Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams Share Their Stories of James Toback’s Sexual Harassment – Vanity Fair
Selma Blair’s representatives arranged for her to meet Toback and described him as a “really interesting and odd guy,” who could help her gain credibility with the indie-film crowd. (She had filmed Cruel Intentions, but it had not yet been released.) Blair’s team said Toback would only meet in his hotel room; Blair insisted that they meet in the hotel restaurant. The two were meant to discuss a project Toback had written called Harvard Man , so the actress dressed accordingly—a pleated Y.S.L. skirt, a grosgrain ribbon, and a cable-knit sweater.
That afternoon, I arrived at the restaurant and sat down at a table. After a bit, the hostess came up to me and told me that James Toback could not make it down, but that he wanted me to meet him in his room. Against my better judgment, I went upstairs.
I was rattled, and looking back, I don’t think James Toback ever planned to come down to the restaurant.
I went in the room feeling a little off balance about the arrangement, but he seemed nonplussed. He pulled out the script and said, “I look at you, and I see that we have a real connection. You could be an incredible actress, just by your eyes. But I can tell you don’t have confidence.”
He said, “Where are your parents?”
I was thinking, “Why is he trying to make me feel so uncomfortable?” But I realize now he was really trying to figure out what support system I had. I answered him. My mother was in Michigan, and I had an estranged relationship with my father.
James said, “You know, I could have him killed.”
He sat back in his chair and said really confidently, “I do it all the time. I know people.”
Now I’m even more nervous, because he’s told me I have no confidence, he said he could have someone killed, and he said we had a connection—which no one had said to me before in this business. I really believed that when he started to talk . . . that he was going to be my mentor. That is how he got into my brain. You know, in acting classes they get into your personal history and connect that to work. So this conversation didn’t seem that strange. It seemed like he was concerned that I would not be seen as the actress I had the potential to be, and that he could do for me what he did for Robert Downey Jr.
It was about 40 minutes in and he said, “Will you trust me? I cannot continue to work with you unless you trust me.” He said, “I need you to take your clothes off. I need you to do this monologue naked.”
I said, “Why would my character need to be naked? She is a lawyer in a courtroom.”
He said, “Because I need to see how your body moves. How comfortable you are with your body. This is where I start training you.”
I told him I was uncomfortable. But he continued to coax me—saying that this was in no way a come-on. This was part of training. He wanted to make me a good actress. He wanted to make me comfortable. I thought, “Well, my representation sent me to see him. He must be really important.” I took off my sweater. I was so private about my body. I do remember looking down at the script and seeing my bare chest and not being able to focus on anything but the words and my face being so hot and puffy and feeling so ashamed.
He commented on my body—said that it was Eastern European. I was just trying to block it all out.
He said, “Wow, you need a lot of work.”
I put my sweater back on. And he proceeded to tell me how much help I needed . . . that I was really just a mess. As I was telling him, “Guess I better get out of here . . .” he sat down on the bed and said, “No, you have to talk to me.” He started to rub his penis through his pants and asked, ‘Would you f**k me?’”
I managed to say, “No. No, I won’t. Are you married? Do you have a wife?”
He said, “It’s complicated, but yes. She’s wonderful. She’s a writer. She’s a teacher. And she’s a wonderful woman. And I have a girlfriend who can’t get enough sex. But I love that. I have to come six or seven times a day or else it really doesn’t work for me to get through my day.”
I felt trapped. I did not know how to get out and save face and not make a scene. Was I imagining it? He dropped some names [of actresses] that he did some really dark sexual things with. These felt like lies and dark gossip and that he would add my name to the list. I went to leave and he got up and blocked the door. He said, “You have to do this for me. You cannot leave until I have release.”
I said, “What do I have to do? I cannot touch you. I cannot have sex with you.”
“He said, ‘It’s O.K. I can come in my pants. I have to rub up against your leg. You have to pinch my nipples. And you have to look into my eyes.’” I thought, “Well, if I can get out of here without being raped . . .”
He walked me back to the bed. He sat me down. He got on his knees. And he continued to press so hard against my leg. He was greasy and I had to look into those big brown eyes. I tried to look away, but he would hold my face. So I was forced to look into his eyes. And I felt disgust and shame, and like nobody would ever think of me as being clean again after being this close to the devil. His energy was so sinister.
After he finished, he told me, “There is a girl who went against me. She was going to talk about something I did. I am going to tell you, and this is a promise, if she ever tells anybody, no matter how much time she thinks went by, I have people who will pull up in a car, kidnap her, and throw her in the Hudson River with cement blocks on her feet. You understand what I’m talking about, right?”
He looked at me with those bug eyes that had just raped my leg. And I said, “Yes. I understand.”
I left. I was shaking and scared. I told my boyfriend and made him promise not to tell anyone. My career was just starting, and I was frightened. I thought I was going to be kidnapped if I told anybody.
When my manager called me back and said, “James Toback wants to see you again,” I said, “That man is vile. And I never want to be in a room with him again. Do not send any girls or women to him.”
I didn’t want to speak up because, it sounds crazy but, even until now, I have been scared for my life. But then these brave women spoke out, and he called them liars and said he didn’t recall meeting them . . . that [the] behavior alleged was disgusting and it could not be attributed to him. I just felt rage. Pure rage.
Also, where are the people who have been financing his movies? His high-profile friends? This man, unlike Harvey Weinstein, does not have a company that can hold him accountable. Who is coming out and saying, “This is a horrible story and we are looking into this.” Or, “I knew something.” Where was our union?
I would like to see Toback admit this happened. None of us are asking for money, for jobs, or for fame. We don’t want to be threatened on social media or called whistleblowers by people who don’t know what it means to be defiled and degraded and made to feel worthless. What I do want, in my dreams, is for someone bigger than me to call him out. I want to light the pyre of public opinion.”