Michael Apted, a filmmaker known for female-empowerment dramas, is defending himself against an accusation of sexual assault with a 33-year-old calendar.
Film executive Rhonda Talbot told TheWrap that in 1985, the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” director invited her to his hotel room in Paris to look at some photos. There, she said, he took off his clothes, pinned her to the bed and tried to rape her. She said she only escaped by kneeing him in the groin.
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“He chased me out the door, still naked, saying: ‘Stop resisting! Stop resisting!,” she said.
She has corroboration from two friends and a psychoanalyst who treated her, all of whom say they remember her telling them decades ago that Apted attacked her.
But she did not come forward until this month, when she spoke at length with TheWrap – motivated, she said, by Apted’s recent comments calling the #MeToo movement “hysterical.” When TheWrap approached Apted for comment, his attorneys provided images of calendar entries and other information that they say discredit Talbot’s account. (TheWrap has no way of verifying the calendar’s authenticity.)
Apted’s calendar shows that the director, now 77, had five meals with Talbot in the seven months after she said she kneed him in the groin to stop a sexual assault.
Apted’s attorneys, including Marty Singer, say there are flaws in Talbot’s account — including her assertion that she saw the Rolling Stones with Apted.
Another detail of her story is clearly wrong: She said she watched an orchestra record the score for Apted’s film “Gorillas in the Mist,” just months after the 1985 interaction with Apted. But the score wasn’t recorded until nearly three years later.
“It is clear that Ms. Talbot has materially changed her story when she was challenged on the specific details thereof,” Singer wrote in a letter to TheWrap.
But memories are imperfect on both sides. A couple of hours before he dug up the 33-year-old calendar, Apted said he didn’t remember meeting Talbot at all, or even know who she was.
“None of this makes any sense to me,” he told TheWrap, when first asked about the accusation. “The name doesn’t mean anything to me.”
‘You’ll Be Like an Uncle’
Apted is perhaps best known for the “Up” series of documentaries, which began in 1964 with interviews of British schoolchildren. Every seven years since, he has checked in to see how their lives have changed.
The director is widely respected by fellow filmmakers, in part for his empathetic, female-driven dramas. Sigourney Weaver received an Oscar nomination for his 1988 film “Gorillas in the Mist.” He has served as president of the Directors Guild of America and as a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This month, the guild named him an honorary life member, and he presently serves as DGA’s secretary-treasurer.
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He was already well-known for “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and other films when he crossed paths with Talbot at a party for their mutual friend, journalist Ann Louise Bardach, at her Beverly Hills home in early 1985. His calendar says it was on Feb. 8, 1985, but Talbot and Bardach said it was in April.
Bardach said she remembers that Talbot caught Apted’s eye, and that he asked about her. Talbot was in her twenties, looking to break into the business. He was in his 40s, which felt “ancient” to her at the time, Talbot said.
Bardach told TheWrap she believes she was the one who gave Apted Talbot’s number after introducing them at her birthday party. Talbot said she got a call from Apted a week or so later and she eagerly accepted — thinking it would be about business, she said.
Polaroid of Rhonda Talbot on the night she says she met Michael Apted
Apted’s diary said they first met for drinks on Feb. 28, 1985, then had dinner on March 21 and March 23. She remembers only two lunches. At one, she said, she sensed him putting out a “romantic vibe.”
“Every time I’d try to talk about work, he’d change the subject or compliment me on my eyes,” she said.
Apted drove her home, she said, and without warning, “lunged” at her before she exited his car.
“He moves over and pulls me into a kiss,” she said. He stuck his tongue down her throat, and she pulled away, she said.
“I apologized for not kissing him,” she said. “I felt guilty because he was older and wiser and much more important than me.”
She said Apted assured her that everything was “fine,” and that she believed him.
She said she told him: “You’ll be like an uncle.”
Apted said he remembers nothing like that happening.
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Sting or Stones
Talbot said she bumped into Apted a few months later on a work trip to Paris — Apted’s calendar shows he was there from May 9-28 – and that both happened to be staying at the Hotel Raphael.
“It was great to see him,” she said. “I was by myself in a foreign place, didn’t really speak the language and had been away from home for a long time.”
She initially told TheWrap that Apted was working on a Rolling Stones documentary, but he said that is impossible: He was working on the Sting documentary “Bring on the Night,” released later that year, and didn’t make his Rolling Stones documentary until 2002. (It was never released.)
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Talbot said Apted invited her to see the Stones perform. Though the band recorded the “Dirty Work” album in Paris around that time, Apted’s attorney said they gave no live performances.
“Ms. Talbot did not attend any movie shoot with Mr. Apted,” Singer said in his letter to TheWrap. “For if she had, she would certainly know the difference between The Rolling Stones and Sting.”
Asked about this, Talbot said it was possible she had seen Sting, not the Stones – and that she didn’t have a strong memory because she wasn’t a big fan of either at the time.
What she says she does remember clearly, however, is Apted inviting her to his room to see the photographs.
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“It was all very professional,” she said. He offered her a Perrier, and things soon turned, she said. He suddenly tried to kiss her, she said, and pinned her to the sofa.
“He’s big,” Talbot said, “and I’m little so I squirmed my way out of there and as I’m looking for my purse, I grab it. I’m a little freaked out. I turn around and he was completely naked. It was so fast, I was shocked.”
Talbot said that Apted blocked her exit, telling her: “I know you good girls, deep down all you want is to be taken.”
