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Thursday 21 June 2018

The Weinstein effect - Irish women speak out: 'I saw him openly grope women at an Oscar party. Nobody did anything'

In the wake of the shocking allegations against super-producer Harvey Weinstein, Niamh Horan spoke to Irish women about their experiences with him — and other men in positions of power

Sonya Macari, Irish actress living in Los Angeles with her popstar husband Colin Devlin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sonya Macari, Irish actress living in Los Angeles with her popstar husband Colin Devlin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

'I heard him bolt the basement door and I panicked'

Alison Canavan, international model and wellness expert 

I've been modelling since I was 15 and I've had a lot of inappropriate moments. It was almost seen as a given in my industry. Lots of photographers down through the years make inappropriate or suggestive comments.

By far the worst happened when I was only 20 years old. I was in France, and all day while I was working with this guy I had a bad feeling in my stomach. He kept coming over to get me to adjust my position and he would move me with his hands and I was thinking, "OK you can just tell me, you don't need to touch me", and he kept saying inappropriate things while he was taking the photos. Telling me I was really sexy, making comments like "do that smile again because it makes me want to jump into bed with you". For the last few shots we went back to the basement of his house.

Alison Canavan, international model and wellness expert. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Alison Canavan, international model and wellness expert. Picture: Gerry Mooney

The make-up artist had been with us all day and he turned to her and told her she didn't need to hang around, that she could go home. People always think I'm very vocal but I just remember going quiet, I didn't say a word, I just froze. When she was gone, I'll never forget hearing him go up and bolt the basement door. I panicked. I just kept saying to him: "I want to go home, I want to go home, you have to let me out of here." I rang my dad straight away and he got me on the first flight home.

Over the years, I've had plenty of inappropriate comments said to me at swimwear shoots, too. If you complained about it you would just be told "that's just the way he is" and "get on with the job". In the early days there was an attitude that "anything goes". There was no social media, no accountability. If girls complained to an agent they would be told to keep quiet.

There were photographers abroad who everyone knew as creepy. Some of them were a running joke among the girls. Things are finally changing and it's time for women to speak up. In the past if you said anything it would alienate you and probably affect your work.

But the world is moving on. Women just aren't putting up with that sh*t anymore.

'I was asked to date a Hollywood movie boss. When I said no I was told it could affect my future'

Alison Doody, Irish actress and former Bond girl

We have all received unwelcome advances. I have had experiences where certain advances were made or things have been said over the years that I would have said no to. I can understand why there is a fear of retribution and fear of not being given the part or opportunities to go further for so many women.

Alison Doody, Irish actress and former Bond girl. Photo: David Copnachy
Alison Doody, Irish actress and former Bond girl. Photo: David Copnachy

I was once asked to date a movie boss and was warned that rejecting him could affect my career.

He had seen me at a premiere and asked if I would accompany him as his date to a movie premiere. I said no because I wasn't comfortable putting myself in that position. It wasn't so much the premiere itself but the connotations of what would be expected if I decided to go along and what could come after that.

The person on the other end of the phone said "okay" but then called me back two minutes later to say: "Look, this person is not very happy about this. I am advising you to go."

I said: "I'm sorry I'm going to stand my ground. I don't want to go." And they said: "Well Alison you could lose out on an awful lot of work because of this."

Sonya Macari, Irish actress living in Los Angeles with her popstar husband Colin Devlin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sonya Macari, Irish actress living in Los Angeles with her popstar husband Colin Devlin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

He was in a very powerful position in a Hollywood studio, he had an awful lot of contacts. I did lose out on work because I said no along the way. There's no doubt about it but at the same time I am very grateful for the career I have had. It was easy for me because I come from a very good, loving home and I was in a very comfortable position because I always had a family to go home to and I had nothing to prove.

But I think it is extremely unfair to women who are struggling in life and who are trying to keep their career going. The women who are vulnerable or really need the money and the work.

I think it's a time for all of us to celebrate because times have changed. It's a positive that people know that now they will be outed if they partake in this kind of behaviour. It will make it harder for predators and it needs to be said for the women who are in this position who are depending on jobs for their livelihood.

