Director Maria Schrader on why Harvey Weinstein’s face isn’t in ‘She Said’
Viewers hear his voice and a glimpse of the back of his neck, with Mike Houston playing the part, but not once is Weinstein’s face shown
Megan Twohey, played by Carey Mulligan, sits in the middle of a conference room surrounded by Harvey Weinstein and his entourage of lawyers at The New York Times headquarters.
A lengthy investigation has led reporters Twohey and Jodi Kantor, played by Zoe Kazan, to find sizable evidence against the Hollywood executive. All they need is his comment to hit publish.
Trust the twice-Oscar-nominated Mulligan to stare right through Weinstein, waiting for his statement as the suits try to rattle her with legalese.
Viewers hear his voice and a glimpse of the back of his neck, with Mike Houston playing the part, but not once during the film “She Said” is Weinstein’s face shown.
The film, set for release on Nov. 18, follows the two reporters who together broke one of the most important stories in a generation by exposing the Hollywood producer's history of sexual abuse and igniting the #MeToo movement.
In conversation with the Deseret News, German director Maria Schrader reveals the mystery behind the creative decision to not show Weinstein’s face, as well as other behind-the-scenes tidbits and her thoughts on the Oscars.
The 2017 Times report found that, over the course of three decades, Weinstein had reached a settlement with at least eight women after being accused of sexual harassment, suppressing them through nondisclosure agreements.
Meanwhile, everyone who worked with the Miramax producer — from assistants to top execs — was forced to adhere to a code of silence, according to the Times.
“I was so lucky to find Mike and have him agree to do this,” Schrader said of the actor who portrayed Weinstein.
The actor, who has appeared in “Boardwalk Empire” and “Orange Is the New Black,” was very aware that the role demanded exerting presence while not being seen — like an antagonist physically out of reach, the director explained.
Twohey and Kantor’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting helped unveil Weinstein’s three-decade history of abuse and shattered decades of silence.
But it isn’t just him — less powerful men also manage to abuse their power, Schrader said.
Omitting his face can push the film “beyond the specifics of Hollywood,” fuel discussions on “hierarchic, male-dominated structures” and give women the stage, she added.
A mirror of reality
During the early ’90s, Schrader, too, had heard rumors about Weinstein, but admiration for the Miramax producer behind works like “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting” overpowered the film industry, even in Germany.
When the news surfaced, Schrader was shocked by the extent of the crimes, and soon it felt like the dam of silence had broken. It was the start of something bigger, which proved true with the #MeToo movement.
The two-hour, 15-minute film, which is based on the book of the same name written by Twohey and Kantor, reflects real-life events without much dramatization, similar to other journalism-focused works like “All The President’s Men” and “Spotlight.”
It begins with another Times article written by Twohey, which accused former President Donald Trump of sexual assault only months before he won the 2016 election.
This sets the stage for those Weinstein harassed, starting with a young Laura Madden in Ireland in 1999, who is shown happily working on a film set and later seen tearfully running while clutching her clothes. Jennifer Ehle plays an older version of the character, now battling cancer.
Many filler scenes feature the two Times reporters seeking out these survivors in other cities, like San Francisco and London, and over the phone, all the while juggling marriage and motherhood.
As the plot builds, many actual Weinstein survivors — like actress Ashley Judd, who plays herself in the film and allows the reporter duo to name her in the story — make a powerful appearance.
“I just remember when I was speaking with my mother about this, she said, ‘Oh, go get ’em, honey,’” Judd said at a press event, referencing her late mother Naomi Judd, according to People. “She was just enthralled by my audacity (to speak out), as I later heard from our friends.”
Meanwhile, Samantha Morton plays Zelda Perkins, a former Miramax employee who left after a co-worker was assaulted, contributing to a pool of accounts that are a testimony of the long-lasting effects of the trauma.
The art of telling a victim-centric story
Schrader has starred in more than 50 shows and films, but directing is her recent calling. Her recent projects include “I’m Your Man,” a German film, and “Unorthodox,” a miniseries that won an Emmy.
The latter, available to view on Netflix, follows the journey of a Hasidic Jewish woman who leaves behind her arranged marriage in Brooklyn for a new life abroad.
Both “Unorthodox” and “She Said” encompass a deeper sense of exploration, an observation that Schrader agrees with.
“What attracts me generally is a narrative that is incredibly personal, intimate and private,” combined with a tension originating from either the society or the broader political environment, she said, pointing out the commonality.
The miniseries, in fact, helped the German director prepare for “She Said” by confronting what should and shouldn’t be shown on screen.
“It was also a very female-driven team,” she said. “The moment there was a depiction of something erotic — you know, something sexy — it’s just not our way.”
The importance of a sensible visual narrative only grows since her latest film touches on sexual misconduct and even rape, which are sensitive subjects.
Consider the way Schrader included an audio clip of a meeting between Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who was undercover, and Weinstein, originally released by the New Yorker in 2017.
The first draft of the script, written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, included only a part of the tape.
Schrader decided to use a larger chunk of the audio, as the camera slowly travels through hotel hallways and past closed doors.
The idea is for the viewer to use their own experiences to create a second layer of imagery, possibly even more powerful than what’s heard on the audio tape, she explained.
Director Maria Schrader isn’t focused on the Oscars
In an epilogue, “She Said” notes that following the release of that Times article, 82 women came out against Weinstein. A week after he was charged, he was fired from his own company.
In 2020, the former producer was found guilty of first-degree criminal sexual assault, third-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault. He is currently serving a 23-year sentence.
Another trial is currently underway in California, where he faces 11 charges, including rape, forcible oral copulation and sexual battery by restraint, according to The New York Times.
The jury was told not to watch the trailer for “She Said” while Weinstein’s lawyers tried to use it to delay the trial.
Schrader did not comment on the court proceedings but said that she hopes this film riddled with heavy subject matter will “inspire and even uplight people to talk, speak, share, connect, leave the dark room of isolation.”
It’s clear that the film is more than just a project for the director — and her tone of voice suggests this seriousness.
The Oscars aren’t exactly on her list of priorities, even though Mulligan’s performance could fetch the best supporting actor trophy. Schrader’s greatest wish is that people go see her work.
“Where I’m from, awards are surplus, like the French say,” she said jokingly. “At the end of the day, it’s all a big game.”
Note: “She Said” is rated R for language and descriptions of sexual assault.