The casting couch’s existence is not denied by many people, though most will argue that it isn’t as bad as it used to be. Yet, almost everyone in the industry, it seems, turns a blind eye to this type of thing, choosing to ignore the persistent rumors and accusations, rather than get involved and risk their own careers.
The casting couch, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, refers to the age-old practice of trading “intimate” favors for career advancement, specifically in the film industry. The idea is that a producer or a director or some person in power will directly state or imply that the aspiring actor/actress must perform a sexual act if they wish to get the role they’re seeking. Sometimes, these requests are made to look like they’re necessary for the audition, while others use the audition as a place to meet young and impressionable young would-be stars. If the actor denies these requests/demands, well, you know what they say, “Hollywood is a small town.”
For a long time, we have shamed, if only jokingly, the men and women who give the sexual favors. Yet, for whatever reason, we’ve neglected to look at the people in power, the ones who are subjecting these aspiring artists to these awkward situations. We’ve heard rumors about those who have gotten ahead using casting couch type situations; from Marilyn Monroe to Chelsea Handler, but it’s not always clear who is on the other side. Lately, with the awful Bill Cosby news, the casting couch is back in front-and-center because many of Cosby’s victims described a casting couch-type scenario as their initial meeting place. There are some big-name stars who have spoken out publicly against the powerful people in Hollywood using casting couches as well, and we’d like to give a little space for them and their stories. Here are 15 stars who have spoken out against Hollywood Casting Couches.
15. Jenny McCarthy
When Jenny McCarthy was auditioning for Under Siege 2, she claims that Steven Seagal was doing the auditions himself and put her in a very awkward situation when it was her time to read. She says, “I was wearing this very baggy dress, which I always wear to auditions, with my hair pulled back. I’m listening to him go on and on about how he found his soul in Asia and is one with himself and whatever. When I said, ‘Well, I’m ready to read,’ he said, ‘Stand up, you have to be kind of sexy in the movie and in that dress, I can’t tell.’ I stand up and he goes, ‘Take off your dress.’ I said, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘There’s nudity.’ I said, ‘No, there’s not, or I wouldn’t be here right now.’ He said again, ‘There’s nudity,’ and I said, ‘The pages are right in front of me. There’s no nudity.’ He goes, ‘Take off your dress.’ I just started crying and said, ‘Rent my [Playboy] video, you a**hole!’ and ran out to the car.” Though Seagal and his people have denied this accusation, it does fit with the narrative about Seagal and the casting couch tradition.
14. Lisa Rinna
Lately, actress Lisa Rinna has been best known for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but she’s been around for a long time. In the early 90s, Rinna got some attention for her role on Days of Our Lives and became somewhat of a sex symbol. Sometime during this period, Rinna admits that she experienced a scary situation during an audition for a popular TV show. The actress claims, “I lost a role on a BIG TV series because I wouldn’t bend over a chair in a producer’s office for ‘just a quickie’… ‘Just pull your panties down and bend over and the role is yours’ he said it me.” Later on, after Rinna became a bigger star in the industry, appearing on the smash hit, Melrose Place, she ran into the greasy producer again, this time threatening him: “I know everyone in this town and if you ever do what you did to me again to anyone else I will tell everyone your dirty secret.”
13. Woody Harrelson
Woody Harrelson has some weird and disturbing stories. He’s brutally honest, something rare for most in the industry, so he doesn’t pull any punches when discussing the possibility of casting couches existing, suggesting that not only are they out there, they are everywhere: “Every [acting] business I ever entered into in New York seemed to have a casting couch…. I’ve seen so many people sleep with people they loathe in order to further their ambition.” There’s another story that tells of a proposition by a female executive to sleep with Harrelson while her husband watched. It’s unclear what the end result was, but it’s just another example of how the casting couches impacts everyone in the industry.
Like stars tend to do these days, Cher took to Twitter to tell her personal casting couch story. While brave, the Tweets were riddled with grammatical errors, so we apologize for the disastrous language you’re about to read. The Tweet stated, “Ladies. We r not disposable blow up dolls, 4rich mens pleasure. I had scary experience w/rich important film prod. & I was Cher!! I wanted job.”
Cher clarified the Tweet a bit with the follow-up Tweet, “It was interview 4film. I was young. I left b4 it got totally uncomfortable!! I can take care of myself, but shouldn’t have 2.” Looking beyond the juvenile spelling, Cher shows that not only is it up-and-coming actors who are mistreated but stars as well.
11. Gwyneth Paltrow
While many of the stars on this list were conscious of what was happening during their experiences, there are advances and pressures being put on these actors, especially young actors, that could be met with acceptance by some. Whether they have a weaker will or maybe they’re naïve, you never know how someone will react in a situation like this until it happens. Even though Gwyneth Paltrow says she never accepted the invitation she was given, she is certainly empathetic to those who have fallen victim, saying, “When I was just starting out, someone suggested that we finish a meeting in the bedroom. I left. I was pretty shocked. I could see how someone who didn’t know better might worry, ‘My career will be ruined if I don’t give this guy a bl*w j*b!’”
10. Susan Sarandon
When the legendary Susan Sarandon was asked if she had ever experienced any casting couch situations, she said that she had, adding, “It was not successful – for either of us… I just went into a room, and a guy practically threw me on the desk… It was my early days in New York, and it was really disgusting. It wasn’t like I gave it a second thought, it was so badly done.” While Sarandon seems to shrug it off easily, this sounds a lot like attempted r*pe and sexual assault. Most of the stars, like Sarandon, even though they have shown the courage to speak out, still refuse to name names. For most, there seems to be a fear about being too specific because they’re still working in the industry and they don’t want to crap where they eat. Or maybe it’s because nothing would change.