'They said  "Oh we should just have sex". I had to laugh it off'

Ruth O'Neill, model and Entertainment TV presenter who has worked in Los Angeles

Most of my encounters happened in LA. I've never had a full-on assault but I've had people meet me and say, "oh let's go back to my hotel" or "let's go out for drinks or dinner" instead of coffee during the day. If they asked me back for a drink in their place afterwards I'd just tell them that my flatmate is expecting me. Once you shut it down straight away or laugh it off, they know where they stand. But I've had really inappropriate comments made over dinner with producers or executives in my first year in LA. Like, "Oh we should just have sex".

Ruth O’Neill, model and Entertainment TV presenter who has worked in Los Angeles. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Ruth O’Neill, model and Entertainment TV presenter who has worked in Los Angeles. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Helen McEntee, Minister of State for European Affair. Photo: Mark Condren
Helen McEntee, Minister of State for European Affair. Photo: Mark Condren

I was only 22 and starting out. I just started laughing, they could see by my reaction they weren't getting anywhere. In LA, your first year in is known as "clueless" because that's when you're seeing that side of things for the first time. When you live and work there you can either get sucked in or you keep your values and integrity. A big part of the entertainment industry is networking so it's knowing what is being "too friendly". The movie industry is more male dominated so it was more prevalent there. That's all industry type of stuff but then I've also had my ass grabbed in nightclubs or a guy rubbing my leg on public transport. It's not okay.

On the business side of things, I never really came across it again once I started working in TV. I was also very lucky I worked for all female bosses too, both in LA and Ireland.

'I've been talking to men and they'd rest their hand on my backside'

Helen McEntee, Minister of State for European Affairs

I've been in situations talking to someone and a guy would rest their hand on my backside. When anything like that would happen I would immediately remove myself from the situation.

There is no need for someone to put their hand on you like that when they are talking to you. I would make it very clear. It's happened in different situations across the board, in different environments. A woman knows if someone is making inappropriate advances or not. In the same way that they can instinctively tell if they mean no harm by it or that it's not intentional. Some people are just affectionate.

Everything that is being talked about this week can only be a positive thing.

That particular person [Harvey Weinstein] goes far beyond what I am talking about happened to me and I feel sorry for the women who may have gone through with it and did what he wanted because they were vulnerable or in a difficult position and now they feel they can't speak out or come forward because they feel they allowed it to happen.

But now everyone is realising any of this type of behaviour is simply just not acceptable.

'I saw him openly grope women at an Oscar party. Nobody did anything'

Sonya Macari, Irish actress living in Los Angeles with her popstar husband Colin Devlin

I was at an Oscar event and I saw Harvey Weinstein surrounded by a bunch of young women. I remember thinking he was incredibly drunk. He was very dishevelled, very sweaty, his shirt was half open and he had the zipper of his pants down and he was mauling the women. They would pull themselves away and he would just keep at it. At one stage, he had his hand down his pants. It was quite gross. His behaviour was so inappropriate and disgusting and yet nobody went up to him and said: "What you are doing is wrong." I was quite disgusted and shocked. He seemed like an utter pig.

I was recalling this night with my friend recently who was with me at the time and we were both texting going, "good God, do you remember that night?" and I said, "how could I forget?" and we were both saying it's amazing that all of this is only coming out now. It's mind-boggling. Harvey Weinstein is certainly not the only one. Dear God, no! The more people who come out to talk about their experiences, the better, because things have to change.

I can recall many situations with my husband saying: "God do you remember that casting director?" The guy would have been the biggest pervert on the planet. Or another guy asking personal questions about my relationship status. You're sitting there thinking what has this got to do with what I am reading or the meeting we are discussing and you can tell, you can just tell. You can sense a mile away that their behaviour is inappropriate and they are instigating something in a very sneaky way.

I've had experiences in my career where I have come home and I was very honest with my husband and told him about men who had asked me out for dinner or a drink and I had to tell to take a hike.

The casting couch is alive and kicking and I believe a lot of women have experienced it. Despite how you look, these sexual predators will just make advances. Do I think my career could have been different? Who knows. Perhaps. You don't really know. I think it is worth saying that if there was a lot more women in power there would be a culture change. They wouldn't be in a position to need men to elevate them.

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