Four Actresses Accuse 'Alias Grace' Actor Albert Schultz of Sexual Misconduct
Toronto's Soulpepper Theater has launched an investigation as Schultz, the theater's artistic director, resigns and vows to "vehemently defend myself."
Four TV actresses have brought separate lawsuits against Canadian actor and director Albert Schultz, alleging he sexually assaulted and harassed them while he was artistic director of Soulpepper Theater Company in Toronto.
The four performers are Orphan Black star Kristin Booth, Diana Bentley (Netflix's Frontier), Hannah Miller (Saving Hope, Dark Matter) and Patricia Fagan (Murdoch Mysteries). The actresses claim Schultz harassed them during 30 separate incidents over a 13-year period while they performed onstage and in rehearsals for Soulpepper.
The board of directors at Soulpepper in a statement said the theater troupe had started an "immediate investigation" and requested that Schultz step down as artistic director while the probe takes place. Schultz in his own statement late Wednesday said he had taken a leave of absence, as the four legal claims represented "serious allegations against me which I do not take lightly. I intend to vehemently defend myself."
Late Thursday, Soulpepper said it had accepted the resignation of Schultz amid "a tremendously difficult chapter" in the company's history.
Soulpepper executive director Leslie Lester, who is married to Schultz, also took a "voluntary leave of absence" as the investigation is conducted. There's no word from Soulpepper on her future. "As a responsible organization, Soulpepper's priority is to create a workplace where all its employees feel safe. It therefore takes all the allegations of harassment very seriously," the company's board said in its statement.
Alexi Wood, lawyer for the four actresses, on Wednesday told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement that "Mr. Schultz abused his power for years. My clients fully intend to hold him and Soulpepper Theater Company accountable. Their brave lawsuit is the first step towards righting this incredible wrong."
Wood confirmed the four women filed the lawsuits in Ontario Superior Court. "The actresses claim that while they were under contract with Soulpepper, they were sexually assaulted and harassed by its artistic director, Mr. Schultz, and that Soulpepper did nothing to protect them," reads Wood's statement.
Fagan's statement of claim obtained by THR alleges Schultz engaged in "mocking, belittling and bullying" of female castmembers at Soulpepper, and during a 2000 rehearsal for Twelfth Night at one point she "felt him push his penis against me" as he stepped in as director to advise on an intimate scene.
The suit also recounts a parking lot incident where Fagan and Booth, also a castmember at the time, were asked by Schultz as "an acting exercise" to go through a list of male Soulpepper company members and tell him who they would most like to sleep with. "Patricia (Fagan) felt uncomfortable and humiliated," the statement of claim continues, and yet she felt she had to "acquiesce to Albert's demand" and make comments on her male castmates because she was new to the theater world.
Fellow actress Booth in her suit also recounted the parking lot scene, where "it became clear from Albert's reaction and enticement that he expected and wanted them to say, 'I would fuck Albert Schultz,' and more importantly, make him believe it was true, with failure to do so meaning a lack of commitment."
Booth also alleges she faced "unwanted hugs, kisses and touching" by Schultz while working at Soulpepper and felt she had to submit without complaint "to avoid abuse or other reprisal, which could include an end to her career" at the theater troupe.
Bentley in her statement recounts receiving her first professional acting job at Soulpepper, which included a 2011 role in Our Town, where co-star Schultz had her helping him put on his coat for an onstage costume change. The suit alleges that on "numerous occasions" Schultz slapped Bentley's buttocks in an "unwanted and sexual manner" out of the audience's view.
When confronted by Bentley about the onstage harassment, the statement of claim says Schultz responded, "'I have no idea what you're talking about' and walked right passed her." Miller in her suit similarly recounts being mocked by the Soulpepper artistic director during rehearsals and accuses Schultz of being a "serial sexual predator."
"On multiple occasions, Albert forcibly touched Hannah in a sexual way. Albert's assaults were an intentional and unconsented invasion of Hannah's bodily security. Albert was able to do this because of his power at Soulpepper and because of the fear he instilled in Hannah," the suit states.
Schultz is best known to Canadians as a co-star on the early 1990s CBC legal drama Street Legal. His more recent TV credits include Netflix's Alias Grace and BBC America's Copper.
Schultz is also executive producer on the CBC comedy Kim's Convenience, which was adapted from an original Soulpepper play of the same name and is independently produced by Thunderbird Films. A CBC spokesperson told THR that the public broadcaster has urged Thunderbird to "take the necessary actions to ensure a safe and respectful workplace" in light of the allegations against Schultz made public on Wednesday.
Thunderbird in a statement to THR said Schultz, as one of several executive producers on Kim's Convenience, has "no active role in the day-to-day production" of the series. "We are saddened to hear about the allegations and have the utmost respect for the complainants and due process," the indie producer added.
Ted Dykstra, a co-founder along with Schultz of Soulpepper, in a statement obtained by THR threw his support behind "our colleagues who have come forward with a suit against Albert Schultz and Soulpepper Theater. It is our hope that, by supporting them, we are sending a message to organizations everywhere: Sexual harassment in the workplace cannot be tolerated. By anyone."
Dykstra and three other Soulpepper artists — Stuart Hughes, Michelle Monteith and Rick Roberts — who have resigned from the theater company were on hand Thursday at a press conference where the four women, with their lawyers in tow, said working conditions at Soulpepper were unsafe for actors and that hypocrisy and the #MeToo campaign led them to file lawsuits against Schultz and his company.
"There's a window open for women like myself, Diana, Trish and Hannah, and all the other women we have heard from who have suffered at the hands of Albert and others like him," Booth told the presser. She added that a public statement from Soulpepper in October 2017 touting its anti-harassment policy after longtime guest artist Laszlo Marton was let go over allegations of sexual harassment was news to her.
"Knowing the culture of that place, the hypocrisy of that statement motivated me to come forward so this doesn't happen to one other young woman coming up into that company," Booth said. Bentley told the press conference that Soulpepper doesn't offer actors a safe workplace, "certainly not for an actor whose desire and training leads them to be open and vulnerable and delve into passion. There's a sanctity of the theater that's been violated."
Miller said being a victim of alleged sexual harassment was a "lonely and scary" experience, until she connected recently with her fellow Soulpepper castmembers. "One of the powerful things that has happened is we've found each other and we found the strength and realized we're not alone, and our fear of being alone is unfounded. We found power and strength and a unified voice," she told the presser.
The claims against Schultz follow similar allegations being made against top entertainment producers in French-speaking Quebec and against entertainment figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and others.
Jan. 3, 1:45 p.m. Updated with information from the statements brought by the four actresses against Schultz and filed in the Ontario Superior Court. Also updated with a statement from Soulpepper Theater Company about launching an internal investigation, a statement from Schultz over the allegations made against him and comments from a press conference by the four accusers.
Jan. 4: Updated with information from the press conference, and an announcement from Soulpepper that Albert Schultz had resigned.