’t ready to go public at the time of the initial Times story, but went on the record for the She Said book to describe her attempted rape. “I could see it was painful for her, but also very important that the truth continue to come out,” Lenkiewicz says. “Ultimately, with all the survivors’ storylines, I wanted to show the audience how something that happens to a woman in one night [can] have a lifetime effect.”

While the filmmakers, along with their studio backers at Universal, were searching for their onscreen Jodi and Megan in the spring of 2021, close friends Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan had been trying for years to find a project to act in together again. They’d both been in the 2008 Broadway production of The Seagull, and Mulligan starred in 2018’s Wildlife, co-written by Kazan and her offscreen partner, Paul Dano. When they were each sent the script in the spring of 2021, they couldn’t believe their luck. They’d both been closely following the fallout of the Times story and its impact on the #MeToo movement, which began in 2006 to give voice to survivors of sexual violence; the hashtag went newly viral in the wake of the Weinstein exposé. “I remember when the piece broke in 2017, my first thought was, ‘I wonder if this will matter,’ ” says Kazan. “He seemed so impenetrable. It felt like he had the whole history of the patriarchy behind him.” When the role came to Kazan, she immediately read the book and felt rapt by the nuts-and-bolts of their investigative work (“I’m a nerd, I love a paperwork story,” she says with a laugh).

“Carey and Zoe embody the spirit of Megan and Jodi so well,” says screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz. “I know that both journalists were hugely excited by them.”
“Carey and Zoe embody the spirit of Megan and Jodi so well,” says screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz. “I know that both journalists were hugely excited by them.” Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

Mulligan was coming down from the press cycle of Promising Young Woman, a movie that feels in conversation with the post-Weinstein #MeToo movement — the revenge fantasy for women at the end of their patriarchal rope. “My usual instinct is to run as far away as I can from whatever I’ve just done,” she says, explaining that it was the character of Megan that drew her in. “I could not wrap my head around how Megan has the ability to ring someone in the middle of their day, bring up potentially the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to them, and then ask to hear that story. The idea fills me with dread and anxiety, which then hooked me in because I love playing people that I don’t initially understand.”

She Said doesn’t call for impersonations of the real-life reporters — it’s not a biopic — but Kazan and Mulligan were emphatic about getting to know their counterparts. Mulligan and Twohey first met over Zoom, bonding quickly over their shared experience of postpartum depression (Twohey’s is shown in the film), and progressed to play dates after Mulligan and her family relocated to New York for filming. Kantor and Kazan, both Brooklynites, met for dinner and spoke on the phone “a ton,” according to Kazan, discovering they shared a preschool and a baker. “What Zoe is doing onscreen is sharing emotions [about the work] that I never thought anybody else would understand,” Kantor says. The actresses also had to work to untangle themselves from their own close friendship. Before the Weinstein investigation began, the two reporters were near-strangers, a bit unsure of each other and whether their partnership would be a match. “Zoe was a bridesmaid at my wedding,” Mulligan recalls, laughing enthusiastically. “We had to figure out what it would be like not to click immediately.”

From left: Director Maria Schrader on set in New York City with Mulligan and Kazan.
From left: Director Maria Schrader on set in New York City with Mulligan and Kazan. Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

Production began in August 2021, and the team front-loaded the scenes at the New York Times building in anticipation of a looming post-COVID return to office (that would eventually be delayed again in response to the omicron outbreak); Kantor and Twohey, who didn’t come to set because of COVID protocols and their investigative work, hadn’t been to the commanding glass tower on West 40th Street for a year and a half. “It was like everyone had been raptured,” Kazan says of walking in for the first time. “People’s decorations from Valentine’s Day 2020 were on their desks.”

Despite the glossiness of a well-budgeted studio film about one of the most famous newspapers in the world, there was a sense of heaviness to the process. Kantor and Twohey carried the horrors of the survivors’ experiences during the months they worked toward publication, and the actors held that same sadness, which Kazan says she endured thanks to being able to focus on parenting. She was filming She Said while Dano made Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, and was often flying back and forth across the country to see their toddler daughter or working on lines after bedtime. “This is your brain on motherhood,” she says. “Jodi would talk to me about going home to her daughter when they were reporting and getting a hit of her innocence, and that’s how I felt. It grounded me to have to put work aside and be with her.”

