Harvey Weinstein auditioned an 18-year-old Romola Garai while wearing only a dressing gown in an encounter at the Savoy Hotel that the British actor described as humiliating and “an abuse of power”.
The actor, who starred in Atonement and the BBC series The Hour, told the Guardian she was left feeling “violated”. It is the latest of allegations of harassment and inappropriate behaviour by the Hollywood mogul.
“Like every other woman in the industry, I’ve had an ‘audition’ with Harvey Weinstein, where I’d actually already had the audition but you had to be personally approved by him,” said Garai. “So I had to go to his hotel room in the Savoy, and he answered the door in his bathrobe. I was only 18. I felt violated by it, it has stayed very clearly in my memory.”
Garai said the incident in London was indicative of Weinstein’s approach to women in the film industry, consistently putting young female actors, often desperate to get a break in the industry, into “humiliating situations” to prove “he had the power to do it”.
“The transaction was just that I was there,” said Garai, who once she was in the hotel room with Weinstein just sat on a chair and had a brief discussion about film. “The point was that he could get a young woman to do that, that I didn’t have a choice, that it was humiliating for me and that he had the power. It was an abuse of power.”
In an exposé in the New York Times last week, it was alleged that Weinstein, one of the most powerful people in Hollywood who produced films such as Pulp Fiction, had been sexually harassing women in the film industry for more than two decades.
It was alleged that he had reached at least eight settlements with women he had sexually harassed, and that he would invite women to his hotel room under the guise of work and then greet them naked or ask them to massage him or watch him shower.
Among his accusers are the actors Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, and since they went public with their allegations against Weinstein, others have come forward. The writer and artist Liza Campbell said Weinstein invited her to his hotel room and asked her to get in the bath with him, and a US TV journalist said Weinstein masturbated in front of her.
Weinstein had taken a leave of absence from his company but on Sunday night the board announced he had been sacked after new allegations of misconduct. On Monday evening the NYT reported that, hours before the board announcement, Weinstein emailed associates in Hollywood asking them to help stop him being fired.
Actors including Meryl Streep and Judi Dench, both of whom have starred in several Weinstein films, publicly condemned the producer, denying any knowledge of his actions, while Emma Thompson described him as a “predatory man”.
Streep added that the allegations had “appalled those of us whose work [Weinstein] championed, and those whose good and worthy causes he supported”.
Weinstein has expressed regret for his inappropriate behaviour towards women stretching back decades, saying “I own my mistakes”, but his lawyers say he also denies many of the allegations made against him.
Garai told the Guardian she “couldn’t be less surprised” by the allegations against Weinstein and said the fact that the film industry was “very very very misogynistic” had meant Weinstein’s behaviour was accepted. “You can’t find an actress that doesn’t have that kind of story about Harvey,” she said.
Describing her hotel room encounter with Weinstein, Garai said she knew back then it was “weird” but that she “just tried to make out like it was normal because as far as I was concerned it was a job interview”. “I knew something had happened to me that I didn’t like and that I felt belittled by but I didn’t feel like I had the right to complain.”
She added: “The people who asked me to go to his hotel room did so with an eye-rolling look of, ‘This is weird but you just have to do it, you’re not in any danger’. It was clear they were uncomfortable asking me to do it, but that it had to be done.
“I remember the feeling of seeing him opening the door in the dressing gown and thinking, ‘Oh god, this is a casting couch’. But I guess it’s now only as a much older woman that I understood what it meant. At the time I understood myself to be a commodity and that my value in the industry rested almost exclusively on the way I looked and I didn’t really think of myself to be any more than that.”
Garai said she had never thought to raise the incident until now because in the film industry people would be “shocked I even thought it was an issue”. Weinstein’s alleged behaviour towards women has been described as an “open secret”, and something Garai affirmed, saying he was one of the most notorious culprits for this sort of behaviour in the film industry.
“It’s kind of amazing to me that this is news, it’s just so well known in the industry,” she said. “There are so many stories about him sending weird texts and harassing actresses, telling them he’ll give them a part if they come to dinner with him – that’s really really common. And it’s well known that he’s had relationships with a lot of people that he’s worked with, or have worked for him. Given how powerful he is, and given that they are always with women who are a lot younger than him, I think there is clearly an imbalance of power in those relationships.”
Garai landed the role in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights but her uncomfortable experiences with Weinstein did not end there. During filming she said she was put under enormous pressure to lose weight and was constantly told she was fat, with food taken from her trailer and people paid to make sure she did not eat anything.
Garai said that while the instructions came from lower-level producers, she believed it was Weinstein putting the pressure on for her to lose weight to “fit his expectations of what a movie star should look like”.
“Harvey’s behaviour was accepted but it was accepted because the industry knows that what people want to see on screen is women who are thin and beautiful with big tits and don’t say very much,” she said.
Garai said the incident with Weinstein was the most “explicitly problematic” of her career, but that only now, over a decade later, had she really come to terms with it. She added: “If someone asked me now to go to their hotel room and a guy was in a dressing gown I’m 100% sure that I would leave and say: ‘Would you like to come down to the bar and have the meeting with me when you’re dressed’.”
Meanwhile the British prime minister, Theresa May, expressed her concerns over the allegations against Weinstein but her spokesman said the issue of whether he should keep the CBE he was awarded in 2004 for services to the film industry “was not one for Downing Street”.