9. Ryan Phillippe
While giving an interview on The Howard Stern Show, Ryan Phillippe was asked if he ever had any casting couch experiences in his career. He said that he had, explaining, “It happened once early on in my career… He wanted me to come over to his house for a rehearsal. But then I was supposed to take my shirt off for that rehearsal. And that’s when I left.” When asked how long ago this was, Phillippe said that he was “18 or 19” but “I looked like I was 13. Yeah. It was creepy.” We wouldn’t be surprised to hear more specific details coming out when these stars have retired. Until then, we will have to be suspicious of every big wig in the industry.
8. Charlize Theron
The heavenly body that is Charlize Theron might be immune from flaws, but she is not immune from gross casting couch advances. When she was first breaking into the industry, the blonde goddess was asked to give an unorthodox audition for a role that she wanted: “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal… He was in his Hugh Hefner pajamas—I go inside and he’s offering me a drink, and I’m thinking, ‘My God this acting stuff is very relaxed.’ But it soon becomes very clear what the situation was. I was like, ‘Not going to happen! Got the wrong girl, buddy!'” Of course Theron deflected that weak attempt. She is truly perfection in a human casing.
7. Helen Mirren
All the people on this list are hesitant to release specific names except for Dame Helen Mirren. The actress has been vocal about the rampant sexism in the industry and has named director Michael Winner, as one who attempted to use casting couch tactics on her in the past. Mirren said that Winner asked her to show off her body more in an audition, telling her to turn around, etc. She added, “I was mortified and incredibly angry. I thought it was insulting and sexist, and I don’t think any actress should be treated like that-like a piece of meat-at all.” While Winner said that he didn’t remember doing any of this, he also said that, if he did, he was only following the casting director’s orders.
6. Judy Garland
In Judy Garland’s biography, there is a section that accuses producer Louis B. Mayer—the second “M” in MGM studios—of sexually assaulting her. The story suggests that when Garland was singing for Mayer, he placed his hand on her breast and said, “this is where you sing from.” Garland, disgusted by the groping, said in return, “Mr. Mayer, don’t you ever do that again. If you want to tell me where I sing from, just point.” That was reportedly the first time that Garland spoke back to the man who would have the young star sit on his lap during their meetings. Garland, who was 16 when Mayer cast her in The Wizard of Oz was said to have put up with a great deal of sexual advances early in her career.
5. Mickey Rourke
Mickey Rourke was never put in casting couch situation, but he recognizes that they exist, stating, “There’s definitely something called a casting couch.” For Rourke, the powerful men and women in charge of the studios are disgusting and lecherous and young actors need to be aware and do things the honorable way. “I did it the old-fashioned way,” Rourke said. “I went to acting school and broke my ass, studied hard. But if you take a girl from the Midwest with a pretty face, and instead of inviting them in for an audition in the morning, the directors invite them for dinner at night? … I can recall with certain women, we’d go out, I’d park the car on Sunset (Boulevard), and by the time I’d got to the curb there’d be three or four producers handing them cards. That kind of thing makes me act a bit like Attila the Hun. There’s ways you get a job, and ways you get a job.”
4. Corey Feldman
Long-time actor has always been one of the most vocal critics of Hollywood’s seedy underbelly and the big wigs who run the show. He hasn’t been shy about calling out the casting couch process and how it affects the young actors in the industry either, stating that “the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia. That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry. … It’s the big secret” Feldman went on to say, “I was surrounded by [pedophiles] when I was 14 years old. … Didn’t even know it. It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize what they were and what they wanted … till I went, Oh, my God. They were everywhere… [T]here’s a lot of good people in this industry, but there’s also a lot of really, really sick, corrupt people. And there are people … who have gotten away with it for so long that they feel they’re above the law, and that’s got to change.”
3. Rose McGowan
Recently, actress Rose McGowan added her name to the list of actors who have spoken out against casting couches and the depravities of Hollywood powers. In a Tweet responding to a #WhyWomenDontReport hashtag on Twitter, McGowan wrote: “A (female) criminal attorney said because I’d done a sex scene in a film I would never win against the studio head #WhyWomenDontReport.” McGowan followed that up with, “Because it’s been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my r*pist #WhyWomenDontReport.” After that, she concluded with, “It is time for some goddamned honesty in this world.”
2. Thandie Newton
Thandie Newton, the beautiful actress in Mission: Impossible II and Crash claims to have been abused a couple of times in her career during a casting couch situation. The first came as a 16-year old when she was first beginning her career and then again at age 18. Regarding the second occurrence, Newton explains, “It was a screen test. There were two other people in the room – the director and the casting director, who was a woman. The director asked me to sit with my legs apart – the camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt – to put my leg over the arm of the chair.” Though she was confused how any of this was relevant to the audition, Newton followed the instructions. Later, she learned that the video that was made was being shown around to other sickos in the industry.
1. Megan Fox
As with driving an automobile, many people have a blindspot that blocks out the wrongdoings of people that are close to them. Megan Fox, for example, claims that “Any casting couch s**t I’ve experienced has been since I’ve become famous. It’s really heartbreaking. Some of these people! Like Hollywood legends. You think you’re going to meet them and you’re so excited, like, ‘I believe this person wants to have a conversation with me,’ and you get there and you realize that’s not what they want at all.” Yet, Fox had mentioned in another interview that her first audition for Michael Bay for the role in Transformers, before she was famous, was a weird one—a very casting-couch-like interview. Bay reportedly had Fox wash his Ferrari, while he filmed it. Even if she doesn’t associate this type of thing with a “casting couch,” it sure sounds odd. The tape has apparently gone missing too.