Director of Harvey Weinstein-Inspired Movie Interviewed Hundreds of Insiders

The Assistant Still - Publicity - H 2020
Ty Johnson/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

"The complicated thing about this script is that people can be victims and victimizers at the same time," says Kitty Green of 'The Assistant,' which stars Julia Garner. "They're just trying to survive."

Kitty Green did not set out to make the first movie about Harvey Weinstein. For her follow-up to Casting JonBenet — a 2017 genre-bender that mixed documentary interviews with re-enactments — the 35-year-old Australian director was developing a project about "consent and power structures on college campuses," she says.

It was Oct. 5, 2017 — just over a year after Stanford undergrad Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in jail for felony sexual assault — and Green was interviewing a group of Stanford students. That's when she was interrupted by a news alert on her phone — the New York Times story alleging Weinstein's serial abuse.

"A lot of my friends had worked at places like The Weinstein Co. and Miramax and had worked for predatory bosses," says Green of her decision to shift her film's focus to show business. She went on to interview more than 100 people in the industry — from assistants to actresses to executives — about their experiences working within Hollywood power structures.

The result is The Assistant, a meticulous re-creation of a day in the life of Jane, an assistant to a Weinstein-esque figure at the height of his power. (The film was shot over 18 days in an office in midtown Manhattan.) The boss is never seen — we only catch him bellowing at Jane on the telephone, or hear him laughing with a young starlet inside his office. Julia Garner, 25, an Emmy winner for her work on Ozark, plays Jane as competent and ambitious — but increasingly alienated as she uncovers the truth about her employer.

The clues pile up: She finds a stray earring on the floor. She scrubs stains off a couch. She plucks used syringes out of a garbage can. (According to The New York Times, Weinstein's assistants delivered penile injections to his hotel rooms before meetings with women.) When she's forced to train a young model from Idaho as an assistant — her boss flies her to New York and puts her up in a luxury hotel — Jane reports what she knows to HR. That executive, in an expertly spineless turn by Succession star Matthew Macfadyen, convinces Jane that speaking out could cost her a career.

The point of the film is not to cast blame on enablers, but to shed light on the circumstances that can lead to a Weinstein-type scenario — a pattern that Green's research suggests is typical and not restricted to one industry. "The complicated thing about this script is that people can be victims and victimizers at the same time," she says. "They're just trying to survive. They're trying to figure out how they can get ahead in a hideous workplace." Adds Garner: "The goal is to be moved or connected in some kind of way, good or bad, and let people know that they are not alone. I knew this wasn't going to be a gummy-bears-and-popcorn kind of film."

The film premiered in August in Telluride, after which Bleecker Street Media picked up domestic rights for a Jan. 31 theatrical release in New York and L.A., expanding nationwide in February — conveniently timed to coincide with the Weinstein criminal trial, which begins Jan. 6. Among those monitoring the proceedings closely are Green, who says she was "devastated" by the $25 million civil suit settlement reached between Weinstein and dozens of accusers Dec. 11. "The film, whilst it's a personal and intimate story, is dealing with bigger structural issues and problems," she says. "And this settlement is another clear example of that — in that it's clearly unable to address the injustices that these women have faced."

Green says in recent weeks she's encountered multiple interviewees whose stories contributed to The Assistant, former TWC staffers among them. Several have seen the film and are proud of her for making it, she says. For others, watching it was a near-torturous experience. Mostly, it's given them a moment for reflection. "Everyone's confused," Green says. "They're looking back at their own histories and asking, 'What did I know?' "

This story first appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.