“And that’s when he grabbed me naked with his huge arms and threw me down on the bed and got on top of me, telling me to ‘relax,’ and ‘stop resisting! Stop resisting! You just need to relax!,’” she said.
She said he had a “bear grip,” and he became angrier as she struggled. She was face down, and he ran his hands up her thighs and under her skirt, then flipped her over, she said.
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“It was an opening,” she said, “and I just kneed him in the groin.”
She said she fled and he still yelled after her: “Stop resisting!”
Apted said he had never said anything like that, to Talbot or anyone else. He also said no one had ever kneed him in the groin to end a sexual encounter.
“I’m sure I would remember that,” he said.
She didn’t go to the police.
“I was in his hotel room,” Talbot said. “I was hanging out with him. Who would believe me? And also, this was my first work trip, there was no way in hell I was going to make problems. I felt like I would get blamed and that my company would see me as ineffective.”
She initially told TheWrap he invited her to the “Gorillas in the Mist” recording a few months later. In fact, as Apted noted, the recording took place in 1988, the year of the film’s release. She said she made it clear there was “nothing romantic” and that she had a boyfriend, but that as they watched the orchestra, Apted nonetheless put his hand on her lower back.
That was when she knew a professional relationship would be impossible, she said.
Apted says she wasn’t there.
A photocopy of Michael Apted’s calendar provided to TheWrap by his attorney
But his calendar says they met for dinner on June 17, 1985 — about a month after she said she kneed him in the groin to escape an assault — and then for lunches on July 16, Sept. 4, Sept. 14, and Jan. 17 of the following year, 1986.
“That Ms. Talbot would choose to dine with Mr. Apted on five separate occasions only a month after he allegedly forced himself on her in a Paris hotel room simply makes no sense,” Singer’s letter argues. “It is not plausible that she would accept an invitation to see him even one more time if he had acted as she alleges.”
“That’s a lot of lunch,” Talbot told TheWrap. “It’s possible I had a lunch with him, but five times? That is a stretch. … It’s possible, but I don’t remember them.”
Singer’s letter said it would not make sense that “Mr. Apted would invite Ms. Talbot to a film scoring sessions after she allegedly rebuffed his advances and kneed him in the groin, whether it be three months or three years prior.”
Given the differences in their accounts, TheWrap sought comment from others who spoke with them around the time in question.
‘Not a Whisper of Misconduct’
Producer David Manson, who worked with Apted on the Sting documentary, said in a statement to TheWrap that he “was on location for the entire period of the shoot and spent a great deal of time with Mr. Apted throughout.”
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“During the shoot, I do not remember seeing him accompanied by any woman in a social context. In the thirty-three years since, I have subsequently worked with Mr. Apted and have never heard a whisper of misconduct.”
Singer’s letter said that the editor of “Gorillas in the Mist,” Stuart Baird, had no memory of Apted having any “female guest” present during the scoring or editing.
Talbot said she discussed the situation with other women decades ago. She has receipts (pictured left) for at least 41 group sexual assault therapy sessions and two individual sessions between 1992 and 1993. The receipts indicate she attended 35 of the sessions.
Talbot’s therapist, Dr. Arlene Drake, spoke to TheWrap with Talbot’s permission. She said she remembered Talbot saying Talbot had tried to rape her, and remembered his name because he was a famous director. She said she diagnosed Talbot with depression and post-traumatic stress.
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“People think, ‘Oh well, nothing really happened. She didn’t really get raped,” Drake said. “But that trauma of being held down and not knowing what will happen next, that’s a very traumatic experience. It’s like being in a war and coming out alive, you’re still traumatized.”
One friend of Talbot’s, Nancy Rowe, told TheWrap that Talbot told her about Apted roughly eight months after the Paris trip.
“It happened in a hotel room and she got out by the skin of her teeth and she had to kick the guy in the groin to get out of it. I may have laughed a little bit, because it was just like in the movies… but because she got out without getting raped, we could just cheer her on.”
Another friend, who asked not to be named, said Talbot told her about Apted in 1991.
“I remember it was in Paris. I remember the part about him standing naked, blocking the door, because I was horrified by it,” she said, adding that she had been a fan of Apted’s until Talbot told her the story.
Singer noted that Talbot’s ex-husband, Jeff Kober, acted in an Apted film, the Jennifer Lopez drama “Enough,” in 2002, about a decade after they divorced.
“Presumably, while they were married, Ms. Talbot would have told her husband about the alleged assault and he would have had reservations about working with Mr. Apted as a result,” Singer wrote.
Kober told TheWrap that Talbot had told him in 1986 that something happened in Paris with Apted, but had not gone into specifics.
Talbot hadn’t planned to come forward — until she read Apted’s recent comments about the #MeToo movement.
“It seems to be hysterical at the moment and it seems to be flooding at you all the time. Clearly there were serious goings on, and there was some bad behavior. But I think it will settle down,” Apted told Variety in November. “Once we are through the first blood of it — you know, everybody is hysterical about it now and rightly so — there has to be a pattern of behavior that is civilized and proper and not ridiculous.”
“That made me mad,” Talbot said. “The way they phrased it. When he said it seemed to be ‘hysterical,’ that’s a trigger word for me. It seemed like he was trying to downplay it… He sounded like someone who had no expectations of real change: ‘Let the girls settle down and things will get to normal soon enough,’ that’s how I read it. How could he say that?”
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