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Elijah Wood would like to make one thing clear: He has no firsthand knowledge of child sex abuse in Hollywood. That clarification, issued by Wood exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter, comes as he finds his name making international headlines for unintentional reasons.
During a recent sit-down with the Sunday Times, ostensibly to promote The Trust, a heist movie co-starring Nicolas Cage, the actor took a brief detour when the subject of Jimmy Savile came up. Savile, a famed DJ with the BBC, was found after his death to have been responsible for nearly six decades of sex abuses perpetrated against as many as 400 boys and girls, many of whom were under the age of 10.
Wood, 35, said of Savile’s victims, “Jesus, it must have been devastating.” But he followed that with a more ominous statement: “Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood. It was all organized. There are a lot of vipers in this industry, people who only have their own interests in mind.”
“There is darkness in the underbelly,” Wood continued. “If you can imagine it, it’s probably happened.”
Those startling comments — fleshed out with past allegations made by Corey Feldman and the estimates of one child-actor advocate that Hollywood is “currently sheltering about 100 active abusers” — formed the basis of a sensational Times article entitled, “Hollywood’s Evil Secret.”
The quotes have been picked up by dozens of news outlets with stories framing Wood as having come clean about dark and long-held secrets. (“Elijah Wood: Hollywood Is Full of Pedophiles,” read one Daily Beast headline.) But Wood tells THR that his comments have been wildly misinterpreted, and that his only knowledge of child sexual predation in Hollywood comes from news reports and the 2015 documentary film An Open Secret, directed by Amy Berg.
“The Sunday Times interviewed me about my latest film, but the story became about something else entirely,” Wood says. “It prompted a number of false and misleading headlines. I had just seen a powerful documentary and I briefly spoke with the reporter about the subject, which had consequences I did not intend or expect. Lesson learned.
“Let me be clear: This subject of child abuse is an important one that should be discussed and properly investigated. But as I made absolutely clear to the writer, I have no firsthand experience or observation of the topic, so I cannot speak with any authority beyond articles I have read and films I have seen,” Wood continues.
If anyone could be privy to such crimes, it would be Wood. The boyish, saucer-eyed actor, best known for enduring Gollum and fending off orcs in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has been working steadily in Hollywood since childhood. The son of deli owners from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wood was raised Roman Catholic — an institution whose own child abuse scandals have been dramatized in the Oscar-winning Spotlight, among other films.
He started out as a child model and commercial actor, and the family moved to Los Angeles in 1988 for his career. It wasn’t long before Wood landed his first break, appearing in the Paula Abdul video for “Forever Your Girl,” directed by none other than David Fincher. By the early 1990s, he was starring in Hollywood features like Radio Flyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn.
But despite his time in the child-actor trenches, Wood stresses that his observations about “vipers” preying on show business minors were based not on personal knowledge but rather from events detailed in Berg’s film. (The Times story does specify that his mother shielded him from such dangers and forbade him from attending Hollywood parties as a youth.)
Secret follows five former child actors who allegedly fell victim to sexual predators while trying to make it in Hollywood. Among the accused is Marc Collins-Rector, the infamous co-founder of Digital Entertainment Network — a studio that amassed nearly $100 million in investment from the likes of David Geffen and Michael Huffington, but which is perhaps best known for allegedly throwing raging gay Hollywood parties. The movie alleges that dozens of teen boys were sexually assaulted at these parties, a claim that has been disputed by former staff, guests and a resident of the Encino estate at the heart of the allegations.
After being indicted in 2000 by a grand jury, Collins-Rector fled to Spain but was arrested two years later. Guns, machetes and child pornography were found among his belongings. Collins-Rector was eventually extradited to the U.S., pleaded guilty to federal child sex charges and was ordered to register as a sex offender.
Also in 2000, three teenagers, including a sometime model named Michael Egan, sued the DEN founders, accusing them of committing “rape, assault and death threats” against minors. That suit resulted in a default judgement against Collins-Rector, with claims against the other two co-founders dismissed or settled out of court. Egan filed lawsuits again in 2014, claiming he was sexually assaulted at DEN parties and in Hawaii by director Bryan Singer, among other Hollywood executives. His case collapsed in a matter of weeks and he was successfully countersued, with Egan’s lawyers publicly apologizing for their client’s “untrue and proveably false allegations” and paying a seven-figure settlement. Egan escaped liability by filing bankruptcy, but subsequently pled guilty in a fraud case and served time in federal prison for a five-year scheme in which he lied to investors and forged documents.
In his lawsuit, Egan claimed to have been raped by the defendants as a minor, but all claims against Singer were dismissed. During his current press tour for X-Men: Apocalypse, Singer, who called the lawsuit a “sick, twisted shakedown,” has specified that he won’t address questions about DEN or the lawsuit.
An Open Secret bombed in a spectacular way at the box office when it opened in July 2015, its biggest haul coming from its Seattle run, where it grossed $200. The producers later blasted Berg for failing to do any press or TV interviews to promote the film. (Berg did not respond to requests for comment for this story.) Two of the film’s own subjects later attempted to voice criticism of the film’s accuracy, but were largely suppressed by a litigation threat from the producers.
Feldman, the star of The Goonies and Stand by Me, spoke out in 2012 about his own experiences with sexual molestation. “When I was 14 and 15, things were happening to me,” he told a British tabloid. “These older men were leching around like vultures. It was basically me lying there pretending I was asleep and them going about their business.”
In his 2013 memoir, Coreyography, Feldman detailed how he and his then-best friend Corey Haim were subjected to sexual abuse during their years as Hollywood teen heartthrobs. During the filming of Lucas, Feldman writes, “an adult male convinced [Haim] that it was perfectly normal for older men and younger boys in the business to have sexual relations, that it was what all ‘guys do.’
“So they walked off to a secluded area between two trailers, during a lunch break for the cast and crew, and Haim, innocent and ambitious as he was, allowed himself to be sodomized,” Feldman continues, adding that the man is “one of the most successful people in the entertainment industry, still making money hand over fist.”
Haim died of pneumonia at age 38 in 2010, his body failing him after years of devastating drug abuse. Feldman did not respond to a request to comment for this story.
Feb. 6, 2017, 10:55 a.m.PST A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Brock Pierce and Chad Shackley, co-founders of DEN with Collins-Rector, were indicted along with Collins-Rector. In fact no criminal charges were filed against Pierce or Shackley. Further, the article inaccurately said that Egan sued Pierce and Shackley in a 2014 civil lawsuit. The men were named in Egan’s 2000 lawsuit, a joint filing with two other plaintiffs, which was ultimately dismissed and/or settled out of court as to Pierce and Shackley. THR apologizes to Pierce and Shackley for the errors.
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