Selma Blair on Baring Her Soul and Weeping at Art Basel Miami In a Post-James Toback Catharsis

December 8, 2017

W Magazine Interview | by Stephanie Eckardt

Selma Blair may have only dropped into Art Basel Miami Beach for about 24 hours, but the actress made quite an appearance when she stepped into a spotlight atop the roof of the Miami Beach Edition hotel on Tuesday night, flanked by Caroline Vreeland and 15 other women in identical black leotards who joined her standing in the wind for a full hour. After weeping so much with them that they formed a “Greek chorus,” Blair then dined with her new friends and was already out of town the next morning, taking care to fly out just in time to pick up her son from school in L.A. on Wednesday afternoon.

Lately, things have been moving at breakneck speed for Blair: Since she publicly aired the secret she’s harbored for nearly two decades—that the director James Toback once sexually assaulted her, then threatened to kill her if she ever spoke up—she’s also discovered just how wrong she’s been all these years in thinking that she was Toback’s only target. (More than 300 women have come forward with similar stories of their own over the past month and a half.) The camaraderie has come as a surprise to Blair, and Tuesday night provided her with the first chance to experience it in real life rather than just on Twitter, coming together with a group of women to ruminate on their emotional states in the post-Harvey Weinstein reckoning and their experiences with sexual harassment and assault to altogether form “Synaptic Fatigue/Dear in the Headlights,” a performance presented by the artist Tara Subkoff with the Hole Gallery. Just after stepping out of the spotlight, Blair talked what was going through her head that whole time, how Toback seems to have made assaulting women his “life’s mission,” and why despite her experiences with him and other men in the industry, she never once considered turning her back on acting.

How are you feeling right now, having just stood so exposed in a leotard facing a spotlight for a full hour?

Exactly a full hour—I didn’t move my feet once, and I had nothing planned. I just wanted to feel compassion for myself, and there ended up being a lot of emotions: a lot of grief, some rage, some amusement, some shame, joy. Not as much joy, but there was hope. Sometimes I’d get lost in the moment, and then it was like waking up from a dream and I’d start another story in my head. I was already into it but the show actually started when the opera singer, Rebecca Ringle, started singing. She sang stories in five different languages about women going through despair, rape, futility, sorrow, and some of the music was 400 years old, so sometimes it was jarring and sometimes it happened to be right in time with my emotions. But it was an incredible thing to have her there being the voice of all us.

I saw that Caroline Vreeland just posted an Instagram of herself crying during the performance. Did you also end up tearing up?

Yes, yes I did. There was no plan, it just came about, and yes, I have to say I wept. And I heard a lot of other women in the background—like a Greek chorus of weeping. There was a lot of grief and sorrow. It was interesting because I usually get really uncomfortable crying in front of people, but this was for Tara’s art piece, and I thought it was important to just let myself go and see whatever emotion came and be honest, so that I can be honest and listen to other people. So yes, there was weeping. I thought it was a really big luxury to stand up with a bunch of women—literally—and show our emotions, to not have anyone tell you you’re being dramatic or to shut up and just say, I don’t care if I’m being judged. I don’t care if I’m being dramatic. I’m just going with the emotions, which was scary to me because I wasn’t doing it really as an actress—I was doing it more from my own well of imagination than someone’s words or script. We didn’t talk about it all beforehand—it was kind of a private experience that became public—but it was especially cathartic to me to really hear the other women being unafraid in their feelings.

How did the audience react?

Well, I could only see a headlight. Occasionally I could hear a camera click or see the glint off someone’s cell phone, which was like a strange other world that made me feel that invasion of privacy. Being somewhat of a celebrity or an actress or something, even though I’m not particularly famous, that’s still a part of my everyday life—the paparazzi capture almost every walk I have with my child, and it might not really show up anywhere, but it’s my daily life. So it was weird to have this public, very intimate thing photographed and see the same thing that comes to play in real life.

Caroline Vreeland and Selma Blair performing in “Synaptic Fatigue / Dear in the Headlights” by Tara Subkoff and the Hole Gallery.
Madison McGaw/BFA

The original premise of the performance was to focus on a specific time you’ve been harassed or assaulted. Did you really stick to one experience for an hour, or did it open up over that space of time?

