Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Saoirse Ronan, Allison Janney, Mary J. Blige and Jennifer Lawrence gathered for The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Dramatic Actress Roundtable, discussing hot button topics including the ongoing wave of sexual harassment allegations coming out of Hollywood.
“I hope the entertainment industry will never be the same,” Chastain says, adding there is a long history of abuse against women which has never fully been addressed. “I’m devastated by all the stories that have come out because it’s heartbreaking, but at the same time I feel hopeful, because we’re not ignoring it anymore.”
Oscar-winner Lawrence is quick to point out sexual harassment isn’t just a Hollywood problem, but like “Molly’s Game” lead Chastain, 40, she hopes change will come from “starting the conversation now.” Lawrence’s real-life BFF Stone agrees.
“It’s a huge conversation for our industry, but I would hope that this is only the tipping point for us to discuss equal pay for equal work for women across every industry,” Stone, 29, adds.
With the outpouring of stories against sexual harassers and abusers in Hollywood, Ronan, Janney and Blige are looking back at past interactions they have had, grateful to have not experienced any misconduct first-hand in the industry.
“I was very lucky that I was protected from a lot of that. I never was really exposed to what went on at parties, I was never left on my own with anyone; my mom and dad were always around,” “Lady Bird” star Ronan, 23, says. “The really disappointing thing about all this is that [journalists and others in Hollywood] had all of this s*** on all of these men and women for the last few years, but they hadn’t done anything with it. It’s just been swept under the carpet.”
“I’m very fortunate that I have never experienced any kind of harassment, and the only reason I can think of is that I’m 5-foot-15 and my career didn’t start till I was like 38,” says “I, Tonya” star Janney, adding she was aware the casting couch existed as “something I thought women had to navigate growing up in the business.” Now, she tells THR and her fellow actresses she’s grateful for the changing climate. “It’s exciting to think of a time where kids growing up won’t know what that is, that it will be a thing of the past, and there won’t be any more abuse of power. It’s exciting to think of our culture changing.”
“Mudbound” star Blige reveals she went through sexual harassment as a young woman before her music career. A self-proclaimed tomboy, she admits she wore baggier clothing to avoid unwanted contact.
“When I got in the music business, I never had it because I went through so much of it in childhood,” she says. “Because I’ve been through so much as a child and a teenager, I just wore baggier jeans and Timberlands and hats turned backward. It took me a very long time to even wear makeup and tight clothes because I had been through so much. And those secrets I still have to deal with.”
Blige, 46, also hopes this movement will bring about a change for the better. “I feel sad for the women, but I’m happy that they’re free because they had to hold on to a secret for years. And I believe that things will change because this is making other women say, ‘Me too,’ ‘Me too,’ ‘Me too’ – it keeps happening every day because people are tired of sitting around with that secret that holds them prisoner.”
The actresses also voice their support for the women who aren’t ready or don’t wish to speak publicly about the abuse they have suffered. Lawrence, 27, knows all to well what happens when women speak up on the job. The Oscar-winner says she called out a director and was “punished.”
“I got afraid that I wasn’t going to be hired again. I was called ‘difficult’ and a ‘nightmare,'” she reveals. “I think a lot of people aren’t coming forward because they’re afraid they’re not going to work again. You need to be able to say, ‘This is wrong’ and have somebody do something about it instead of saying, ‘Oh, it’s wrong? Well, you’re fired.'”
Stone adds, “We have to recognize that there are so many who haven’t told their stories yet, who aren’t comfortable to share. I feel so much compassion for those who are still getting up and going to work every day with their abuser or have had abuse in their past and who are not ready to say anything.”