An Apple computer monitor, a glass bowl and a baked potato are among the objects with which Hollywood producer Scott Rudin is accused of assaulting employees in a devastating new Hollywood Reporter exposé. Headlined “Bully”, Tatiana Siegel’s story is potentially the biggest bombshell to rock cinema since the unmasking of Harvey Weinstein as a violent sexual predator snowballed into the #MeToo moment in 2017.
Rudin, whose roll call of smashes includes David Fincher’s The Social Network and Aaron Sorkin’s multiple-Tony bagging adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, does not stand accused of sexual misconduct. Rather he is said to have subjected underlings at his production company near Time Square in New York to sustained physical and emotional abuse. One former associate described him as “a monster”.
One of the most shocking incidents detailed in the story involved Rudin, 62, smashing an Apple computer monitor on an assistant’s hand. The stunned young man was rushed to A&E while Rudin got on the phone to a lawyer. “We were all shocked because we didn't know that that sort of thing could happen in that office,” Andrew Coles, a former assistant to Rudin told the Hollywood Reporter.
“We knew a lot could happen. There were the guys that were sleeping in the office, the guys whose hair was falling out and were developing ulcers. It was a very intense environment, but that just felt different. It was a new level of unhinged – a level of lack of control that I had never seen before in a workplace.”
This was just one of many instances of out-of-control behaviour alleged against Rudin (who made no comment on the story). When an assistant approached him with the news that representatives of indie distribution company A24 had were in the lobby for an unscheduled meeting, Rudin is said to have flung a baked potato at the employee (and to have then demanded someone fetch him a fresh one).
Rudin is also accused of throwing a glass bowl at someone from his HR department. It missed and shattered against the wall. The HR executive suffered a panic attack and left in an ambulance. Rudin is further alleged to have thrown a laptop out a window and to have fired an employee after pulling a chair out from under them, for maximum humiliation.
The producer does not cut as flamboyant a figure around Hollywood as Weinstein did in his prime. Still, behind the scenes he is no less influential – and just as feared. His films have earned 151 Oscar nominations and 23 wins. Alongside the Social Network, his hit parade includes the 2007 Coen Brothers modern classic No Country For Old Men, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and all of Wes Anderson’s recent films. His latest potential blockbuster, an adaptation of bestseller The Woman in the Window, comes to Netflix this year, starring Amy Adams and directed by Joe Wright.
One significant difference between Weinstein and Rudin is that Rudin is also a major player on Broadway, where his productions have racked up 13 Tony wins. As recently as 2018, he was making history with Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of To Kill A Mocking Bird, which shattered an (inflation-adjusted) 118 year theatre-land record by earning more than $1.5 million in a single week. But if he has long reigned as one of Hollywood’s pre-eminent producers, his bullying tendencies were an open secret.
He is said to have inspired the sadistic mogul portrayed with such relish by (future #MeToo casualty) Kevin Spacey in 1994’s Swimming With Sharks. In a 2005 Wall Street Journal profile headlined “Boss-Zilla” Rudin bragged of “burning through” 119 assistants in the previous five years. And he had a run-in with the New Yorker’s David Denby, blacklisting the eminent critic from press screenings after Denby broke a review embargo.
Ironically one of his higher profile run-ins was with Harvey Weinstein. They rowed bitterly making The Hours in 2002, with points of contention running from Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose to the Philip Glass score. The biggest slight of all, however, was Weinstein’s decision not to screen The Hours at the Venice Film Festival, which Rudin took as a public humiliation.
“You and I are done. You skunked me,” he told Weinstein. “It's despicable that you pulled this stunt and damaged my movie in front of press. I don’t think I could ever trust you again.” Five years later, they were working together again on The Reader.
Rudin has already walked away from one controversy, involving the leaking of inflammatory emails sent to Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal in 2015. In a series of vituperative screeds, he referred to Angelina Jolie as a “camp event” and “minimally talented spoiled brat” (in the context of her wanting to make a Cleopatra biopic) and described producer Megan Ellison as “bipolar 28-year-old lunatic”. Ellison has been one of the few in the industry to respond to the Hollywood Reporter story.
“This piece barely scratches the surface of Scott Rudin’s abusive, racist, and sexist behaviour,” she wrote on Twitter. “Similarly to Harvey, too many are afraid to speak out. I support and applaud those who did. There’s good reason to be afraid because he’s vindictive and has no qualms about lying.”
If anything, Rudin may have been even more influential than Weinstein in that his production empire encompassed both Hollywood and Broadway. On Twitter, the Hollywood Reporter’s Tatiana Siegel claimed that the New York Times had interviewed many of the same sources to whom she had spoken – but that it had never run a story (the newspaper did not respond to her claim). Others with an inside track on reporting on Broadway confirmed the New York Times planned a report on bullying within the theatre industry. This has yet to see the light of day. Was Rudin someone they dared not cross?
“I’ve heard of several exposes of other men that people talked to the NYTimes and or other outlets that then never actually ran,” tweeted multidisciplinary theatre artist Itzel Ayala. “The theatre industry protects these men”.
One of those who has spoken out is the brother of a former assistant to Rudin who subsequently died by suicide.
“I don’t believe the abuse Scott Rudin inflicted on my brother alone caused Kevin to kill himself – but I think Rudin’s abuse was undeniably a factor in the mental health issues Kevin suffered in the final years of his life,” wrote David Graham-Caso, deputy chief of staff for Los Angeles council member Mike Bonin.
His brother had been a victim of Rudin’s favourite punishment of “soft firings”, he said. This was the process by which an employee would be yelled at and told they were sacked but would then be re-hired after Rudin had cooled his heels.
“Kevin developed a severe anxiety disorder in his time working for Rudin, and saw therapists on and off for the remainder of his life.”
Another employee who suffered multiple soft-firings, according to the Hollywood Reporter, was Caroline Rugo. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she had negotiated a clause in her contract with Rudin by which she could take out time for medically-mandated exercise from 5.30am to 6am each morning. As was standard at the company, her workday was 5am to 8pm. Predictably the relationship quickly went downhill.
“I got fired for having Type 1 diabetes, which is a federally protected disability,” Rugo, who now works in development at Netflix, said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
“I one hundred percent could have sued him. But I didn't because of the fear of being blacklisted. But I've worked at Netflix for a year and a half now. And it was such a shock to the system because it's one of the most respectful and progressive workplaces in terms of employee relations. Now that I have established myself here and I am a part of a team where my opinions are respected and welcomed, I have no issue speaking out about Scott. Everyone just knows he's an absolute monster.”
What will be the consequences for Rudin? The next few days are critical but it already feels significant that, in contrast to Weinstein, the Hollywood Reporter story has not opened the floodgates. None of the big names with whom he has worked have denounced him – or even commented on the story – and the Broadway press has refrained from mentioning it. The price he pays may ultimately be no price at all.
“Here’s what will happen to Scott Rudin,” tweeted Sean Abley, a writer and producer of low-budget horror films. “Nothing. He hasn't raped or murdered anyone. He has assaulted many (throwing things at a person is assault.) But no one will press charges. There is nothing anyone can do about this dude, nor will anyone really try because he makes them too much [money].”