Home WORLD NEWS Shielding Scott Rudin: How the Super-Producer Avoided Answering for Abusive Behavior for Decades – Hollywood Reporter

Shielding Scott Rudin: How the Super-Producer Avoided Answering for Abusive Behavior for Decades – Hollywood Reporter

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In September 2019, Eric Emauni was rolling calls when his boss, Scott Rudin, ordered him to get media mogul Barry Diller on the line. Immediately. So the assistant did just that. The only problem was Rudin wasn’t quite ready for the call. It was a cruel game the producer played with his staff, leaving them to decipher the many degrees of “immediately.” “Scott says, ‘Hang up the fucking phone.’ And I say, ‘Mr. Diller, Scott’s going to have to call you back,’ ” Emauni recalls. “In that moment, Barry Diller then lays into me. He’s cussing me out over the phone. ‘You called me, and he’s not fucking ready? How dare you? You’re an idiot.’ ”

With both men hurling insults at Emauni, he disconnected the line, but Rudin barked at another assistant and instructed him to redial Diller. With Diller back on the phone and the rest of the staff trying to avoid making eye contact with their enraged boss, Rudin continued his expletive-filled tirade and walked over to Emauni, stood over him and told him to get out. He was fired. Instead of collapsing into tears, as so many assistants before him had done, Emauni began laughing.

“And something about that infuriated him,” he says. “Like, in the time that I worked there, there wasn’t anything really that he could do to disrupt me personally,” he says. “That’s just how I am as a person. I wasn’t one of those assistants that broke down. But he tried to break me.”

That’s when things took a malevolent turn.

“Scott says, ‘Somebody call the police on him. Get him out of here,’ ” says Emauni. “And it was that moment for me, as a Black man, that I said, ‘I need to remove myself from this space.’ Because, if you can so cavalierly just shout something out like that to your staff, without any consequence to what that means for me, that’s a huge problem.”

Emauni, who is now managing director of LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, continues, “That moment — with Barry Diller on the phone, listening to it and participating in it — has been forefront in my mind of why no celebrity or very few people for that matter are going to come forward and say anything. Because his relationships and his ties in the entertainment industry are very deep. And those people will continue to support him.”

Another source who was in the room at the time corroborates Emauni’s account.

“I’ve never been on a phone conversation with Scott Rudin where he berated anyone, much less called the police,” Diller says in a statement.

Rudin’s attorney, Thomas A. Clare, denied that his client has called the police on employees.

In the wake of an April exposé in The Hollywood Reporter that detailed decades of Rudin’s physically and psychologically abusive behavior that sent at least two employees to the hospital, the showbiz titan behind The Social Network and Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird quickly vowed to step back from “active participation” in his projects. While it’s hard to know what made Rudin behave as he did, it is easier to identify the pillars of protection that allowed him to operate with impunity for so long. Over the years, he ensured the silence of his discarded staffers with nondisclosure agreements and reinforced that with fear and intimidation.

“It goes way beyond the physical. Every single person who comes out of that office is psychologically damaged,” says Max Hoffman, who worked as an assistant at Scott Rudin Productions from January to October 2020.

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Rudin with IAC chairman and frequent collaborator Barry Diller at the 2018 opening night of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’
Walter McBride/WireImage

Perhaps even more significant, the Oscar-winning producer of No Country for Old Men benefited from a complicity machine comprising billionaire benefactors, boldfaced names and powerful news organizations that downplayed or ignored his behavior and forestalled his reckoning. In recent years, he was working almost exclusively on the film side with A24, the hot New York-based indie distributor behind Oscar best picture Moonlight and Rudin-produced fare like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.

Says Josh Arnon, who worked for Rudin from October 2018 to August 2019: “Everyone, including the people at A24, were aware. He would yell at people all day. He yells at people over the phone. People who were there just for an interview would hear Scott yelling. I find it impossible to imagine that people who worked with him more than one day would miss any of that. People just ignored it.” A24 declined to comment.