I thought of interviews, I thought of times as a young girl when people tried to take advantage of me every day. I did think of my experience with James Toback and how shaming that was and how angry I was to have to be silent for so long because I was afraid. But then I also thought of the wonder of this moment, that women are finally able to express things publicly that they hadn’t felt they would ever tell a soul—even though I never wanted to tell my story publicly. I just wanted him to stop. I didn’t want anyone to ever know private details of my life, but so be it. If that’s what it takes to change things, then I’m on board, and I’m on board for something an artist like Tara is trying to do in making sure we keep going and and are still heard. So I drew from the hope of this moment now,and hope for my son and hoping he can redefine ideas of masculinity, and then the sadness of all the victims and the predators—how messed up and alone they must feel, too. It wasn’t just one “me too” moment—I was thinking of the whole aftermath of it, and the anger and the hope and the relief.

Right, anger in particular is something I feel like I’ve only just realized I’m actually allowed to experience.
Me, too. I turned all my anger into depression—my whole life, everything, even if it wasn’t a big deal. I’ve been a sad soul for most of my life, and I’m really not. It was a lot of just turning some healthy anger inward until it turns into something unhealthy and you recoil from compassion for other people. I’m seeing the compassion come out amidst the anger now, though, which I think is what is going to change things.

Were you contacted to get involved with this before or after you spoke about your experience with James Toback?

Tara contacted me just a couple of days ago, and for me to get on a plane and leave my son is everything, so I really believe in her. But I was one of the first to speak out against him, and then I helped some other women on Twitter assemble 37 of us. I ended up not wanting to go on the record for [The L.A. Times], but I did after James Toback called them cunts and cocksuckers and said he’d never met any of them. That was when I was like, these people are so protected and entitled and sick, and he’s a real predator—not unlike a lot of them are, just in everyday work harassment, too. So I was like, I’m not going to leave these women hanging in the wind—if I lend any face to them, then I’ll do it for them and for us, and I spoke out to Vanity Fair. And now I think more than 300 have come out about Toback, and I’m sure there are thousands. It’s like his life’s mission. But outside of even people just being scared into not acting grossly inappropriately, I really do think things are going to change. I really do. Women are going to realize they can speak out, and that women will stand with them—and men, too, and that’s huge to have the support of men. I love it, we need it. It’s not that I want revenge, although sure, revenge would be nice for some people who really, really damaged a lot of people’s careers and souls and livelihoods, but it’s really about changing things so this doesn’t keep happening and is our way of life—that we’re silenced and marginalized and made fun of and gossiped about.

Do you still have a network with the other women now?

No, it was mostly in the beginning to assemble a group of other victims of James Toback, which we did on Twitter, and who I found on Twitter, because I thought I was the only one. Except for running into two women who’d said he’d f—ed me and I was dirty, like I was dirty girl who wanted dirty stuff. I was like, What? One, that never happened, two, how dare this man slander me and gossip about me and try to discredit me to other women he’s trying to assault? I have become friends with a girl on Twitter that was sex trafficked for years, which has opened my mind to how huge this is. Right now, we’re just kind of pruning the tree, but the whole tree is sick and and it needs to healed.

A lot of women have recently recalled turning away from the industry they wanted to work they were harassed in it. Did you ever consider stopping acting because of the way you were treated?

No, I didn’t blame the industry. I blamed this person. My whole time in this industry I’ve only had a couple of harassments, and [Toback] was the only assault I ever had—the only real brainwashing, con-man, predatory, manipulative experience. But before I was in acting and I was a student, it happened to me, and it happens to people in all walks of life. The power of the entertainment industry can really protect its predators and put women up against a real machine, but it also happens in any industry, so I didn’t at all for one second think of turning away from acting—that’s what I do. But it was a dark spot on my soul. [Laughs.]

You sound surprisingly upbeat for having just tested out weeping in public.

Oh yeah no, I’m fine. I’m not someone who holds on to stuff anymore. I have dinner to eat, a bed to go to, a son to see, and women are getting to feel things, so my life is good and this was a good moment. It wasn’t at all morose for me—it was actually a celebration.


Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams Share Their Stories of James Toback’s Sexual Harassment VANITY FAIR

October 26, 2017 – Vanity Fair Interview
by Krista Smith with Julie Miller

Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams Share Their Stories of James Toback’s Sexual Harassment

Photo by Jeff Vespa

Both women encountered the director early in their careers. Both describe remarkably similar experiences of his targeting and humiliation of young actresses.

A week after The New York Times and The New Yorker ran back-to-back reports cataloguing Harvey Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual harassment of women in Hollywood, actress Selma Blair saw a story on HuffPost about writer and director James Toback’s new film that made her blood run cold. The piece, written by a female reporter who interviewed Toback at the Venice Film Festival, was titled “James Toback Gets Us, He Truly Gets Us in ‘The Private Life of a Modern Woman.’”

Blair tweeted the story with a single word in response: “Ironic.”

In the days that followed, Blair, who has appeared in films such as Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde, and Hellboy, learned about a group of women on social media who claimed to have been sexually harassed by the director (Two Girls and a Guy) and Oscar-nominated writer (Bugsy). Their accounts sounded eerily familiar. The group, which included Blair, worked with Los Angeles Times reporter Glenn Whipp on a story that broke on October 22, citing 38 women in total who alleged sexual harassment suffered at the hands of Toback. Since then, the number of accusers has risen to more than 200 women—including Blair and Oscar-nominated actress Rachel McAdams, who both spoke exclusively to Vanity Fair this week about their experiences with Toback. (Toback, 72, has written for Vanity Fair in the past. When reached by phone Wednesday evening, Toback said he had no comment on any of the allegations.)

Blair, 45, and McAdams, 38, tell remarkably similar stories about Toback’s modus operandi—the requests to meet him in hotel rooms, flattery about their acting skills, the promise of a role in the movie Harvard Man, which opened in 2001. The consistent themes in the stories of Blair, McAdams, and the hundreds of actresses who have come forward with their own tales of harassment hint at some of the reasons charges of sexual misconduct have plagued Hollywood since its inception. Actors and actresses, newcomers especially, essentially are always auditioning—any encounter, especially in a company town such as Los Angeles, could lead to a big break. The situation is compounded by the fact that many acting courses teach students to use, explore, and expose their vulnerabilities. So when a threatening individual manipulates a performer’s insecurities in a meeting purportedly related to an acting role, the experience can be confusing.

Explained McAdams, “I was 21 and in the middle of theater school when I met [Toback]. Theater school was a very safe space.” But Toback, she said, “used the same language during my audition—that you have to take risks and sometimes you’re going to be uncomfortable and sometimes it’s going to feel dangerous. And that’s a good thing—when there is danger in the air and you feel like you are out of your comfort zone.”

It is easy to see how a young actress at the start of her career might respond to a director’s lecherous behavior as an acting exercise or “test.” In an opinion piece in The New York Times that detailed an incident with Harvey Weinstein, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o noted that “body work” is part of the coursework at fine-arts programs at schools such as Yale. Perhaps Weinstein knew this when he reportedly asked to massage and be massaged by women. Perhaps Toback knew this when he allegedly asked young women, after rattling off his film credits and famous friends, to trust him and disrobe so that he could help them become better actresses.

When reports of Toback’s alleged harassment began pouring in, both Blair and McAdams were motivated to speak out. Blair, who cooperated with the initial Los Angeles Times story on the condition her name not be used, said Toback threatened her life after their encounter, which she said took place in 1999. And in the nearly 20 years that followed, the actress only told two people about her experience.

“I still felt so powerless and scared,” Blair said, describing her emotional state earlier this week. “I kept thinking, ‘O.K., is there a big actress who is going to come out so that she can be the face of this? I want to bring as much awareness to this harassment as possible because I want Toback to be held accountable.”

Toback denied the allegations to the Los Angeles Times, claiming that he had never met any of the then-38 accusers or, if he did, the meetings were very brief. He also claimed that for the last 22 years it had been “biologically impossible” for him to do what he was accused of, citing diabetes and a heart condition.

“When he called these women liars, and said he didn’t recall meeting them and that the behavior alleged could not be attributed to him, I just felt rage and an obligation to speak publicly now,” Blair said.

“I did not want to talk about this ever again,” McAdams said. “However, even though it is a really bad memory, I feel like some good could come from talking about it now.”

