Thursday, February 22, 2018

Michael Apted Sexual Assault: My Story

Below is my original story of how I was sexually assaulted by Michael Apted.  I was told it would be attached to The Wrap article but it was omitted.  I feel my story disappeared and The Wrap story emerged, driven by the defense of the perpetrator.  I’ve come to understand that media outlets get bullied and threatened by the Marty Singers’ long before they take it to publication.  Thus, I feel my story was hijacked or, perhaps more accurately, sidelined, and became the story of why they won’t publish this story.  And so, here it is:


To Michael Apted                   

After years in this business and having lived my share of sexual harassment I struggled with the idea of coming forward until I read Michael Apted’s interview with Variety addressing the subject.

The risk of speaking out, of being judged, evaluated and maligned is not something I would ever invite. But the dishonesty of remaining silent outweighs whatever consequences might befall me.

Going forward, I will address Mr. Apted directly.

In the Variety interview, November 18, 2017, where you were asked about the current state of affairs regarding the sexual harassment “scandal.” 

The suggestions and opinions you offered as to why and how to deal with sexual harassment seemed woefully deficient.

-- It seems to be hysterical at the moment and it seems to be flooding at you all the time. Clearly, there were serious goings-on, and there was some bad behavior. But I think it will settle down.

-- once we are through the first blood of it — you know, everybody is hysterical about it now and rightly so – there has to be a pattern of behavior that is civilized and proper and not ridiculous. --
The way I read this, you were suggesting women are being "hysterical," in a movement that needs to “settle down,” that this “flood” will pass.  Yes, there had been some “bad behavior,” even “ridiculous,” but once the dust settles, men will become civilized and proper in the conduct.

I found this profoundly disturbing. Mainly because it suggests that this is simply a phase that will pass.

Rather than a suitable remedy, it seemed like you were offering familiar rhetoric, suggesting basic standards on how men ought to behave but having no expectation they ever will.

My hope is this movement won’t settle down, but rather continue to gain momentum, to create a real pushback to sexual harassment that will have a lasting impact.

Further, this is not the “first blood of it” whatever you had meant by that-- sexual misconduct in Hollywood has been raging since the dawn of cinema.  It’s just the first time women are speaking out and men are facing actual consequences.

You are a three-term President of the DGA, a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences [the Oscars], one of the most prolific directors of your generation, and an admirable advocate for female-driven films (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, Blink, Enough, Nell.)

The powerful positions that you occupy endow you with the ability to nudge the industry forward by implementing policies that can make a huge difference in changing the present culture of misogyny and eradicating predators.

While reading your interview, I was jolted back to the time when you indeed sexually assaulted me in Paris.

So, setting aside my ambivalence and trepidation, I will share our story.

We first met in 1985 at a birthday party for the journalist Ann Louise Bardach in Beverly Hills. I was in my mid-twenties. You somehow got my phone number and asked me out to lunch.  I thought this was business related since you knew I was the lead acquisition executive for several European production companies (Gaumont, Tobis, and Retitalia) at that time; and my job was to find American-based film projects to develop, produce and finance.

I had been meeting with a lot of filmmakers and had a list of those I thought would be ideal.  You were on that list.  I was a huge fan of your 7-Up documentaries, not to mention Coal Miner’s Daughter.  Better still, your being British was an extra boon because my European colleagues, who also held you in high regard, thought you might be receptive to directing features for them.  You were considered a big “get” by my employers.

Our first lunch was pleasant enough and you were kind and funny; we talked a lot about ourselves but very little about my work-related intentions.  I figured this was okay for preliminary get-to-know-you lunch.  I remember the restaurant, an elegant, trendy lunch spot upstairs from an art gallery on La Brea Boulevard.  There were possibly five tables, and one was always reserved for you.  I think the place was called 170; very chic, and I remember feeling mortified by my absence of style. What I lacked in expensive clothing, I tried to make up with humor and intelligence.

A week or so later, you called for another lunch, same place, this time I tried to fashion a better look. You suggested picking me up because you were near my apartment. I agreed.

However, during the meal, I could tell you had a romantic interest in me and I started to feel uneasy and the lunch began to feel like a date.  I remained friendly and just wanted the lunch to end on a good note.  I wanted to be careful not to hurt your feelings for fear you would cut off any contact with me.  Again, I was hoping to develop films with you for my employers.  That was my job.

The drive home was palpably uncomfortable.  I remember literally sitting on my hands, with muscles tensed up.  I knew what was coming.  You stopped the car in front of my apartment and lurched at me and despite my resisting; you managed to maneuver your tongue into my mouth.

I shoved you off and explained I had no romantic interest in you - and then quickly and amazingly apologized for doing so.  I apologized for not letting you force-kiss me!  I felt guilty for not being the available, flirty girl you wanted me to be and for possibly hurting your feelings.

Further, I felt the need to apologize because of your stature in the community. You were older, wiser, and I was still learning how to navigate Hollywood.  But most importantly I didn’t want you to be angry with me.

You assured me things were fine and to not to worry about our friendship or any work-related business.  By then, it seemed perfectly clear this would not be a romance and that you had understood that, yet wanted to remain friends. I even said something like, “You’ll be like an uncle.”

