Rosanna Arquette: ‘They said I was a pain in the ass. It’s not true’
The actor talks about Harvey Weinstein, harassment, and the collapse of her career
Rosanna Arquette: ‘I don’t know how to not speak out.’ Photograph: Emma McIntyre/Getty
Rosanna Arquette sounds panicked. She thinks someone wants to stop our conversation taking place. For 30 minutes, a BBC publicist has tried to patch us into a conference call; now, Arquette has taken matters into her own hands and phoned me directly. “This is what happens! All the time!” she says, her voice rising. There are no pleasantries. It’s as if we were already talking before I picked up.
“Why is it disconnecting every time?” she asks. “There is something strange here. Really strange. I don’t understand what’s happening. Why can’t we get on the phone with each other?” She laughs, a nervous sort of placeholder laugh.
I hesitate before going along with her idea that we have been sabotaged. I had assumed a minor technical hitch. Who would want to stop her talking to me? “About a Harvey Weinstein documentary?” she scoffs. “A lot of people!”
It would be easy to put Arquette’s panic down to paranoia. But as the BBC documentary Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein shows, paranoia is an utterly reasonable response to what she has been through. Directed by Ursula Macfarlane, the film explores how Weinstein deployed power, right back to his school years. Along with fellow actors and former employees of Weinstein, Arquette contributes her own experience of his alleged sexual abuse. “I guess you have to say allegedly,” she says. Weinstein denies any non-consensual sexual encounters.
What Arquette didn’t know, until one of the producers took the finished film to her house, was that the Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube had put together a profile of her for Weinstein. “Phones and getting into computers and emails disappearing – that stuff continues,” she says (she doesn’t suggest Black Cube is involved). She is “grateful” to Macfarlane for “a great job”. But “a lot of people have made a lot of money on the backs of our pain”, she says, with the same sad laugh. I think the word “pain” has triggered the laugh, and she could be crying.
Arquette was one of the first women to share details of Weinstein’s abuse, with Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker and in the New York Times with Jodi Kantor, in October 2017. When the makers of Untouchable contacted her, “Everybody was in so much fear, they didn’t want to speak,” she says. “But how do you not?”
On camera, she tells of the time in the early 1990s when she arrived at the Beverly Hills hotel in Los Angeles for a meeting with Weinstein. As she does – and this is something other interviewees in the film do – she grabs her own wrist and jerks her body back, her hands rising defensively as she mimics his voice; acting, in short, as if Weinstein is physically there, and that she must also play his part.
“That’s what trauma is,” she says – to be recurrently plunged back into the moment that Weinstein, in his white bathrobe, tried to draw her hand first to his achy neck, then his penis. What a relief it must have been to reach the safety of the lift.
“I was never safe,” she counters. “From the moment I was told that I was supposed to have dinner with him and then I was told: ‘Mr Weinstein will see you upstairs.’ My heart started racing. Mmmmm.” She makes a sound, a sort of verbal malfunction, an alarm that won’t stop. Of course she didn’t feel safe. She doesn’t feel safe now.
Arquette stayed rooted in the doorway of Weinstein’s room. She did not go in. “That would have been fucked. Game over!” But before she fled, he warned her – she says this in a deep voice – “‘Rosanna, you’re making a very big mistake.’” She says he named two women whom he claimed had gone along with him in order to advance their careers. One has since told her own story, making it clear that she in fact rebuffed Weinstein, so Arquette sees no harm in naming her.
“Gwyneth Paltrow,” she says. “He said to me: ‘Look what I’ve done for Gwyneth Paltrow.’ Gwyneth Paltrow was with Brad Pitt! She had a career! There’s no way she made a deal with Harvey!”
But the claim must have weighed on Arquette because, she says, two years ago, when Farrow’s investigation appeared, she phoned Paltrow. “And I said: ‘I just needed you to know what he said to me.’”
And what did Paltrow say?
“She laughed. She said: ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that!’”
Of course, many people had heard many things about Weinstein. Silence was never the problem. “I told many people,” Arquette says. Who? “I told Jane Fonda years ago. She listened to me and she was concerned … I talked. I didn’t stop talking.”
Rose McGowan talked, too, because Arquette heard her account of being raped by Weinstein long before Farrow’s article in 2017; Arquette shared her own experience with a third party, who shared it with McGowan. All these semi-private conversations built a kind of common knowledge, and that was why Farrow knew to approach her, she says. “But we were in such a fearful place.” Even as she walked away from Weinstein’s corridor and returned to the lobby in the lift, she thought: “He’s going to take me down.”
Arquette has appeared in more than 70 films but the notable ones are Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), The Big Blue (1988), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Crash (1996) – all long ago. “Well, like Mira Sorvino says, [Weinstein] took a big chunk of our time in our lives … There was a significant drop in careers. We’ve gone from the top of A-lists to bottom of the C-minus list within minutes. Gossip ... A dinner party … ‘Be careful, she’s a pain in the ass …’ People listen to that. And it’s not true!”
Pulp Fiction (produced by Weinstein’s company Miramax) did come two years after the alleged assault; Arquette wanted to work with Quentin Tarantino. “But I never made a penny from it,” she says. “I’m the only famous actor who didn’t have a back-end deal [a share of the profits]. And this was a time when I should have …”
You were A-list, I say. “I hate saying that,” she says. I suspect she finds it immodest.
She has no evidence that Weinstein warned others against her (though Peter Jackson has admitted to blacklisting Sorvino and Ashley Judd under pressure from Weinstein). And there was always work. “Even if it was a bad television movie shooting up in Canada,” she says with that same dry laugh. “You have to pay the bills when you’re a single mum.” (Her daughter, Zoë Bleu Sidel, is 24 and, according to Arquette: “She can run circles around any Arquette as an actor.” Zoë’s father, restaurateur John Sidel, was the second of Arquette’s four husbands. She has been married to Todd Morgan, an investment banker, since 2013.)