What follow are edited excerpts from the actresses’ conversations with 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.”

Photo by Jason McDonald

Rachel McAdams was a 21-year-old theater student in Toronto when she was invited to audition for Toback for a role in Harvard Man.

This was a big audition. I was pretty fresh and new to all of this. So we did the audition and he said, “I think you’re really, really talented. I think you’re quite good for this actually, but I’d like to workshop it a little with you, and maybe rehearse a bit more and see if we can get you all the way there. Leave your phone number with the casting agent’s assistant, and we’ll get together and workshop this a bit.”

So I did. And he called me that night saying, “Would you come to my hotel so we can work on this and talk about it?” I actually had my first TV job the next day and had to get up at five in the morning. So I said, “Is there any other time that we can get together?” I didn’t really want to go to a hotel and meet him. He said, “It has to be tonight. I am going out of town first thing tomorrow. This is our only chance.” I really didn’t want to go. I was so nervous about this show that I was starting because I hadn’t done TV before. I wanted to focus on that, but he was so insistent. So I went over to the hotel, went to the room, and he had all of these books and magazines splayed out on the floor. He invited me to sit on the floor which was a bit awkward. Pretty quickly the conversation turned quite sexual and he said, “You know, I just have to tell you. I have masturbated countless times today thinking about you since we met at your audition.”

He started that kind of manipulative talk of, “How brave are you? How far you are willing to go as an actress? I want to build some intimacy between us because we have to have a very trusting relationship and this is a very difficult part.” Then he asked me to read passages out loud from different reviews of his films and different critics talking about his work. It was all so confusing. I kept thinking, “When are we getting to the rehearsal part?” Then he went to the bathroom and left me with some literature to read about him. When he came back he said, “I just jerked off in the bathroom thinking about you. Will you show me your pubic hair?” I said no.

Eventually, I just excused myself. I can’t remember how long I was there. I felt like I was there forever. This has been such a source of shame for me—that I didn’t have the wherewithal to get up and leave. I kept thinking, “This is going to become normal any minute now. This is going to all make sense. This is all above board somehow.” Eventually I just realized that it wasn’t.

I was very lucky that I left and he didn’t actually physically assault me in any way.

I had never experienced anything like that in my life. I was so naïve. I think I just didn’t want to believe that it could turn worse. But yes, there was this sinking feeling inside of me. Like, “Oh my god, I am in this hotel room alone with this person.” I just kept trying to normalize it—thinking, “This has to be some weird acting exercise. This is some kind of test. I just have to show that I am brave and this does not bother me and nothing can shake me.” I really was frozen. My brain was not catching up.

When I went home, I just couldn’t sleep. It was the worst way to start a new job. I got up very early in the morning and called my agent at the time. And she was outraged. She was very sorry. But she also said, “I can’t believe he did it again. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. He did this the last time that he was in town. He did this to one of my other actresses.” That is when I got mad, because I felt like I was kind of thrown into the lion’s den and given no warning that he was a predator. This was something that he was known for doing already. I was so surprised to hear that.

Sexual harassment is so pervasive, many women seem to have their own story. I just think there is an “anything goes” [attitude] in Hollywood that gets taken too far. And there is a sense that you don’t have to be responsible for your actions—there is just no limit to what you can be subjected to.

This has all got to stop. We need to start acknowledging what an epidemic this is, and what a deep-seated problem this is. You have to get it all out in the open and in the light so that we can really understand how pervasive this is. I think we almost have to exhaust ourselves sharing our experiences before the rebuilding can begin. And hopefully we never slip back into this darkness again.


Selma Blair Interview With HUNGER TV – Watch Here!

Selma Blair sat down with Hunger TV for this awesome video interview while doing a photoshoot with Rankin for April’s issue of Hunger Magazine. Selma talks about Storytelling, Anger Management, her film career and her love for fashion and photography.

This is the best interview I’ve seen in years.
Watch here and enjoy!

HUNGER TV: SELMA BLAIR from Hunger TV on Vimeo.

Selma Blair Rankin Shoot For Hunger Magazine 3Selma Blair Rankin Shoot For Hunger Magazine 1Selma Blair Rankin Shoot For Hunger Magazine 2