state of the industry

Scott Rudin Is One of Entertainment’s Biggest Guns. Will Abusive Behavior Allegations Change That?

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

The news ricocheted around the C-suites of Hollywood and Broadway last week, putting an exclamation point on a secret many suggest has been hiding in plain sight for decades: In an explosive Hollywood Reporter cover story, Scott Rudin — the ultrasuccessful producer behind the Broadway smash The Book of Mormon and the Oscar Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, among a long list of illustrious theater, television, and movie credits — was brought to account as one of the most horrible bosses in all of showbiz. The exposé bursts with dramatic descriptions of Rudin bullying assistants into PTSD and early entertainment-industry retirement, as well as tales of the producer’s alleged rage tantrums: a laptop, stapler, glass bowl, and baked potato plucked hot from the microwave among the implements he reportedly hurled at underlings in his New York production company office. (Not to mention the computer monitor he allegedly crashed down on an employee’s hand in 2012, sending the man to the emergency room.)

But in the days following the article’s arrival as inescapable industry chatter on both coasts, there’s been a surprising and almost total wave of silence. None of the studios that have regularly distributed Rudin-produced movies, including A24 and Sony, have publicly severed ties with him. Nor have any of the A-list actors long loyal to Rudin, including Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, and Meryl Streep, made any denouncement of his alleged behavior. On Tuesday, SAG-AFTRA, the Actors Equity Association, and American Federation of Musicians Local 802 issued a joint statement on the “need for harassment-free workplaces in the arts” that was widely interpreted as a repudiation of Rudin’s bullying, but stopped short of naming him. The theater world, an industry Rudin still rules with an iron hand, has been similarly silent.

To date, Annapurna Pictures’ Megan Ellison, who served as executive producer on Rudin’s 2010 Coen brothers adaptation of True Grit, has been the lone film-industry bigwig to come out swinging against him. “This piece barely scratches the surface of Scott Rudin’s abusive, racist and sexist behavior,” she tweeted on April 7. “Similarly to Harvey [Weinstein], too many are afraid to speak out. I support and applaud those who did. There’s good reason to be afraid because he’s vindictive and not afraid of lying.”

According to multiple high-ranking people within Hollywood, it will take more than accusing him of systematically abusing his underlings to take down Rudin. One high-ranking studio executive who has worked with the 62-year-old impresario on several film projects — and is no stranger to his spittle-frenzied tirades — expressed skepticism that the revelations will have any effect on his standing. “The fact that Scott Rudin is a bully is not news,” this source tells Vulture on condition of anonymity due to ongoing business sensitivities. “Everybody knows he has a terrible temper, throws stuff and terrorizes his assistants. People have been in business with him for a long time. Hollywood is known for forgiving a lot of really terrible behavior. A lot of agents and filmmakers continued to work with Harvey Weinstein despite years of rumors that he was a sexual predator.”

Sources within Hollywood who have worked with Rudin over the years described him as having three distinct faces. There is the “good” Rudin: a meticulous executive renowned for his personal outreach to up-and-coming writers, fierce competition for hot material, laser focus on even the most minute production details, and tireless perfectionism that forged his reputation as one of only 16 people to have claimed Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. There is the “bad” Rudin: the reported serial assistant abuser. Then there is the “cruel” Rudin: the one both despised and needed by Broadway. This Rudin, sources say, threatens theater artists — singers, directors, actors, composers, writers, creative designers — with career ruination unless his exacting standards are met.

“I know people who have felt the fear of that wrath whether it was stated explicitly or implicitly,” says one producer who has worked with Rudin on a Broadway show. “Whether it’s demands to make changes in a text he wants, providing designs he wants, shaving time off [the show] or demands to give the exact performance he wants, people have been devastated by his behavior. Fear hangs in the air.” (Rudin did not respond to our interview requests.)

Rudin’s seeming imperviousness to repercussions thus far speaks to certain cold realities of the post–Me Too era — chief among them that “he’s in no danger of being Armie Hammer-ed because it doesn’t involve sex,” as one studio veteran who has worked with Rudin explained to me. But Hollywood insiders outlined the complexities Rudin now faces in maintaining his position as one of the industry’s most hands-on film producers and, arguably, the most important single producer of nonmusical plays on Broadway.

Within moviedom, Rudin has an extensive track record of both critical and commercial hits, but in recent years, he’s pivoted to art-house films. Although the producer’s next film project, The Woman in the Window, rolls out on Netflix in May, and The French Dispatch, Rudin’s eighth collaboration with writer-director Wes Anderson, will eventually be distributed by Searchlight Pictures, his days of producing bigger budget, more mainstream-skewing studio fare such as It’s Complicated, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Truman Show are widely believed to be behind him. “It should indicate something to you that he went from working with Universal, Paramount, and Disney to working with A24,” says one marketing executive who has worked with Rudin. “It’s hard to make a fortune on those little movies. So [I think] he’s not at A24 because that is where he wants to be. He’s there because it’s the only place that has the patience to deal with him right now.”

