In 1997, actress Rose McGowan had reached a $100,000 settlement with movie executive Harvey Weinstein, but that agreement, she learned this summer, had never included a confidentiality clause. Here’s what happened next.
In late September, just as multiple women were days away from going on the record with reports of sexual misconduct by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, one of his accusers, Rose McGowan, considered an offer that suggested just how desperate he had become.
McGowan, who was working on a memoir called “Brave,” had spoken privately over the years about a 1997 hotel-room encounter with Weinstein and hinted at it publicly. Through her lawyer, she said, someone close to Weinstein offered her hush money: $1 million, in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement.
In 1997, McGowan had reached a $100,000 settlement with Weinstein, but that agreement, she learned this summer, had never included a confidentiality clause. McGowan, who was most widely known for her role as a witch on the WB show “Charmed,” had recently developed a massive following as a fiery feminist on Twitter, but she was now, at 44, a multimedia artist, no longer acting, her funds depleted by health-care costs for her father, who died eight years ago.
Allegations of sexual misconductSince The New York Times published allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in October, multiple men in Hollywood, politics and media have faced allegations ranging from sexual misconduct to rape. Here's a list of some of the people who have been accused.
“I had all these people I’m paying telling me to take it so that I could fund my art,” McGowan said in an interview. She responded by asking for $6 million, part counteroffer, part slow torture of her former tormentor, she said. “I figured I could probably have gotten him up to three,” she said. “But I was like — ew, gross, you’re disgusting, I don’t want your money, that would make me feel disgusting.”
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She said she told her lawyer to pull the offer within a day of The New York Times publishing an article that detailed decades of Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment, aggression and misconduct toward women, as well as at least seven other settlements he had reached with accusers. After that, the dam burst, with The New Yorker, The Times and other news outlets reporting on dozens of other women’s experiences with Weinstein.
Weinstein, his accusers say, built his long history of abusing women on a risky gamble that worked for him over and over — the assumption that money or threats could buy women’s silence on a subject so intimate and painful that most would prefer not to go public anyway. While McGowan was the rare voice suggesting that the cover-up was not fail-safe, she considered not naming him, having already, she believes, paid a career price for that long-ago episode and its aftermath.
A Weinstein spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister, said that “Mr. Weinstein unequivocally denies any allegations of nonconsensual sex.” McGowan’s lawyer, Paul Coggins, confirmed that McGowan received the offer.
Speak with authority
By 2015, McGowan, who felt alienated by the industry, started using her sizable platform on Twitter to maximize her status as both insider and outsider — someone with enough Hollywood experience to speak with authority about sexism within it, and someone liberated enough from its compromises to unleash the fury in her that had been building for years. Only now does the scope of the news about Weinstein — and the public conversation about what’s wrong with Hollywood — seem to match the scale of her outrage, giving her the clout of a contrarian at last proven right.
On Friday, at the inaugural Women’s Convention in Detroit, she was a featured speaker — a new, combative face of feminism, endowed with Hollywood charisma yet anything but slick. “I have been silenced for 20 years,” she told the gathering. “I have been slut-shamed. I have been harassed. I have been maligned. And you know what? I’m just like you.”
Her story of assault, although uniquely her own, shares some of the now familiar hallmarks of a Weinstein encounter. McGowan, then 23, was in Park City, Utah, in early 1997 to attend the Sundance Film Festival and the screening of a film in which she appeared, “Going All the Way.” She had also recently appeared as a smart-mouthed beauty who dies a gruesome death in the blockbuster film “Scream,” on which Weinstein was an executive producer.
McGowan’s manager then, Jill Messick, told her to meet Weinstein at the restaurant in the Stein Eriksen Lodge for a 10 a.m. appointment. On her arrival, the maître d’ directed the actress upstairs to Weinstein’s suite, she said. McGowan remembers passing two male assistants on the way in. “They wouldn’t look me in the eye,” she recalled.
She sat at the far end of a couch as Weinstein sat in a club chair, and they had a brief business meeting. But on their way out, she said, he interrupted himself to point out that the hotel room had a hot tub. “And then what happened, happened,” said McGowan, who has described her experience, on Twitter, as rape. “Suffice it to say a door opened and my life changed.”
She declined to share the details of the encounter. “That’s my story to tell,” she said.
She remembers fighting back tears, and telling actor Ben Affleck. She said she told Messick, then of Addis-Wechsler & Associates, what had occurred. “She held me,” McGowan said. “She put her arms around me.”
But in the months to come, McGowan did not feel supported by her management team. She was referred to a lawyer specializing in sexual-harassment and assault cases who, McGowan said, gave her the impression that filing a criminal charge was hopeless. “She was like, ‘You’re an actress, you’ve done a sex scene, you’re done,’ ” she recalled.
“She wanted to fight”
Anne Woodward, now a manager herself, was a young assistant in Messick’s office at the time, and was in on many of Messick’s calls. “I remember that Rose was extremely upset and did not want to settle,” Woodward said. “She wanted to fight.” No one around her, as Woodward recalls, supported that instinct. “It was an emotionally shocking way to see a woman being treated,” Woodward said. “That’s what stuck with me.”
Nick Wechsler, then a principal at Addis-Wechsler & Associates, said that he and his partner, Keith Addis, met with Weinstein at Messick’s request and confronted him with McGowan’s claim. “I remember Harvey saying he was going to get psychiatric treatment or some kind of therapy for his sexual behavior,” Wechsler said.
McGowan initially asked for about $25,000, enough money to cover her therapy; by the time she signed the settlement, the amount had been raised to $100,000. Both Woodward and McGowan were shocked when, only a few months afterward, Messick, the agent, accepted a job working as vice president for development at Miramax, then run by Weinstein. Messick did not respond to a request for comment.
Plenty of young actresses with promising starts see their careers founder for one reason or another. But McGowan believes that after she finished work on “Phantoms,” a 1998 film produced by Miramax, her career suffered because collaborations with Weinstein productions were for many years off the table. “And they were doing the kinds of movies that I would be doing,” she said.
She continued to work, on “Charmed” until 2006, but also in independent films. Eventually, she appeared in both of the two films packaged as “Grindhouse,” directed by Robert Rodriguez, with whom she was romantically involved, and by Quentin Tarantino. It was distributed by Dimension, run by Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s brother. As film critic David Edelstein put it in New York, McGowan played “the ultimate abused-and-fetishized action-movie femme.” The experience, says McGowan, left her shattered. “I was really lost at that point,” she said. “I was damaged.”