It takes a special kind of person to be the biggest asshat in Hollywood – a place whose toxicity can only be rivaled by Flint, Michigan. So, in a way, we should be saying “chapeau” to Scott Rudin, the movie, stage and television producer whose reputation as a monster is almost as well-established as Godzilla’s.
The 62-year-old EGOT (meaning he’s part of the rarefied group that’s won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards) is currently at the center of a concerted press effort to expose and curtail his horrific workplace behavior in which he repeatedly subjected his staff to the kinds of abuses the United Nations normally investigates.
In recent weeks, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Vulture and The New York Times have all detailed stories by former employees in which they recounted the alleged abuses they were subjected to by their boss during 16-hour workdays where it was common for expletives, insults, telephones, staplers and food bowls to be hurled at interns and assistants. (Everyone knows, courtesy of “The Office,” that the only accepted use for an office stapler is to be encased in Jell-O.)
Beyond the nauseating tales, the worst thing is that absolutely none of this is news. Rudin’s abominable behavior has been talked and written about for some three decades, yet it has never altered in that time. Just look at some of the headlines over the years: “The Biggest A—hole in Hollywood” (Spy magazine, 1996); “Boss-Zilla” (The Wall Street Journal, 2005); and “The Most Feared Man in Town” (The Hollywood Reporter, 2010).
That Scott Rudin is a shleger of the lowest order, to borrow the Yiddish word for “bully,” was not so much an open secret in the entertainment industry as much as a disturbingly accepted fact, something people just had to ignore in exchange for all the great work he has undoubtedly produced.
Even back in the early 1990s, a decade after he started working his way up the Hollywood food chain, Rudin’s appalling antics were the stuff of legend. He was said to be the inspiration for the abusive producer figure kidnapped by a young assistant in the 1994 thriller “Swimming with Sharks.” And director Barry Sonnenfeld, who worked with Rudin on two “Addams Family” movies, told New York Newsday in November 1993 that Rudin was “a 2-year-old in an old Jewish man’s body.”
That’s one of the rare times where Rudin’s Judaism has been publicly acknowledged, and it’s only right that it was a Jewish director who called him out on it – in the same way that “Jewish” publications are the only ones that can legitimately point out that Rudin is, like fellow film world monster Harvey Weinstein, a member of the tribe.
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Rudin probably would have been a loathsome bully no matter what his religious background (even if he were raised as a Zen Buddhist), but that doesn’t mean his Jewish roots should be totally airbrushed out of the story here.
While Weinstein grew up in Queens, Rudin was raised a few miles further east in Baldwin, Long Island. His Wikipedia page notes that he attributes “much of his interests and behavior to his upbringing” in a Jewish family. His middle-class mother frequently took him to the ballet, opera and theater (“It was that Jewish upbringing,” he explained to The New York Times in 1993), while he inherited his impatience, temperament and fundamentally asocial personality – his own words – from his menswear-selling father.
That New York Times feature (“Hollywood at a Fever Pitch,” by Philip Weiss) was one of the few times where Rudin – who rarely puts himself in the spotlight – discussed his background, describing himself as “a Jewish kid from Long Island who didn’t want to be a Jewish kid from Long Island.”
The feature reported him playing a game called “Stupid Jews” with fellow tribesmen Sonnenfeld and “Addams Family Values” screenwriter Paul Rudnick, the aim being to name the dumbest Jewish person they knew.
He was also forced to dismiss a rumor that he had equated an assistant forgetting to deliver a message to the death of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. When that story was relayed to him by Weiss, Rudin reportedly “barked with laughter” and called it fake news. “I take the Holocaust too seriously to make a joke about it,” he told the reporter. We’ll have to take Rudin’s word for that, of course.
The main thing Rudin has in common with Weinstein is not his Jewishness but his belief that being in a position of power allowed him to get away with murder.
Both men issued NDAs the way the rest of us send emails, but there was one difference: While the Miramax mogul demanded that his victims sign nondisclosure agreements, Rudin reportedly required his staff to fill out non-disparagement agreements – so that when they left Scott Rudin Productions, they were bound to silence over any negative experiences there.
Here’s a piece of free career advice: Never work anywhere where you’re required to sign a non-disparagement agreement, because they clearly know you’ll have plenty to kvetch about.
Yet while those NDAs no doubt helped, the main thing that allowed Rudin to flourish over the decades was the willingness of talented people to overlook that “temperament” and “impatience.” And the most depressing thing is that these people are supremely gifted artists.
The catalog of people who worked with Rudin is like a Who’s Who of Hollywood A-listers: the Coen brothers; Wes Anderson; Greta Gerwig; Brad Pitt; Aaron Sorkin; Noah Baumbach; Jon Stewart; Chris Rock; David Fincher … I could go on.
Another name on that list when I first began to write this was writer Michael Chabon, who worked with Rudin for two decades. However, he published a touching and heartfelt mea culpa on Friday night, apologizing for his silence over the years and helping enable the producer’s abusive conduct.
“Twenty years is a long time to collaborate with an abuser,” he wrote in a Medium post. “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,” Chabon stated, clearly horrified by the suicide of someone who once worked in Rudin’s office and who reportedly developed PTSD due to their experiences there.