For as long as he has enjoyed a career in Hollywood, Rudin has been known for brutality — encompassing everything from hurling staplers, baked potatoes and glass objects at underlings to telling one to kill herself and a director not to bother coming out of gallbladder surgery — that stood well above the industry standard. (Rudin’s lawyer denies his client ever told an employee to kill herself.)

Rudin, back in the 1980s as a 20-something executive at 20th Century Fox, already had a reputation, both as a wunderkind with a knack for talent relationships and for driving underlings to despair. When the Long Island native was looking to set up a producing banner, he approached Gale Anne Hurd to be his partner.

“He said we could be the next Guber-Peters — back when [Peter Guber and Jon Peters] were the top producers in town — and I said: ‘Absolutely no way. You treat people too badly. You kiss up and kick down, and I don’t care how successful we might become as a team, it wouldn’t be worth the damage done by you to staff and their psyches,’ ” the Walking Dead producer says. “I have never respected anyone — writers, directors, execs — who continued to work with him because they gave him both explicit and implicit cover for continuing his abuse.”

 FEAR AND INTIMIDATION 

For decades, Rudin anecdotes were passed around Hollywood parties like mushroom canapes, occasionally surfacing in a profile that focused on his genius and with enfant terrible framing. Some of the more brutal depictions took on urban legend status, including the whole subgenre of vehicular Rudin.

“Did you ever hear the one about how he threw someone out of a moving car?”

That was a popular question Adam Coplan fielded whenever he told people he once worked for Scott Rudin. He would just smile, nod and say, “Yeah, I’ve heard that story,” and move on. For Coplan, who was vp at Scott Rudin Productions from 1998 to 1999, the truth was more personal and would require greater explanation.

Back in 1998, Rudin and Coplan were huddled in the backseat of a town car after leaving the Hollywood Hills home of composer and lyricist Marc Shaiman, a frequent Rudin collaborator. They were heading down a steep hill on Laurel Canyon north of Sunset Boulevard when Rudin grew impatient about getting to the airport. Suddenly the producer told his lieutenant to find his own way back to their offices on the Paramount lot.

“He starts screaming at me to get out of the car, and I was like, ‘Fine, pull over, and I’ll get out,’ ” recalls Coplan, now a film professor and published author. The light was green and about to turn yellow. For a man who apparently values his own efficiency above an employee’s safety, a 60-second wait was out of the question. “He reaches over, opens the door and just started pushing me as we’re going. With a couple of good pushes, I just went stumbling right out. I landed and rolled. My shirt was torn. My arm was bleeding from my elbow. So I walked up to Chateau Marmont and caught a cab.” Rudin denies ever kicking an employee out of a moving car.

According to the dozens of former staffers whom THR spoke to for this piece, forcing passengers out of his car became one of Rudin’s go-to moves. Manchester by the Sea producer Kevin Walsh previously told THR that he was forced out of a car by Rudin on a highway (though the car was stopped).

Several former employees say Rudin’s intimidation tactics continue to this day and expressed trepidation about speaking out. Andrew Coles, who worked for Rudin in 2012 and is now a producer of such films as Queen & Slim, believes Rudin tried to send him a message about his participation in THR‘s April exposé as an on-the-record source. During a May 20 panel for Anita Hill’s Hollywood Commission that was reported widely, Coles relayed a chilling anecdote: The day before THR‘s story broke, as it already was circulating widely around agency circles due to a mysterious leak, an anonymous person called in a false murder-suicide threat at Coles’ West Hollywood home. A heavily armed SWAT team arrived at the house where Coles, who is Black, lives with another Black man. “My housemate was taken out of the house at shotgun point. There was a helicopter circling overhead. There were barricades in front of my street,” he said during the panel. “I do not know what the intention [was] of whoever sent that SWAT team to my house — whether it was to intimidate, to dissuade me from further speaking, to have a chilling effect on anyone else who might speak. I don’t know who’s interested in upholding the status quo of how broken this industry is.”

Coles tells THR that he hired a private investigator to get a copy of the audio of the 911 call but thus far has been unsuccessful. Separately, THR has requested a copy of the audio and transcript from the LAPD but was denied.

