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It seemed to be, in the words of one observer, “the most epic midlife crisis you can possibly imagine.”
When director Neil Marshall met Charlotte Kirk during the 2017 production of Hellboy, some of his associates looked on in disbelief and dismay. The British helmer, now 50, seemed instantly and genuinely besotted with the aspiring actress, then in her mid-20s. He reacted with anger when Hellboy producer Larry Gordon — apparently unimpressed with Kirk’s acting — refused to cast her in the film. At that point, sources say, Marshall — who had directed films as well as episodes of Game of Thrones and Westworld — proclaimed that he would devote himself entirely to making movies with Kirk.
Now, Marshall finds himself a player in the scandal that ended the careers of two top Hollywood players: former Warner Bros. chairman Kevin Tsujihara, 55, who exited last year, and Ron Meyer, 76, who shocked Hollywood in August when he stepped down as NBCUniversal vice chairman. Recent THR reporting has revealed a flurry of legal proceedings involving Kirk and a cast of Hollywood heavyweights — including, as was revealed in August, Meyer.
At the time, Meyer released a statement alleging that he had been the victim of an extortion attempt by third parties following an affair years earlier — with Kirk, as THR first revealed. Meyer’s allegation was quickly associated with Marshall and Joshua Newton, a previous boyfriend of Kirk’s who also hoped to direct her in movies.
In a lengthy statement to THR, Marshall, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing in his dealings with Meyer, offers his perspective on events leading up to this moment, including epic battles during the making of Hellboy as financier Avi Lerner, 72, attempted to force producer Gordon to cast Kirk in the movie. The goal, as alleged in court records, was to silence Kirk with respect to her entanglements with Tsujihara and other major industry players. (Lerner did not respond to requests for comment.)
Marshall asks a question regarding Meyer’s resignation and statement that has been pondered by many in the industry: “Why does he claim he’s being ‘extorted’? Over what? According to Mr. Meyer, a brief ‘consensual affair’ he had 8 years ago? His marriage ended 2 years ago, so that can’t be the reason.” Marshall continues: “Why, if NBC is supposedly conducting an independent inquiry into his conduct, have my lawyers not been contacted about any of this?” Meyer denies any misconduct.
On the surface, Marshall’s romance with Kirk disrupted a solid career, though not without its trouble spots. He cut his teeth making horror films, getting Hollywood’s attention with 2005 hit The Descent. He segued more into television, with directing credits that included two episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones. (He stepped in two weeks before production to helm the battle-heavy “Blackwater” episode after the original director had a personal emergency; Marshall returned two years later and earned an Emmy nomination for helming “The Watchers on the Wall.”)
Before he started Hellboy, Marshall directed early episodes of Netflix’s reboot of the family-friendly series Lost in Space but according to sources, he was dismissed due to what one insider describes as “multiple complaints” from women on the set. A spokesperson for Legendary confirms Marshall was dismissed. Sources allege that Marshall asked women for dates, and while the alleged conduct wasn’t aggressive (that is, Marshall did take no for an answer), these sources say Legendary investigated the claims. “He was, like, dialing for dollars,” says one person involved in the situation. “You can’t do that in any environment, but especially if you’re the director.”
Other sources say there was also creative tension on the project. “It’s a family, event kind of thing, and he had very dark instincts about violence that was never going to happen on a show for 12-year-olds,” says one person involved in the situation. Adds another, “Had it been going fantastically well, I’m not sure they would have pushed this investigation as hard as they did.” A Lost in Space insider who became friendly with Marshall during production describes him as a socially awkward Brit who made solid contributions to setting the tone of the show but confirms the creative conflict and the dismissal.
Marshall says he has never engaged in unprofessional conduct on any production and disputes that he was dismissed from the show, though he acknowledges asking a crewmember out. “She said no thanks. We didn’t go. That was that,” he says. “I gather there was a complaint made and I was interviewed about it, but whatever conclusions they reached I never heard anything more on the subject. … I was not dismissed from Lost in Space and am I still an executive producer on the show.” He acknowledges creative differences, not because he wanted to make the show darker but because he wanted “to embrace more complex science fiction ideas.”
Natalie Mendoza, one of the leads in Marshall’s 2005 horror film The Descent, writes in a letter forwarded to THR by Marshall’s attorney that her experiences with the director were positive: “He was a director who was ahead of his time when it came to having a well-established code of professional conduct. He had the utmost respect for all the female actors.”
Following Lost in Space, Marshall went off to make Hellboy, where he would meet Kirk. In his statement to THR, Marshall included an image of a May 12, 2017, email from Lerner saying he wanted Kirk cast in the film. “I think she would be good for the role,” Lerner wrote. “Also I have another reason which I would like to talk to you about.” Marshall — on his way to falling in love — was enthusiastic about casting Kirk but met resistance from producer Gordon, who had creative control.
In his statement, Marshall says that on July 22, 2017, Lerner told him that casting Kirk “would save my life, it would save a lot of people’s life.” (Lerner is Israeli and not a native English speaker.) At that point, Marshall says he unexpectedly found himself caught up in a situation involving powerful men such as Tsujihara and Meyer, who wanted to keep their involvement with Kirk secret. “All I could do was keep my head down and try and get through it,” he says.