In Hollywood, Arquette “always felt isolated”. For a long time, she had no agent, though she has “a wonderful one” now. “I never really played the game, doing what it takes to be a star, to keep your mouth shut”. I wonder if the other Arquette siblings – Patricia, David (whom she says she speaks to most often), Alexis and Richmond – shared her sense of isolation? “Well, I don’t think Patricia does!” she shoots back. “She’s right there at the top of the field in the game right now.”
The speed of her response makes me wonder if it was a competitive household growing up; all the siblings acted. But she says: “I’ve never experienced that in our family.” There’s a pause. “Wait a minute, what am I saying? My dad [Lewis Arquette] had a kind of weird competitiveness with me that I never felt was super-supportive. Everybody would say: ‘Your dad is so proud of you!’ And I’d say: ‘Oh, he is? Well, that’s nice!’ But he was a struggling actor who never really made it and then his kids all became, you know, stars.”
When her trans sister Alexis “wanted to be a woman, I always had a joke. I said: ‘You think you have a hard time getting work as an actor? Wait till you’re a woman!’ We had a big laugh over that.”
A long outward breath ripples down the phone. “I’m just trying to get my thoughts in order,” she says quietly. “It’s really hard not to be paranoid when you find out that you’ve been spied on.” She goes back to the earlier hitch with the phone call. “So what happens is, I realise in myself, you get so triggered. The trauma of it. This high anxiety happens, along with a strong morning coffee, and you feel like: ‘What’s going on here?’” She laughs again, but sounds more relaxed.
It was Arquette who, as the eldest sibling, launched the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation after Alexis died from an HIV-related heart attack in 2016. “I felt really moved to do something,” she says. Patricia contributed, “got a couple of good donations”. But the family appeared to disagree about which pronoun to use: Richmond chose “he” in his Facebook post, Patricia “she”.
“This is what’s so great about Alexis,” Arquette says. “Alexis was a ‘they’ before the ‘they’ pronoun existed.” So which pronoun does the family use now? “I go with what Alexis wanted and that was her choice, and her choice was it didn’t matter,” Arquette says. “So we in our family say ‘she’. But at the end, Alexis, you know, had a beard. And I said, because Alexis was very ill, I said: ‘Do you want to be buried in a beautiful, beautiful dress and be made up? Is that what you want?’ ‘It doesn’t matter, Ro. It doesn’t matter. Male or female, I’m just me.’ We got to have that conversation. So I know that Alexis would be ‘they’ now, if she were alive.”
Activism was always central to Arquette family life. Their mother, Brenda Denaut, was an activist. Alexis campaigned for trans rights. Patricia used her Oscars speech in 2015 to call for wage equality. Way back in 2002, Rosanna made a documentary, Searching for Debra Winger, about the shortage of film roles for older women. “This is in our DNA,” she says. I suspect even those words are part of the genetic makeup, because Patricia says exactly the same.
Arquette tries not to dwell on the kind of career she might have had. “This is my karma. It’s for the greater good that it happened to me, because what has become more important in my life is the activism, and being a voice for the voiceless. One of the voices for the voiceless,” she amends. She is scrupulously modest.
“The next step is the healing,” she says. To this end, she is “constantly” working on her trauma in therapy, and “talking with other women all the time, every day” about their experiences. Don’t these conversations require her to dwell in the moment of abuse?
“It’s not dwelling,” she says. “It’s still really new. And we have to be diligent and on top of it at all times, because I think men think this is a phase women are going through, and we’re here to tell you, this is never going away. So many women have been abused, and it’s been normalised. We can’t normalise this. It’s not normal!”
Still, I worry about the healing part. Arquette seems to feel all allegations of abuse personally. The day after the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, she woke up with shingles. “Because the stress was so … It was just too much when he got off!”
And she finds it meaningful that Jeffrey Epstein died on her 60th birthday, as if their fates were entwined. Certainly, she spent her “whole birthday dealing with a lot of women who were really affected by the fact that Jeffrey Epstein died”. Thankfully, she had “a total rock’n’roll love festival” in her backyard later, attended by activists including Bamby Salcedo, Doctor Astrid Heger, Monica Ramirez and Joni Mitchell. Ellen Barkin was there “in all her glory”.
Patricia couldn’t make it – she was getting over the flu. But Arquette’s daughter Zoë gave a “beautiful speech about how she appreciated me and I was always there for her,” Arquette says. And Susanna Hoff from the Bangles played Eternal Flame and Walk Like An Egyptian and Take Me With U by Prince. Arquette is singing it now, quietly: “I don’t care pretty baby, take me with you …”
Still, the healing process can’t have been helped by her recent tweet that she was “sorry” she “was born white and privileged”. Afterwards, she received so much abuse on social media that she contacted “a really important person who does risk assessments on these sorts of threats”. He wants her “to be very careful about how I say things”, she says, before launching into a clarification. “I’m defending what I said, and if it pisses people off … Yes, just by the nature of the colour of my skin, I was born with privilege. And it is unfair. And that’s what I meant to say ... Why is it that I was born with privileges just because of the colour of my skin?”
She is fighting on so many fronts. She flits from Weinstein to Epstein to Charles Manson to Kavanaugh, mostly in exclamatory bolts. Bearing in mind the threat specialist’s advice, I wonder if she ever considers ...
“Do I ever feel like I should shut the fuck up?” she jumps in. “I don’t know how to not speak out. I think as a human being, it’s my job.” – Guardian