Rudin’s attorney vehemently denies his client had anything to do with the incident and says: “Mr. Coles’ false implication is precisely why the LAPD is now investigating. Mr. Rudin specifically requested the investigation after Mr. Coles’ false allegations came to light.”

 NDAs 

One reason employees have been loath to discuss Rudin’s bullying was the fear of breaking their nondisclosure agreements. Jason Carter Eaton, who worked for Rudin from 1994 to 1997 when his main offices were on the Paramount lot, refused to sign one.

“He would have Bioreports Newsed so many holes in the wall that at a certain point Paramount just said, ‘We are not paying for this anymore.’ So the only thing left to do was get giant plants to put in front of the holes in the wall, and there were so many plants, and at a certain point it literally felt like you were dropped into a Vietnam war movie,” says Eaton, now a children’s book author. “There’d be foliage everywhere, screaming in the distance. An assistant would run with this thousand-yard stare, totally freaked out. It was craziness.”

When Eaton balked at signing the NDA, Rudin fired him and sent his office buddy to court to contest his unemployment claim, thereby broadcasting a message to the staff about signing NDAs.

“The guy showed up at the court hearing and just sat there mortified, whispering, ‘I’m sorry. I’m soooo sorry,’ as he zero-heartedly went through the process,” Eaton remembers. “It was insanely jarring. I was 24, suddenly unemployed after my only job ever, no severance, no health insurance and no prospects because Scott said he wouldn’t let anyone else hire me. And now he’s trying to prevent me from even collecting a minimum income to live on while I scramble to find another industry to work in? That’s why people don’t talk about him. Because he’s petty and vindictive.” (Eaton won and was awarded unemployment.)

In the cases of the two former employees who were sent to the hospital — one after Rudin allegedly smashed a computer monitor on his hand in 2012 and the other because of a severe panic attack in 2019 — both reached settlement agreements and signed NDAs.

 POWERFUL BENEFACTORS 

Sources close to Rudin say he already is plotting a path back after taking some time off in East Hampton and Palm Springs with his two golden retrievers. Some friends insist he has mellowed in recent years. And a comeback doesn’t seem far-fetched given that he remains repped by WME and there has been little in the way of criticism from industry heavyweights, with the exception of Michael Chabon (“I regularly, even routinely, heard him treat his staff … with what I would call a careful, even surgical, contempt, like a torturer trained to cause injuries that leave no visible marks,” he wrote in a mea culpa), Moulin Rouge! star Karen Olivo (who dubbed him a “monster”) and producer Megan Ellison (who tweeted that he is “abusive, racist, and sexist”).

Calls to Rudin’s longtime collaborators like Aaron Sorkin, the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson have been met with “no comment,” even as more disturbing revelations surfaced, including that former assistant Kevin Graham-Caso developed a severe anxiety disorder after enduring psychologically torturous conditions under Rudin and took his life last year. His identical twin brother, David Graham-Caso, blamed the mega-producer for his sibling’s mental health decline after being subjected to abuse (including being thrown out of a moving car, according to David, which Rudin denies happened).

“I’m disappointed that even after Scott Rudin’s horrific abuse of his employees was explicitly and heart-wrenchingly detailed by survivors and those who love them, people continue to cover for this monster,” David Graham-Caso says. “You can’t claim ignorance anymore. If you are still working with Scott Rudin or staying silent to cover for him, it is either because you approve of his horrific abuse of employees or you just don’t care.”

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Left: Rudin has produced movies from Ethan (far left) and Joel Coen multiple times, including ‘No Country for Old Men,’ which won the 2008 best picture and best directing  Oscars.
Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Behind the scenes, Rudin still can count on allies Diller and David Geffen, two billionaires who are among the most powerful men in any industry. Diller, in particular, has told associates he thinks the Rudin accusations are “overblown and 15 years old.” (Many of the accusations in THR‘s cover story and in follow-ups in New York magazine and The bioreports took place within the past three years.) Diller tells THR that he has “never characterized Scott Rudin’s actions to anyone.”