Marshall says that while he wanted to cast Kirk because he thought she was right for the part, “the truth is that Avi Lerner was the most upset when Larry Gordon refused to cast Charlotte in the movie, because it was Avi and Ron Meyer who were most invested in getting her in the movie.” He adds that on Aug. 4 of that year, Lerner told him, “We offer $2 million to Mr. Larry Gordon [to cast Kirk], which I said I’d pay him by myself. I just want him out of my life, I really don’t like the man.” Gordon declined to comment. Lerner’s role in casting Kirk in this and other films is at issue in a lawsuit recently filed by Kirk.
Hellboy, which was released in April 2019, had not yet hit theaters when THR published texts revealing that Tsujihara had attempted to use his position to help Kirk get roles following an involvement that began with a 2013 late night meeting at the Hotel Bel-Air. Texts and legal documents appear to raise questions as to whether their initial encounter was consensual. Through his attorney, Tsujihara says the relationship was “entirely consensual.”
Working alongside Tsuihara to silence Kirk was billionaire James Packer, who had been in his own relationship with Kirk and introduced her to Tsujihara, telling her that the Warners chief could help her fulfill her acting aspirations. Also involved in the effort was Packer’s producing partner at the time, Brett Ratner. Attorney Marty Singer, who represents Packer, Ratner and Avi Lerner, asserts that these men have been the victims of an “extortion plot perpetrated by Charlotte Kirk, her former boyfriend, Joshua Newton, and her latest paramour, Neil Marshall.”
Marshall acknowledges making a claim against Meyer; it’s possible that was a tipping point that prompted Meyer to confess his affair with Kirk to NBCUniversal chief executive Jeff Shell. In 2019, Meyer secretly reached a $2.5 million settlement with Kirk, but was then confronted with a legal threat from Newton, who apparently felt he had been promised the chance to direct a film for Universal. They began a mediation that was underway when Marshall made what he calls “a legitimate claim” against Meyer.
Marshall doesn’t spell out the nature of that claim in his statement, but it appears that he believed Meyer had agreed to make a film with Kirk that Marshall would direct. Marshall says the parties were in the process of finding a judge to act as mediator when Meyer abruptly stepped down, making a public statement alleging that unnamed parties “continuously attempted to extort me into paying them money.” Meyer did not offer specifics or name individuals.
While Marshall quickly issued statements denying any misconduct, Meyer’s lawyer, Howard Weitzman, said, “The people who made the extortionate demands will at some point be accountable for what they did. Written words are powerful evidence.” He has declined further comment.
Marshall acknowledges that he threatened to take his name off Hellboy — a move that would be seen as potentially damaging the film’s box-office prospects — and that he ultimately agreed to leave his credit in place based on Lerner’s alleged promise to put up $2 million to finance a film that would star Kirk. A person with knowledge of the situation asserts that Marshall said at the time, “They’re all bad people. I’m doing my bit to try to get a movie made with the woman that I love and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Why Lerner ultimately did not finance Marshall’s movie is unclear, but the director has recently filed suit in L.A. Superior Court alleging that Lerner failed to pay him a $500,000 kill fee for the project.
How Marshall’s next project — and his first starring Kirk — was financed is not clear, and he did not address the question in his statement. The Reckoning, about a woman accused of witchcraft, was announced late in 2018 and premiered in August at the Fantasia International Film Festival. A panel featuring Marshall and Kirk was canceled at the last minute when the Meyer story broke.
In the wake of the Meyer revelations, Marshall quickly lost his agency, Verve, and manager at Artists First; it is unclear what projects he may have on the horizon. “It seems I’m being targeted for disintegration by powerful men who are utilizing the full extent of their personal PR machines to discredit me and ruin my reputation and credibility,” he writes in his statement. “If Mr. Meyer wants to accuse me of something genuine, why not just come out and accuse me directly? And if not, then why doesn’t he do the right and honourable thing and tell the truth — there was no extortion, just the risk of a lawsuit that would adjudicate my valid claims.”
Weitzman says Marshall appears to be asserting that Meyer had committed to a movie with a director he had never met: “The claim that any studio executive — let alone the vice chairman of NBCUniversal — would promise to hire someone they had never met, nor spoken with, to direct a film, to commit to financing the project, and to make the stranger’s girlfriend the lead is a ludicrous proposition, and in this case, is false.”
At the heart of the sordid matter is a riddle: Kirk has been associated with a series of wealthy and decades-older men — Tsujihara, Packer, Ratner, Meyer and Lerner. Was she a victim of heinous exploitation, a femme fatale who ensnared powerful men in her quest for fame and fortune, or some combination of the two? To Marshall, she is unequivocally a victim. “Do people seriously believe that a 19-year-old girl, autistic, vulnerable, naive and ripe to be exploited, arrived in the shark-infested waters of Hollywood and somehow took advantage of some of the smartest and most powerful men in the movie business?” he said in a statement to THR in August. “How could anybody with an ounce of intelligence believe such ridiculous twaddle?”
One executive who knows Marshall well is grappling with the nature of the director’s role in the Meyer scandal — what he did and why he did it. His questions about Marshall are similar to those swirling around Kirk, with whom Marshall has so closely allied himself: Who are the villains in the story? “I met her only once,” the executive says of Kirk. “It wasn’t a good meeting. But this portrait of her as a destroyer of men? I don’t think that’s accurate either. It’s crazy, but I think she’s a complicated figure in this cultural moment we’re in.”
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