James Toback: the film-maker accused of being a sexual predator

Hes worked with Robert Downey Jr, Sienna Miller and Alec Baldwin and, according to numerous women, used his connections to harass and intimidate

Theres a strong chance the average moviegoer isnt familiar with the name James Toback. Its a fact the 72-year-old writer-director is allegedly painfully aware of. A recent Los Angeles Times expos paints a portrait of a man bragging and name-dropping to get what he wants. According to more than 200 testimonies, what Toback wants is to sexually harass and intimidate women and post-Harvey Weinstein, hes the next Hollywood heavyweight to find himself accused of being an aggressive predator.

Like Weinstein, his behavior has reportedly been an open secret in industry circles for years. Its a common thread among many women I know, said Karen Sklaire, a drama teacher, actor and playwright. After someone mentions they were sexually abused by a creepy writer-director, the response is, Oh, no. You got Tobacked.

Reports of Tobacks conduct go as far back as a 1989 issue of Spy magazine, and later found their way into Gawker. He even made a semi-autobiographical film called The Pick-Up Artist. But Tobacks standing in the industry was nowhere near as lofty as Weinsteins. His alleged techniques for picking up women are as simple as approaching them on the street, a business card and often a DVD of one of his films ready to impress them.

His list of accomplishments includes an Oscar-nomination for his Bugsy screenplay in 1991. He has directed three films starring Robert Downey Jr (including 1997s Two Girls and a Guy); he was an uncredited script doctor on Bad Boys, Crimson Tide and Disclosure; he made a HBO documentary about film-making that featured interviews with stars such as Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain and Martin Scorsese and had a small role in Woody Allens 1990 drama Alice. Since the 70s, hes been a constant presence on the scene, continuing to work on films that might not break out to a wide audience but manage to attract a steady stream of stars. His most recent, the arthouse drama The Private Life of a Modern Woman starring Sienna Miller and Alex Baldwin, received its world premiere at the Venice film festival earlier this year.

James Toback and Alec Baldwin at the Cannes film festival in 2013.

Toback is the grandson of a retail magnate but managed to gamble away his $1m inheritance by the age of 21 (the experience led him to write the script for the 1974 James Caan drama The Gambler). He went to Harvard, befriended Tommy Lee Jones and claims to have taken the largest dose of LSD in history.

His colorful background made him a compelling character to many. In various interviews hes described as larger than life, opinionated and a torrential talker. He was boisterous in a 1999 interview with the Guardian, simulating gay sex as a way of recalling a scene from his film Black and White between Downey Jr and Mike Tyson. He frequently depicted explicit female sexuality in his films, most notably in the largely improvised 2004 drama When Will I Be Loved, which opened with a five-minute scene of Neve Campbell masturbating with a shower nozzle. Well, Im obsessed with women, so I can imagine my way into a female consciousness very well, Toback said to IGN upon the films release.

But behind the facade of an indie stalwart helping to create strong female characters, allegations now position Toback as a serial predator, taking advantage of his position to coerce women into situations sold as career-improving. He would allegedly take meetings with female actors that would soon devolve into intrusively intimate questions about sexual history before Toback would dry-hump, masturbate and often ejaculate on them. He is said to have boasted of famous sexual conquests and to have made threats. One unnamed victim, a rising Hollywood star at the time, claims he told her: People who go against me I know people that hurt people.

Toback has denied any suggestion of wrongdoing, claiming never to have met many of the accusers; if he had, it was for five minutes and he had no recollection of the meeting. He also states that his diabetes and a heart condition mean it is biologically impossible to do the things he has allegedly done.

James
James Toback at the Venice film festival this year. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

The Weinstein allegations feel like the start of a sea change in Hollywood, a place long beset with tales of casting-couch impropriety and sexual harassment. The accusations against Toback have prompted other high-profile figures to speak out. On Tuesday, Julianne Moore tweeted: #JamesToback approached me in the 80s on Columbus Ave with the same language wanted me to audition, come to his apt. I refused. One month later he did it again with the EXACT same language. I said dont u remember u did this before?

The Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn also shared a Facebook post describing the cases of 15 women who have shared stories with him, including former girlfriends and a family member. I told the women who would come forward I had their back, he wrote. This is me doing my best to fulfill that promise. On Twitter, Anthony Bourdain referred to him as a well known sack of shit while the Weinstein accuser Asia Argento called him another pig.

The growing list of women, more than 230 to date, has also led to the possibility of an official Los Angeles police department investigation while officials determine the severity of complaints. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Tobacks agent has cut ties with him. His membership at the Writers Guild of America East is also at risk. The allegations against James Toback are deeply troubling, a WGAE statement read. They are both extensive and consistent, and this sort of behavior cannot be tolerated.

In 2004, Toback said, with perhaps alarming prophecy: I think I could name, without coming up for air, about 30 famous, established, rich, successful guys who have turned themselves into helpless, pathetic buffoons because of sexual obsession. In the current Hollywood climate, Weinstein was the first and Toback wont be the last.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/24/james-toback-sexual-harassment-allegations-film-maker

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