In April, Diller told New York City digital news platform The City that Rudin would continue to advise on performances on Little Island — the public space on the Hudson River funded by the IAC chairman and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg, that opened May 21. “I’ve never witnessed, nor heard of a single instance in all that time that would even be on the outskirts of anti-social behavior,” Diller told the outlet. “It is profoundly the opposite — and I believe that would be attested to in the thousands. All I’ve ever known of his behavior is that of one of the great creative collaborators and creators across the entire spectrum of entertainment.”

During the pandemic, Diller provided Rudin with offices in the IAC building on 18th Street in New York. And back in April 2018, Rudin, Diller and Geffen quietly formed a company called Danish San Juan LLC for their ownership stake in a planned West Side Story revival on Broadway. Nineteen months later, the trio filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission, showing they had raised $16 million for the production.

It was the first of two public LLCs that the power players have created together in recent years. In April 2019, they spawned What a Dump for their investment in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which they filed with the SEC 10 months later. And sources say the three men also co-own another company called Trio, though it does not yet appear in SEC filings. Within the Broadway community, speculation is rampant that Rudin will continue to profit from the projects from which he “stepped back” because of the arrangements with Diller and Geffen.

“I have never been to Scott Rudin’s office in my life,” Geffen tells THR. “The only time I have met with him to discuss mutual investments in the theater business was in Barry Diller’s office at IAC, where he has always been on time, intelligent and a perfect gentleman. Our very short-lived business together covered West Side Story and Music Man only.”

Even with powerful backers, Rudin needed to make a showing of stepping away from his many upcoming projects as calls were mounting for him to exit his most high-profile Broadway production on the horizon, a $17 million revival of The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. Back in mid-April, he approached producers to replace him on Music Man, but in name only and with a financial deal that was less than impressive, sources say. On June 22, U.K. producer Kate Horton signed on to Music Man. Several former employees noted that Rudin and Horton have been close friends for years. (Rudin denied approaching producers for the gig.) Sources add that Rudin’s entertainment lawyers, Peter Grant and Larry Shire at Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, have been particularly aggressive in carving out hefty exit payouts from A24 and the financiers of any of their Broadway shows for their embattled client.

Furthermore, Rudin can count on a familiar face on the inside of many of his projects. His right-hand man of a dozen years, Eli Bush, will continue producing The Lehman Trilogy, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and West Side Story. The fact that Bush has inherited the Rudin spoils has rankled many former employees who worked alongside both men.

“Everyone is perplexed that Eli Bush is nowhere in this reckoning,” says one former employee with a prominent perch in the industry. “He’s like the [Mike] Pence of the whole operation. He’s shared an office with Scott all day every day for over 10 years.”

Tara Vaughan, another former assistant who worked at Scott Rudin Productions in 2018 — a particularly volatile period in which, according to another insider, Rudin burned through 89 assistants — says she witnessed physical abuse and experienced verbal lashings. (Rudin’s lawyer disputes the number of assistants.) From Vaughan’s vantage point, Bush, a onetime assistant who rose in the ranks to become a full producer, did nothing in the face of either. “I’ve seen Scott very angry and Eli just kind of sitting there and letting him say whatever. Eli was kind of like, ‘I went through this, so you all can,’ ” says Vaughan.

Bush declined to comment.

Sources say Rudin remains in close contact with Bush, who has taken over sole producing duties on several of Rudin’s films at A24 that are in various stages of production, including Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, and Jennifer Lawrence’s Red, White and Water, both for A24. (A well-placed source says Diller has a stake in A24.)

If Rudin was afraid of being outed in the press for any kind of toxicity, like so many of his compatriots — beginning with fellow industry titan Harvey Weinstein in October 2017 — he never showed that fear in the office. Many who worked with him say the producer was masterful with the media. Multiple sources say a bioreports exposé was scheduled to run before the Feb. 20, 2020, opening of West Side Story at the Broadway Theatre. Publication was imminent for the weekend of the 2020 Oscars, which took place Feb. 9, but was held without explanation to those who had participated, leaving several feeling exposed.

