Brett Ratner Harassment Claims Turn Spotlight on Friendship With Warner Bros. CEO
Questions about Kevin Tsujihara’s relationship with Ratner have come into focus in the wake of reports about the filmmaker’s alleged sexual misconduct.
In the weeks before AT&T made its $85 billion offer for Time Warner in October 2016, chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes got a call from a senior Hollywood executive who said he had heard worrisome industry chatter about the social activities of Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara, including his close relationship with the filmmaker and producer Brett Ratner.
A Time Warner spokesman confirms that Bewkes took the call and told this individual to talk to Tsujihara if he thought there was cause for concern. But the executive, who is not employed by Time Warner, never did.
Questions about the Warner Bros. studio and Tsujihara’s relationship with Ratner have come into focus in the wake of reports about the filmmaker’s alleged sexual misconduct. The Warners chairman has been known to travel and socialize with Ratner and his former partner James Packer, whose RatPac Entertainment co-financed the Warners film slate.
In 2012, Ratner, the director of such films as the Rush Hour series and Tower Heist, formed RatPac with Packer, the Australian billionaire and investor. RatPac, together with now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s Dune Entertainment, then invested $450 million in a slate of 75 Warners films.
The RatPac deal closed in 2013, after Tsujihara, a longtime Warners exec in home video and digital, had taken over as chief executive of the studio. RatPac’s financing arrangement brought two high-flying figures into the Warners orbit. A source with close ties to Warners says Tsujihara had been advised by another industry figure to avoid getting into business with Ratner in the first place. “He did it anyway,” this executive says. (A Warners source says Tsujihara also heard from a number of top industry figures urging him to make the RatPac deal.)
The Los Angeles Times reported on Nov. 1 that six women had accused Ratner of sexual misconduct, including actress Natasha Henstridge, who said that in the early 1990s Ratner had forced her, then a 19-year-old model, to perform oral sex on him. Actress Olivia Munn said Ratner had masturbated in front of her in 2004 and spread false rumors that they had been intimate. Through his lawyer, Marty Singer, Ratner denied the allegations.
Even before the claims were made public, Ratner had a dubious reputation in Hollywood, and many were surprised when he was included in the RatPac-Warners deal in an executive capacity. Ratner was considered a filmmaker of low-brow studio fare who boasted of his jet-setting lifestyle and sexual prowess, relationships with celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, and late nights out on the town. He idolized the producer Robert Evans, long known for a playboy lifestyle and seven marriages, and lived for a time in his house.
RatPac rented a lavish office on the Burbank lot that formerly belonged to Frank Sinatra. Because of his self-image and, of course, the name of his company, inhabiting that particular office was important to Ratner. The office was occupied by another producer but Packer paid him $2 million to vacate, according to a knowledgeable source.
Ratner expanded the RatPac space, adding a screening room. Already in place was an enormous bathroom. “There’s a daybed in the bathroom, black wall, black-and-white photos,” says a person who has been in Ratner’s office. “You wonder why someone needs that.”
Ratner, who owns a stake in the Hilhaven Lodge whiskey company, has said he doesn’t drink alcohol but this person says Ratner offered whiskey to talent and executives in his office “at all hours. ... It’s behavior that we write off as funny but it was really unprofessional.” Another source says people came and went at that office, even on weekends.
Ratner is known for forming bonds with important Hollywood players with outings to Las Vegas and by inviting them on Packer’s enormous yacht. One mogul he befriended was Tsujihara. According to sources, Tsujihara became a close associate of Ratner’s, attending industry events with him and socializing and traveling with him. Tsujihara was at times seen drinking heavily in work settings such as premieres and events where alcohol was served, though sources say Tsujihara’s behavior has improved recently.
At the same time, several red flags were raised about Ratner in the media, and his reputation for aggressive pursuit of women was well-known on the Warners lot.
A source with knowledge of RatPac’s work environment says Ratner filled his office with beautiful young women. “It’s unclear what some of them do,” this person says. “One of them would go wherever he was and she would just wait for him outside of meetings. It seemed that role was different from an assistant role.”
In her 2011 book, actress Olivia Munn described an incident with an unnamed director who harassed her and masturbated in front of her. Ratner later outed himself as the director but denied masturbating in front of her, claiming the two had “dated.”
In August 2014, THR reported that stylist Lauryn Flynn sued Ratner for injuries she allegedly suffered at his home during a party after the premiere of Ratner’s film Hercules. Flynn said she went into Ratner's basement, where a DJ was performing for 100 to 200 people. She said that someone had accidentally broken a glass table and that she tore her Achilles tendon when glass shards struck her in the leg. Flynn’s suit said she was taken to the hospital that night by Uber and that no one called 911 because "it would have generated bad publicity for Brett." Flynn alleged that Ratner was overheard saying, "People get hurt here all the time. Just clean it up."
Last August, Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh accused Ratner of rape and called him a "sleaze" and "the epitome of casting couch" in a series of since-deleted tweets.
Packer, who is said to have lost millions in RatPac, left the deal in early 2017 but was replaced by another jet-setting billionaire, Len Blavatnik. With Tsujihara’s blessing, Blavatnik’s Access Entertainment, which also owns Warner Music Group, bought out Packer’s share and kept Ratner as CEO.
Since the allegations about Ratner became public, he is no longer on the lot, although RatPac still occupies its offices. A studio source says its contract will end in spring 2018.
Tsujihara, who has engaged litigator Bert Deixler, declined to comment. A rep for Warners also declined to comment.
Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.