Kudos to Chabon and the many “below-the-line” ex-staffers who are now speaking out against the sociopathic EGOT. But let’s not kid ourselves that Rudin’s behavior is somehow unique in the world and that he’s the only powerful person who treats his underlings with such disdain.
Just like Weinstein before him, we need to make sure that the outing of Rudin leads to real change and it doesn’t take nearly 30 years of stories for others to be publicly shamed for their corrosive actions.
The producer announced last week that he’s “stepping back” from his work on Broadway and Hollywood in a bid to resolve his personal problems. I genuinely wish him luck and hope he comes back a changed man, determined to perform some restorative acts of tikkun olam, one intern at a time.
Until then, anytime I’m reviewing any of his work – including the Netflix film “The Woman in the Window,” which is out next month – I’m going to keep referring to him as Scott “Biggest A—hole in Hollywood” Rudin. Lest we forget.
‘Shadow and Bone’ (Netflix)
I’m definitely not the target audience for the new Netflix fantasy series “Shadow and Bone.” For starters, I’ve always been suspicious of any work of fiction that starts with a map. Secondly, the only thing I like less than maps at the start of novels is a glossary – especially when it features names like “Corporalki,” “Etherealki” and “Materialki,” and suggests you may need to hire a private tutor to make sense of it all.
Finally, if you’d asked me what “Shadow and Bone” was prior to its Netflix release, I’d have guessed a long-lost Joni Mitchell album rather than a best-selling series of YA books by novelist Leigh Bardugo (who was born in Jerusalem but grew up in Los Angeles). Also, I would have said that the “Grishaverse” involves perma-tanned Mississippi attorneys and shady law firms, not the fantastical world in which the 46-year-old author sets her trilogies, duologies and anthologies.
“Shadow and Bone” is set in a land called Ravka, which Bardugo modeled on czarist Russia. “I’m Jewish – Spanish on one side, Russian and Lithuanian on the other – and in my family Russia was always cast in the role of the glamorous oppressor,” she explained in 2014, three years after the release of the first book in the series. “Even when I was a kid, it took on a kind of larger-than-life status and, in a way, it took on the traits of a fantasy world: beautiful but brutal, magical but dangerous.”
Think of it, perhaps, as an Ashkenazi “His Dark Materials,” where in place of young orphan Lyra, daemons and a witches’ prophecy, we have teenage orphan Alina Starkov, who is somehow connected to a prophecy about a “Grisha” (someone with magical powers) who will change the world.
The series looks fantastic rather than merely just fantastical, and the lazy (hello!) would probably call it a YA “Game of Thrones” – just without all the court intrigue and sex and violence. So, on second thought, nothing like “Game of Thrones.”
As well as following Alina (Jessica Mei Li) and her best pal Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux) – she’s a young cartographer and he’s a tracker in something called the First Army – as they embark on a potentially deadly mission across a Grisha-created void called The Fold, there’s also a separate plotline taken from another duology in that “Grishaverse” called “Six of Crows.” (It’s actually a lot easier to follow on screen than it is to explain here.)
The latter is where show creator Eric Heisserer – who wrote the excellent Amy Adams movie “Arrival” and the not-so-excellent Netflix film “Bird Box” – gets to indulge himself in a more lighthearted storyline, as a group of lovable rogues head out on a mission that also connects to Alina.
To my eyes, the character of Alina is somewhat dull, more catatonic than Katniss Everdeen, and the show’s love story elements a little too obvious. It also lacks a great villain à la Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter in “His Dark Materials,” but the eight episodes certainly fly by with the speed of a monstrous volcra in The Fold. And if nothing else, it’s far more entertaining than any John Grisham adaptation I’ve ever seen.
‘The Serpent’ (Netflix)
The BBC thriller “The Serpent” has been the most-watched show on Netflix in Israel in recent weeks – and it’s easy to see why a country where trips to Thailand are normally an annual occurrence has taken a shine to this largely Bangkok-based show at a time when such vacations are nigh-on impossible.
Personally, I found “The Serpent” to be one of those shows that’s easy to watch but hard to actually enjoy given the brutality at its core. Inspired by real events in mid-1970s Asia, it’s the latest British series about a real-life serial killer – following on from the likes of “Des” and “The Pembrokeshire Murders.” But “The Serpent” is particularly grueling given the shocking callousness of its protagonist, Charles Sobhraj (played with suitable cold-bloodedness by Tahar Rahim), and his main partner in crime, Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman), as they target young tourists on the “hippie trail.”
With the local police uninterested in solving the crimes, it’s left to Dutch Embassy employee Herman Knippenberg (the excellent Billy Howle) to investigate the disappearance of two Dutch backpackers, whose families have reported them missing following their arrival in the Thai capital.
The two most common captions you’ll see in “The Serpent” are “XX months earlier” and “XX months later,” as the eight-part show messes with the chronology of events – which lessens the emotional impact of certain key storylines and unnecessarily fragments the plot.
What’s abundantly clear, though, is that most of the budget went on four things: the location shoot, wigs, fake eyeglasses and dialect coaches. And while those lush Thai landscapes will have you pining for your next vacation, the show’s monstrous characters will also leave you happy to be watching from the safety of your own home.
“Shadow and Bone” and “The Serpent” are out now on Netflix.