Caroline Rugo, who participated in THR‘s April exposé, shared on-the-record accounts of abuse with The bioreports back in early 2020. Likewise, Arnon, who worked for Rudin alongside several of the THR whistleblowers, says he talked for hours with a bioreports correspondent for an exposé “that never came to pass.” He adds, “I was not told at the time why it was killed.” A piece eventually ran about 16 months later, after THR‘s story and New York magazine’s follow-up. A bioreports spokesperson says the paper does not comment on unpublished stories.

Sources familiar with the bioreports-Rudin relationship say he provided one of the biggest ad revenue streams for the newspaper’s Arts & Leisure section, totaling about $3 million a year. The Times spokesperson adds, “The advertising department is entirely separate from the newsroom and has no control or influence over any news coverage.”

For years, ad agency SpotCo handled Rudin’s full-page spreads, but the relationship frayed when SpotCo sued Rudin in 2020 for $6.3 million for unpaid pre-pandemic work on eight shows. Andrew Temkin, a former intern at SpotCo, says Rudin’s abuse of one particular Times employee raised eyebrows around the office in 2016.

“He wanted changes to his ads. When SpotCo relayed to him from the ad department of The bioreports that the section was already set for that Sunday, he ‘responded all’ to an email with, ‘Tell that cunt to do as I say or I will never advertise in the Times again,’ ” says Temkin. “Just like that, he got his way. Obviously, his language was terrible, but what’s more concerning was his successful use of leverage over a print media company whose ad sales were dwindling.”

Says Hoffman: “The people who keep protecting him will call news publications and say, ‘He cares, and he’s sorry,’ when they know he doesn’t because he’s a sociopath who doesn’t care about anything. Truly.”

Still, the ultimate insurance policy Rudin held was his ability to entice talent to work with him. His films have earned 151 Oscar nominations and 23 wins, and Rudin himself has earned 17 individual Tony Awards (he also boasts Emmy and Grammy statuettes, making him one of 16 people ever to attain full EGOT status). For those who claim they saw nothing along the way, Emauni offers a different picture.

“There have been times when he’s laid into someone while a celebrity was in the room,” he says. “He invited Frances McDormand and Joel Coen into the office for a meeting.” In the middle of the visit, says Emauni, Rudin exited his office to the assistant bullpen just outside and “laid into [a female] assistant while they were there. They sat there, [then] they continued their meeting. Right after that, she quit.”

Through their representatives, McDormand and Coen categorically deny having seen or witnessed any such behavior. In a statement, Rudin’s attorney says that his client “takes full and sole responsibility for his behavior” and that his collaborators are not “in any way responsible for the interaction they are alleged to have witnessed.”

Ultimately, the complicity machine behind Rudin may play a role in his ability to return to an industry that has looked the other way as scores of his broken staffers continue to struggle with self-esteem and anxiety. Several THR spoke to left the industry altogether.

In the meantime, many of his closest collaborators will carry on without addressing Rudin’s behavior. Netflix released the Rudin-produced The Woman in the Window in May without any of the film’s talent, including Amy Adams, speaking about him. According to his team, Wes Anderson, who has made seven movies with the producer, will not be answering any questions about Rudin as he promotes his new movie debuting at Cannes, The French Dispatch. Sorkin, who has collaborated with Rudin many times, dodged commenting on the producer when it was announced that their Broadway hit To Kill a Mockingbird will return in September. (“I’m looking forward to the relaunch of the play under Orin Wolf’s leadership, and I’m excited for the electricity that Jeff [Daniels], Celia [Keenan-Bolger] and the whole cast will be bringing to the Shubert Theatre,” he said in a statement.) And that perhaps was the biggest problem of all, say former Rudin staffers.

“In my opinion, everyone who’s involved with him is complicit. Everyone,” says Emauni. “You cannot work in any part of Scott’s world and not know what kind of human being he is. It’s not possible.”

This story first appeared in the June 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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