But I guess in your mind I just needed more prodding. This is what you told me a few months later when we both happened to be in Paris at the same time.

Not only that, we were both staying at the same place, the Hotel Raphael.

I was there because I had business meetings with Gaumont to discuss various American screenwriters and directors we wanted to work with. My colleague at Gaumont was Pierre-Ange LePogam and we were developing strategies to secure high-end talent based in the U.S.

You were in Paris having something to do with shooting rehearsal footage of The Rolling Stones (*) for a documentary you were making or intended to make.

I remember this was May of 1985(**) because I had wandered into a theater and watched tres Hommes et un couffin, a film I thought was ideal for an American remake.  I contacted the producer Jean-Francois Lepetit and we met the next morning to hammer out rudimentary ideas that would lead this to Disney.  I remember making a joke about a title change, Three Men and a Cradle? That would never work.

Later that day, I bumped into you in the hotel lobby. I was relieved to see you.  Being on my own in a foreign city, there was a comfort in knowing someone I considered a friend was nearby.  Two professionals with business in Paris.

That afternoon or maybe the next you invited me to accompany you to a theater while you shot footage.  It sounded fun, I went along and it was a fun.  I also felt you fully understood our relationship was platonic.  You were a perfect gentleman and treated me like a peer, a colleague, without any hint of flirtation or romance.

When we got back to the hotel, you suggested I come to your room and look at some stills of the band.  The feeling between us was pleasantly cordial and again, professional. Not at any time did I feel threatened or scared of you. We were both sober, it was still rather early in the evening and I was young and naïve enough to simply believe you wanted my opinion on the Stones (***) photographs.

Writing this now, it seems entirely crazy, my agreeing to go to your hotel room to look at pictures!  But the truth is I felt completely safe and thought nothing of it.

You were my friend, Michael, my older, avuncular friend, a man I planned to do business with.

Once inside your room, you offered me a Perrier. We sat on the sofa and started to look through a book of photographs.  Then you moved closer to me and tried to kiss me.  I was so deflated.  Really?  Again?  I resisted but you kept at it, finally pinning me against the sofa.

I kept telling you no, pleading for you to get off of me.  I squirmed away, stood up to leave and before I was done collecting my handbag you had stripped off all your clothes, your 6-feet 2-inch (****) naked body standing between the door and me.  I was horrified.

You kept saying over and over that I was the kind of girl that needed prodding, how I really wanted to have sex with you but had been conditioned by the Catholic Church to resist sex.  You said, “I know you good girls.  Deep inside you want this and just need to be taken.”

With that you grabbed me and threw me on the bed face down slamming your naked body against mine, running your hands up my thighs and under my skirt.  I kept resisting, and you insisted I relax.  Holding me against my will, your voice grew louder, angrier, your grip more forceful; your breathing heavier and hot on the side of my face.  I was paralyzed with fear.  I didn’t know what to do.

It occurred to me to just let it happen.  Get it over with. All I could think was, my friend, Michael Apted is about to sexually assault me.  I was holding back tears as you flattened against me, your full weight pressing on me. As I struggled under your weight, you flipped me over.

Out of some sheer survival instinct, I kneed you near the groin area hard enough to where your body shifted off mine, giving me the room to jump and run. 

Even as I flew out the door, you chased me into the hall, naked, calling after me, “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!”

When I got to my room, I bolted it locked, then sobbed.  I felt ill and sad and lost. What had I done for you to think this was okay? I did nothing to suggest I had any sexual interest in you. I really thought we were past that.

Then I blamed myself.  First, what kind of idiot was I to think you were my safe buddy? Then, I thought, maybe you were right; perhaps I was too uptight- maybe I was a prude.  Why couldn’t I be an insouciant girl that just goes with the flow?  Or did you do this because I was simply a “nobody?” Maybe I mattered not at all.

I was heartbroken and confused.

Never once did it occur to me to report this incident to the police. First, I was alone in Paris, and could barely speak the language.  Second, I was in your hotel room and had been out with you that day. I certainly didn’t want a scandal to come out of my first transcontinental business trip.

Further, I didn’t want to lose whatever potential work relationship might remain between us. That was still my priority. Looking back, I wish the grown-up me could have helped that girl.

Eventually, I found that place inside me where I could bury this, forget it, set my feelings aside and pretend it never happened.  I would only tell my closest girlfriends. I thought that would be all the “therapy” I would need.

Back in Los Angeles, I truly believed that if I told anyone of authority I would lose my job.  I would be seen as a problem, as ineffective, possibly incompetent.  I had to toughen up.  I needed this job and still had a lot of plans, goals, and dreams.  I was just starting my career. I told myself that this is Hollywood; let it go. And I did. 

But it doesn’t really work that way. The internalized shame haunts you like an unwanted ghost, visiting at the most unexpected times. It never goes away. It still haunts me- decades later.  And herein lies the inequity of it all, how this one incident exemplified the obvious but normalized imbalance of power.

You apparently thought nothing of it because a few months later back in L.A. (*****) you invited me to watch Maurice Jarre’s score a film you were completing, Gorillas in the Mist.  

