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The Peninsula Hotel. A powerful movie mogul. An actress whose star was on the rise. A penthouse meeting about movie projects and a promise for starring roles in upcoming feature films. Then an inappropriate request: Move the discussion from an open area to a private bedroom where they could exchange massages, maybe more, because that’s what his “special friends” typically do.
Marisa Coughlan said no.
It was 1999 and the 25-year-old Minnesota native was fresh from filming the Kevin Williamson-directed dark teen comedy Teaching Mrs. Tingle opposite Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes and Barry Watson. She’d already been cast to reteam with the writer-director on his first foray into television, Wasteland. Both happened to be Miramax projects, so when the head of that studio, Harvey Weinstein, reached out to Coughlan with a personal invitation to see how they could continue working together, she agreed. It could’ve been a coup for any actor, and after all, Weinstein was technically her boss already.
Aside from a casual introduction at the Mrs. Tingle premiere in Westwood on Aug. 11, 1999, Coughlan — recounting her experiences with Weinstein to The Hollywood Reporter during a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon — says she didn’t know Weinstein at all. But she knew of his stature in the industry, so a few weeks later when Coughlan spotted him at dinner at an industry hot spot, the now shuttered Pane E Vino on Beverly Boulevard, she stopped by his table.
Weinstein was with Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and others, Coughlan recalls. “I said hello briefly and went back to my table and didn’t talk to him again that night,” she says. When the bill came, it had already been paid. “Harvey picked up the tab for me and my three girlfriends.”
Within days, Coughlan wrote a thank-you note and mailed it to his New York office. “End of story,” she thought to herself, but then, “A week or so later, I got a call and the voice on the other end of the line said that they had Harvey Weinstein for me. It was the last thing I was expecting.”
As she remembers it, Weinstein told her that he was “calling a classy lady to thank her for a classy note.” The conversation included many compliments, she says, and he relayed that he would be in Los Angeles in a few days so they should set a meeting to figure out how to continue to work together. “I was informed that the meeting would be at the Peninsula, which was not abnormal at all,” she explains, adding that she often met with studio executives or producers at hotels for business meetings. “It’s like a mini-office with assistants running around and lots of activity.”
That’s exactly the scene she found when she showed up at the Peninsula. Except, “he had this gigantic penthouse. It was enormous,” she details. “There were a few assistants there when I arrived but they literally left the suite like the place was on fire. I didn’t process why until later.”
Coughlan laughs recalling her earnest preparation for the meeting: She brought a notebook filled with ideas of projects they could do and roles she was interested in taking on. Weinstein talked about F. Scott Fitzgerald, his favorite films and suggested she read The Last Tycoon. He also said that Miramax had a film in development and “he wanted me to be the lead in that.”
Then came a proposition. “He told me that he has a lot of ‘special friends’ and they give each other massages,” Coughlan states. “It was a full-court press. He wanted me to be one of his ‘special friends’ and go into the bedroom. I told him that I had a serious boyfriend and reminded him that he was married and that we should keep this professional. I was so blindsided. Not one ounce of me anticipated it. It was the weirdest meeting I’ve ever had in my life.”
Coughlan was also stunned at how matter-of-fact and “transactional” Weinstein was about the whole thing, suggesting a physical relationship in exchange for movie roles, she alleges.
Coughlan left without incident, something she’s grateful for today. But to her surprise, Weinstein did follow up and had the script sent to her via her agents. Later, in a follow-up phone call, Weinstein offered to fly her to New York so they could go ice skating and on other “romantic” outings, she says. “It was weirder and weirder.”
Reluctantly, she agreed to meet him again for another business meeting in Los Angeles, insisting it be at a public place. They met at Dominick’s, a now-shuttered restaurant on Beverly Boulevard. Weinstein, she says, reserved a back table and had a bottle of champagne already popped by the time she arrived. “I sat down and explained that I wanted to be really clear,” she recalls. “I told him again that I have a serious boyfriend and I was never going to do anything physical or romantic.”
She continues: “It was super uncomfortable, remember, because I was employed by his studio at the time. He seemed so flabbergasted that I wasn’t going to go there. I was shocked that he was so shocked.”
Despite her rejection of his advances, Weinstein asked for a ride back to the Peninsula and she again reluctantly agreed, she says.
Once they pulled up to the hotel, she says Weinstein asked her up to his room and “he pushed and pushed and pushed.” She said no, again, and he got out of the car and walked away only to walk back quickly enough to say that he respected her.
Within days, she remembers, it was announced that the lead role in the film he had mentioned was offered to another actress. “She was likely always going to do the film,” Coughlan says. “He was probably dangling a carrot that was never even real.”
What is real is that dozens of women have come forward — by some accounts upward of 40 — in the previous two weeks accusing Weinstein of sexual misconduct, harassment and, in some cases, forced sex acts and rape. Following explosive reports, first in The New York Times on Oct. 5 by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and followed by a New Yorker piece on Oct. 10 by Ronan Farrow, a steady stream of high-profile actresses have come forth with their own claims. The bravery and courage of those actresses, Coughlan says, led her to share her own experience.
“What happened to me, even though it was uncomfortable, was much more of a transactional situation. He wanted to barter sex for movie roles. In other cases, he was forcing himself on them. It’s so shocking that he got away with it for as long as he did. I never realized the scope of it. I felt like an island and naively didn’t know how pervasive it was,” she says, noting how similar everyone’s experiences have been.
Coughlan went on to appear in a slew of high-profile film and TV projects, among them Gossip, Super Troopers, Freddy Got Fingered, Pumpkin, I Love Your Work, Boston Legal, Bones, the recent Space Station 76 (opposite Matt Bomer and Patrick Wilson) and she’ll next appear in the sequel Super Troopers 2. She’s found work as a writer and recently sold the project Pushing to Fox with super-producer Greg Berlanti.
She commends all the women — among them Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Asia Argento, Rose McGowan, Lea Seydoux, Eva Green and Lena Headey — for coming forward, singling out McGowan for her bravery. Coughlan decided to share her story after seeing how similar many of their stories were, from hotel-set business meetings to requests for massages, and often something more horrifying. “It’s vindication,” Coughlan says, noting how swift and brutal Weinstein’s fall from power has been. Since reports have surfaced, Weinstein has been fired from his job, resigned from the board of The Weinstein Co., been ousted from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Producers Guild, and had his name removed from multiple projects around town.
Despite taking some initial responsibility for some of the claims made against him and admitting on camera to TMZ that he “needs help,” Weinstein has denied the more serious charges. “Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Mr. Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual. Mr. Weinstein has begun counseling, has listened to the community and is pursuing a better path,” his spokesperson Sallie Hofmeister has said to multiple news outlets.
THR reached out to Hofmeister for comment on Coughlan’s accusations but has not heard back as of press time.
“I can’t imagine a more intimidating person to go up against,” says Coughlan. “During his heyday, he was scary as hell. I saw him yell at assistants and servers, but then saw him turn on a dime and be so charming. There’s definitely some Jekyll and Hyde going on there. It’s taken this many to come forward to have this happen — there’s definitely strength in numbers.”
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