A top Hollywood agent who has negotiated with Rudin on various projects over the years adds: “He either does a low-budget A24 movie or he does Broadway plays. Because nobody really wants to work with him. He doesn’t really work with huge talent anymore. What was the last big-budget movie he made? If you call studio people, anyone who’s been around the block for a while, it’s like, ‘Yeah, we don’t do anything with him anymore.’ Some people say he’s too frickin’ difficult.” Sources say Rudin’s capacity to mount low-margin yet highly regarded hits like Uncut Gems, Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, First Cow, and Ex Machina (all distributed by A24) will probably remain unchanged by the THR story. (A24 has at least five film and television projects in various stages of development with the producer but did not respond to Vulture’s requests for comment.)

In the theater world, where Rudin has been concentrating more of his efforts for the past six or seven years, the producer’s reputation seems more unassailable. As Broadway’s most prolific producer, he is one of the media industry’s most frequent ad buyers, especially during Tony Awards season. In the New York Times’ Arts section, he has been known to buy as many as 14 consecutive full-page ads, which can single-handedly change the calculus of a show hitting or flopping. Rudin also stands as the highest-profile backer of prestigious, limited-run productions such as King Lear (starring Glenda Jackson in the title role), the Denzel Washington revival of The Iceman Cometh, and the Aaron Sorkin adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (which crossed the $100 million mark after less than a year in the Shubert Theatre). And even in recent years, as Rudin has packed auditoriums by mounting popular musicals like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel and West Side Story, he remains Broadway’s foremost champion of the defiantly unprofitable straight drama genre. Moreover, Rudin’s deep involvement in the “enhancement” process — investing seed money in Off Broadway productions for a large cut of the profits when and if the shows move to more lucrative Broadway venues — has turned him into the kind of silent partner New York theater basically can’t afford to lose.

Still, the theater world has recently been undergoing a reckoning to correct historical imbalances in the industry. Insiders say it may be the sphere most likely to topple the producer’s career. The primary threat to Rudin’s monolithic Broadway standing, they say, would be a Weinstein-style pile on of accusations. If fellow former assistants and creative artisans continue detailing the producer’s toxic behavior in the press, as the thinking goes, top talent will be forced to come out against him. And that will exert a top-down pressure on the creative community to finally thwart Rudin’s power and influence.

“He is going to have a major challenge on his hands because the dirty secret is no longer secret,” the Broadway producer says. “Any talent that used to work with him is going to have to ask themselves, ‘Can I, in good conscience, work with this person who is no longer alleged to be a monster, but is known to be one?’ Major talent has to really ask themselves, ‘Now that I’ve been given notice, what is my moral obligation here?’”

On Wednesday, Tony Award–winning star Karen Olivo (Hamilton, West Side Story) announced she was leaving her starring role in Moulin Rouge! because she was disappointed with the Broadway community’s complacent response to THR’s Rudin piece in an emotional Instagram post, addressing the need for “social justice,” and urging her peers to take a stand against his bullying and physical aggression. “The silence about Scott Rudin: unacceptable. Unacceptable!” Olivo says in the clip. “That’s a monster. That should be a no-brainer. Those of you who say you’re scared, what are you afraid of? Shouldn’t you be more afraid of not saying something and more people being hurt?”

Industry observers are now looking to Hugh Jackman — who is set to make his Broadway comeback in the Rudin-produced revival of The Music Man in December — as a bellwether for A-list attitudes toward the embattled producer, because he is scheduled to be the first major star to participate in a Rudin production since THR’s story broke. According to Radar, the 52-year-old Australian is “feeling pressure” to pull out of the project, although the actor has yet to make any public statement about Rudin. (A representative for Jackman did not respond to a request for comment.)

To hear it from the movie marketing executive, however, the volume of employees who tolerated Rudin’s alleged abuses over the years expose the producer to significant — and potentially expensive — legal risk. Now that allegations that the producer physically assaulted his assistants have become public, Rudin is a sitting duck for lawsuits by former employees. “If all this guy did was break shit and scare people, nothing’s going to happen,” the insider says. “But 119 assistants in five years? That’s a big burn rate. So that may unleash any number of them to come in with retroactive lawsuits — the way cancel culture has been doing with us [in Hollywood]. It’s like, look, if you had any balls, you sue. I don’t care if you think you’re going to get blackballed out of the business. If this guy did this to you, you sue him. He’ll settle.”

Will Abusive Behavior Allegations Tank Scott Rudin’s Career?