I remember reminding you on the phone I had no interest in anything romantic.  I also told you I had a boyfriend for extra measure. “Oh! Well, that it explains everything.  You should’ve just told me that a long time ago.”  Really?  That’s all I needed to do?  I wish I had known. Was this a secret man “code?” Or were you just joking? I honestly still do not know.

But I do know you never apologized for your reprehensible behavior back in Paris. Ever.  And I didn’t have enough self-value to approach the subject.

Although hesitant, to keep a potential work relationship alive, I agreed to go see Maurice Jarre.  There would be many people in the studio.  The afternoon turned out well.  I did enjoy watching the orchestra, and you were charming and friendly.

Nonetheless, as you towered over me behind the glass wall while viewing the orchestra, you started sending sexual signals by brushing up a little too close, and then actually touching me…eventually resting your hand on my lower back. 

Finally, I understood we could never have any kind of relationship.  I was simply your sexual target.  I felt demoralized, again, and then flashed back to Paris.  Then I felt sick.  And I feel sick writing this – an ongoing corrosion of the soul.  My spirit had been scarred, my integrity sullied and my person violated.

Now that working together was off the table, I had no way of explaining this to my companies.  This awful pressure of wanting to deliver something of great substance for my job combined with my having to essentially sell myself out was an impossible puzzle to solve.  Even after the incident in Paris I briefly weighed the prospect of sleeping with you just to further our business relationship and possibly make a film together.  This very thought compounded the shame. That is not who I am. Even knowing this, the shame persists.

I thanked you and left.  I didn’t want to chance a hug, a handshake or any physical contact. I so wish I could go back in time and decline your offer of seeing the concert, and then going to your hotel room. I had no idea the effect this would have on me, would still have on me.  Most likely, you didn’t either. It probably never occurred to you that your behavior would have a lasting, harmful effect on me.

Over the years I would see you at various film festivals and social events.  You were always kind but there was this unspoken discomfort between us.  Usually, I tried to avoid you.  We seemed to run into each other less and less.  I stopped watching your films unless I had to for business reasons.

As my career evolved, my duties became larger.  I ran the L.A. office for some of the largest film entities in Europe, (Pathe, Canal Plus, Telepool, RTD) developing, packaging, and buying American films.  One of my employers acquired one of your films, Nell, (another strong, female character.)  I remember at the screening of Nell I caught sight of you and thought; I bet he didn’t try to sexually assault Jodie Foster.

A few years later while channel flipping at home, I came across your film Enough; a film about a physically abused woman (Jennifer Lopez) who is unable to find safety or justice from the police, so she takes matters into her own hands and kills her abuser; a very satisfying film.  And I wondered how was it you chose that project; a female revenge story.

Michael, it’s important for you to know that this is not about retribution.  Because of the many courageous women sharing their stories people are listening. Finally.

Along with the onslaught of constant sexual harassment accounts, those of us who were assaulted become triggered to such a degree, it’s as though the event occurred last week.

There is an emotional whiplash that takes place: guilt, shame, fear, self-blame, and helplessness-the internalized trauma reinforced again and again.

This is the first opportunity I felt supported enough to speak my truth.

I also struggled with how this would affect you, your family, and your legacy.

But at what point do I stand up for myself? Honor myself?

Then, there are my daughters to consider.  I certainly do not want any possible exposure this would bring, but at the same time, I don’t want them going into a world where they are conditioned to accept that women are inferior to men; that their voices won’t matter under any circumstances. 

You have a genuine opportunity to be part of the solution. It starts with owning what you did to me - and anyone else who shares my misfortune.  It starts there.

My story, like countless others, illustrates the extreme pressure women are put under when dealing with men in powerful positions: this constant sexual undercurrent thwarting one’s efforts to create something that mattered, to forge a career.

After this incident, I approached many business opportunities with a sense of dread.

After years of battling misogyny, one’s confidence and sense of self-worth slowly erode until trying to achieve anything at all seems pointless. 

My intention is not to harm your reputation but rather to suggest using your position to keep moving the narrative forward for women. Please help end the tremendous imbalance of power as well as the general disrespect for women that exists in our industry.

If by my speaking out helps achieve this end, if only in small part, then perhaps there will be a sense of resolution for myself as well. Finally.

Rhonda Talbot

(*) Per your lawyer Marty Singer, it turns out that you were shooting a Sting documentary. The Stones were also in Paris, and possibly in the studio at the time. Here is my truth. At the time, I was nonplussed about either band, so my recollection of whom you were shooting is irrelevant.

(**) I realize now this happened end May 1985 because I went to Paris directly after Cannes Film Festival that year.

(***) Possibly Sting photographs.

(****) Apparently you are not 6'2", but given you were towering over me, it’s easy to imagine overestimating your height.

(*****) I’m shocked to realize this was three years later and not a few months because when you put your hand on my back, time was compressed and I was taken right back to that moment when I ran out of that room in Paris.

Here is the article: The Wrap 


1 comment:

  1. No real words other than I believe you, you are heard and seen, and holy shit, terrible, so sorry for this. Thank you for your courage in sharing.