“I love playing people that I don’t initially understand,” says Mulligan (left, with Schrader).
“I love playing people that I don’t initially understand,” says Mulligan (left, with Schrader). Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

Mulligan turned, mostly, to gratitude. “When you’re making a film like this, you’re hyperaware of people who have not had the fortune I have, which is to come through this industry — and this life — relatively unscathed,” she says. “It’s pretend for me, but for so many people it’s not pretend.” She was also inspired by her offscreen counterpart’s approach to the job, which Mulligan describes as gamesmanship: a relishing of the chance to take on bad men. She recalls a particular scene in the film, in which Twohey questions Weinstein’s legal adviser Lanny Davis (played by Succession‘s Peter Friedman) about the number of payouts that Weinstein made to women. “That felt like a game of chess — she wanted the opportunity to come at him without any self-doubt, and she got a kick out of getting him to admit the truth,” she says. “And that was fun to play.”

Cinematographer Natasha Braier.
Cinematographer Natasha Braier. Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

There’s an elephant in the room here, of course, and his name is Harvey Weinstein. The Oct. 5, 2017, story is ostensibly about him — his sexual deviance, his criminal behavior, his willingness to go to every length possible to hold on not only to power but to the ability to continue his abuse — but the movie, decidedly, is not. The movie is about women. Weinstein is a figure, seen briefly from the back of his head, but he’s never depicted in full. She Said also includes the entire NYPD-recorded conversation between the producer and Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who spoke to him while wearing a wire the day after he attacked her in a hotel room. DP Natasha Braier’s camera travels steadily through four luxury hotel floors, room doors closed as a metaphor for the terrifying behavior that happened in these populous places. “We all felt we didn’t want to give Harvey any more airtime than he deserved, but we wanted people to hear, for real, the way that he behaved with women,” says Lenkiewicz. Schrader adds that it felt revolutionary to be allowed by the studio to dedicate long scenes to lengthy accounts of the survivors: “I’m so grateful to give this space to the women who came forward, and it allows us to go deeper into questions like ‘What does it mean to be a woman growing up in a male-dominated world?’ and ‘Is it possible to change the world you’re born into?’ “

On the set of a scene including Kantor (Kazan, right) with Weinstein Co. lieutenant Irwin Reiter (Zach Grenier), before he turns over a copy of a damning memo, written by junior exec Lauren O’Connor, that proved pivotal to the Times investigation.
On the set of a scene including Kantor (Kazan, right) with Weinstein Co. lieutenant Irwin Reiter (Zach Grenier), before he turns over a copy of a damning memo, written by junior exec Lauren O’Connor, that proved pivotal to the Times investigation. Courtesy of Jojo Whilden/Universal Pictures

When She Said was in its final stages of edits, the filmmakers invited Twohey and Kantor, along with their husbands, to see an early cut. When the credits rolled, and Kantor checked her phone, she saw a push notification informing her that Roe v. Wade had been overturned. She spoke to THR for this story on the morning of the midterm elections, a day when women’s rights were being further litigated — in many circumstances by men. It’s a strange sensation, she agrees, to release a book about your work into a world that has drastically altered itself to allow for the stories of women to be heard, and for the punishment of bad men, and then two years later to release the film into an environment that feels less than that. But Kantor wants viewers to know that even in the hardest moments she found her reporting work galvanizing; Twohey hopes the film will have the same effect on viewers. Mulligan and Kazan see She Said as a love letter to the power of investigative journalism; Lenkiewicz sees the film as a testament to women working together. “It’s a challenging time right now, and it’s important that people tune in to what is extraordinary,” she says, “and find strength there.”

Former New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, editor Rebecca Corbett and reporters Twohey and Kantor pore over a final version of their Harvey Weinstein investigation.
Former New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, editor Rebecca Corbett and reporters Twohey and Kantor pore over a final version of their Harvey Weinstein investigation. Courtesy of Susanne Craig

This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.