Steven Seagal, a Silk Kimono and a "Private Rehearsal": One Actress Remembers Her Nightmare Audition
"There's not a human resources person to go to when you're working on a film," says actress-turned-journalist Lisa Guerrero. "Especially not when the film is produced by the person being inappropriate to you."
Emboldened by the avalanche of sexual assault accusations leveled against Harvey Weinstein over the past week, others have begun to come forward with their own experiences of harassment in Hollywood — and they are naming names.
Among them is Lisa Guerrero, 53, an Inside Edition correspondent who says, while pursuing an acting career in the mid 1990s, she was summoned to Steven Seagal's Beverly Hills mansion for an audition for the female lead in 1997's Fire Down Below, in which Seagal plays an EPA agent who investigates the dumping of toxic waste in a Kentucky mine.
Guerrero, then 31, agreed to the audition but, together with her female manager, insisted that the film's casting director Shari Rhodes be in attendance. (Rhodes, whose career spanned everything from Jaws to Breaking Bad, died in 2009.) When they arrived, Seagal, then 43, answered the door in a silk kimono. Guerrero — who first shared her story publicly on Thursday's Inside Edition — spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the nightmare audition.
Was it the Harvey Weinstein news that convinced you to go public with your story?
I've actually been telling this story dozens of times over the years. I've told friends, colleagues — I've warned young actresses in acting classes and projects I've worked on. I said, "Don't go to Steven Seagal's home alone. This is what happened to me." But the Weinstein story, specifically the part about him answering the door in his robe, that triggered my memory and brought up those images again of what happened with Steven Seagal. It triggered my revulsion at what it feels like to be an actress and having a powerful star and executive producer answer his door in a robe.
You had the savvy to show up to this audition at Seagal's home with another woman — the movie's casting director. What happened when he answered the door?
He looked surprised that she was with me. Then he let us into the foyer of his house, which was decorated in an Asian style. The outside was a big Beverly Hills mansion, but when you go inside the house it looked very Asian inspired. He waved me into another room. That room was also Asian. There was a big chair on a platform. Again, it looked like a big Asian throne. He sat on the chair in the silk robe and asked me to perform the scenes I had prepared. I had worked on those scenes for days. I performed them for him while he sat on this throne. It was so strange.
Was he wearing anything under this robe?
I don't know. He was bare-legged, barefooted. He certainly wasn't wearing a suit underneath it. But he never exposed himself or touched me, so I don't know what was beneath it.
And the casting associate is standing next to you for all of this?
Standing. Her name was Shari Rhodes. She was there.
How long did all this last?
Probably the longest 10 minutes of your life.
The longest 10 minutes. I remember doing adjustments based on directions he gave me from the throne. And he said, "You're fantastic. You're fabulous." The weird thing was, if this situation had happened in a casting room with a fully dressed Steven Seagal, it would have been normal.
How did it end?
I remember leaving and feeling really good about my audition but also as if I had dodged a bullet — because what if I had gone alone?
What did Shari Rhodes say when you left?
She said, "Great job. Great job." He had said, "We're going to call you." So I ran out to my car, a piece of crap Nissan on this Beverly Hills street, and I just remember feeling like I dodged a bullet. I immediately called my manager and told her I was OK. By the time I got home she called me and said they called back and wanted me to go back that night for "a private rehearsal."
Did the Shari Rhodes seem surprised at all by this audition?
She was employed by the production company, but since Seagal was the executive producer, he was her boss. My manager at the time, Lorraine Berglund, kept notes. She still has them all these years later. Then we got a phone call. They said, "Well, you don't have the lead now, because you refused to go back for the 'private rehearsal,' but we would like to offer you a smaller role. You are to report to wardrobe and the set." It was a one-day shoot. I was an actor who wanted the credit on my resume and wanted the scene on my reel, so I said yes. It was understood that I would not have to be alone with him.
So you went through with it?
I did the scene. However, I felt uncomfortable because he was with these other male cast and crew members giggling and leering at me, like they were having some kind of boys' joke about me. I was the only woman in that vicinity and clearly they were talking about me. Then he came up to me and asked me to go to his dressing room. I was appalled. I must have been bright red. I was humiliated. I was so embarrassed. At this point I'm 31 years old, I'm not 18, but I felt like a child.
What did you say?
I said no. And he gave me a dismissive look and walked away. My role was completely cut out of the film. I believe it was because I declined his offers three times.
Was there anyone on the set who could have shielded you from some dangers or were you just completely exposed?
Completely exposed. Especially when you're not the star of the film — you're just a working actor there to do your job. You go in, you report to the assistant director, they take you to your trailer, you put your wardrobe, hair and makeup on, you report on the set, you do a run-through, do your scene, you sign your papers and you're gone. There's not a human resources person to go to when you're working on a film. Especially not when the film is produced by the person being inappropriate to you. He's 100 percent the boss.
Has anyone else relayed similar stories to you about Steven Seagal over the years?
Yes, a girl in my acting class years ago. I was on a soap opera called Sunset Beach and was with a group of young, attractive actors every single day — and a couple shared stories about Steven Seagal. After the Inside Edition piece aired, an actress reached out saying she was once asked to come in for a "chemistry test" for Under Siege 2. The audition was at Steven Seagal's hotel room and he answered the door in nothing but a robe. I read that and started crying. All these memories came flooding back.
Did that one audition change your perception of Hollywood?
The Steven Seagal experience is one of the things that ultimately when I had the opportunity to do another [scripted] show or do broadcast journalism, I chose broadcasting because I thought I'd have more control over my destiny. Now, I found out there's still creeps in sportscasting. But in acting, I think women are much more vulnerable.
Steven Seagal could not be reached for comment.