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Like many of the women and men who have spoken out since the New York Times and New Yorker exposés unearthed decades of alleged sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of the powerful Hollywood movie mogul, the British actress says she didn’t know about the accusations. She does, however, know firsthand about Weinstein’s “bullying” behavior, which is why hearing the stories now doesn’t come as a surprise.
His Miramax studio at one point owned the 2005 family film she starred in, Nanny McPhee. “They were very difficult and obstructive, because his bullying behavior patterns also existed in his business world,” she said during a 12-minute sitdown on BBC’s Newsnight with Emily Maitlis. “So my main contact with him was shouting at him down the phone that I never wanted to work with him ever, ever, ever.” After calling him out, she says he looked “frightened” and avoided her during business meetings. “Whenever I was in a room with him, he gave off the most appalling aura.”
When his The Weinstein Co. produced 2007’s Brideshead Revisited, Thompson also threatened to walk away from the film when producers told her co-star, Hayley Atwell, that she had to lose weight. “I will always speak up and take someone’s head off if I see anything like that happen,” she said, clarifying that her protest was not aimed at Weinstein specifically.
Though she did not know about his alleged behavior against women, which has been exposed now by more than 30 women and includes four allegations of rape, she was far from shocked to hear them come to light. As of Thursday, both New York and London police had opened investigations.
“They’re endemic to the system,” said the 58-year-old star of the male-dominated Hollywood world — one in which Weinstein had long sat firmly and comfortably at the top of. “This man is at the top of a very particular iceberg. I don’t think you can describe him as a sex addict — he’s a predator. There’s a difference. What he’s at the top of the ladder of is a system of harassment and belittling and bullying and interference, and what my mother would have referred to in the olden days as ‘pestering.'”
Explaining, “This has been part of our world — women’s world — since time immemorial.”
Thompson, currently starring in Netflix’s The Meyerowitz Stories, says Weinstein’s behavior is part of the “crisis in extreme masculinity,” one that is not only accepted but that is also represented by “the most powerful man in the world at the moment,” referring to President Donald Trump. And many of these such men, she says, exist in Hollywood.
“Maybe not to that degree,” she said of the comparison to Weinstein. “Do they have to all be as bad as him to make it count? Does it only count if you’ve done it to loads and loads of women? Or does it count if you’ve done it to one woman, once. I think the latter.”
Also Thursday, actress Tippi Hedren took to her Facebook to echo Thompson’s opinion that Weinstein is nothing new, “nor is limited to the entertainment industry.” Hedren, 87, who detailed how director Alfred Hitchcock allegedly sexually harassed her in a memoir last year, applauded women standing up, even it has taken 50 years for people to listen.
Thompson, an Oscar winner and veteran film actress, looks back on her acting experience and calls herself one of the lucky ones.
“I’ve had education. I’m white, which makes it easier for me to speak up, for instance, over any women of color,” she said. “I’ve worked sort of independently until I was 30 so I was always extremely feminist, extremely aware of the oppressions and well, just the little run of small cruelties, humiliations that women all experience.”
She added, “You speak to any women over the age of 50 and they will all have a story of some kind of harassment.” She then named as examples her daughter being “felt up on the tube” the other day, being 9 years old and “some magician sticking his tongue down my throat,” or being in the elevator with “an older powerful man who I was getting along with quite well when I was 24 and who suddenly lunged at me.”
“Everybody’s got stories like that,” she said. “Everyone.”
“Endemic” is a word she encouraged people to use throughout the interview. “I spent my 20s trying to get old men’s tongues out of my mouth, so I would imagine that happens very regularly. Perhaps this is a moment where we can say to men and women: Open your eyes and open your mouths, and say something.”
Many have wondered why it took so long for these stories to come out. When asked her thoughts, Thompson likened Weinstein to the shocking Jimmy Savile sexual assault scandal in 2012 and the people around the BBC star who were complicit during his years of predator and pedophilia behavior. After Savile’s death, an investigation uncovered Savile abused at least 500 girls and boys, some as young as 2, and countless adults, and that he allegedly committed sexual acts on dead bodies.
“Some of the agents may have said, ‘Oh, he’s a little bit oily, he might pester you a bit, but go in,'” she surmised about Weinstein’s power. “One of the big problems about the way in which our systems work at the moment is that there are so many blind eyes. We can’t keep making the women to whom this happens responsible. ‘They’re the ones who have got to speak.’ Why? We’ve got to look and say, ‘this is happening.’ And say, ‘This is happening.'”
About that “conspiracy of silence,” Thompson said frankly, “There were probably about a million missed opportunities to call this man out on his disgusting behavior.”
While many Weinstein collaborators have come out to say they were unaware of the accusations, and specifically that he paid eight settlements to women as detailed in the Times, there are also many who have acknowledged that they long heard the rumors of what is being deemed one of Hollywood’s biggest open secrets.
Jane Fonda said she found a year ago out about Weinstein’s misconduct from Rosanna Arquette, one of the women who came forward in The New Yorker, and was “ashamed” that she didn’t say anything then. George Clooney said he had heard rumors since the ’90s, Jessica Chastain said she had been “warned” about the mogul and Ryan Gosling said he was “deeply disappointed” in himself for being so oblivious. Seth Rogen recounted working with the mogul 10 years ago, and vowing never to work with him again after the experience. None of these stars, however, had witnessed anything specific and even The Hollywood Reporter‘s Kim Masters detailed how his behavior was “maddeningly, infuriatingly impossible” to pin down.
“Women’s only choice they see is this choice that isn’t a choice,” she said of how wrong the system is since there aren’t enough women at the top to support those below. “There are not nearly enough women, particularly in Hollywood, in positions of power. There aren’t enough women at the top of the tree in the studios who could perhaps balance it out. There aren’t enough women on set. Crews can be very [gestured] with women in particular. There just aren’t enough women.”
Citing the process of the “casting couch” and confirming how women sometimes won’t get the part if they don’t agree to male producers and directors and their sexual demands, Thompson said, “This is a gender dysfunction and the other thing it is is a public health issue. This is not about one man’s crimes against women. This is about our system’s imbalances, our system’s gender crisis and we have to act on this. What it means is naturally vulnerable people are going to be preyed upon whether Harvey Weinstein goes to jail or not.”
Thompson also admitted that she was persuaded by director Mike Nichols to sign a petition in support of Roman Polanski against his extradition, until she was called on it by women who brought his rape accusations to her attention. “I had been wrong. I had been bamboozled not only by Mike’s influence over me but also by my respect for his art,” she said. Her fear is that people will only remember the names of these men, including Weinstein’s, and not say, “What we need to do is change this.”
Adding her name to the growing voices, she said, “Hollywood can and must change.”
Swiftly, many heard her call and took to sharing Thompson’s interview — one of the most thoughtful reactions yet to the story that has swept up Hollywood for more than a week. Debra Messing, Sam Smith, Billy Eichner, Emmy Rossum and Sarah Paulson all praised her messages on their own Twitter accounts, while Ben Stiller poignantly wrote: “Emma Thompson is right and all of us men need to get the reality of what it is to be a woman in show business and the world.”
In response to the allegations, Weinstein has said through spokesperson Sallie Hofmeister: “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”
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