Writer, producer and former actress Lisa Pekar breaks her silence to recount an assault in 2001, joining dozens of women who have accused the convicted mogul
Editors Note: In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial for rape, another woman has stepped forward alleging the media mogul sexually assaulted her 22 years ago.
A ballerina and a model, Lisa Pekar moved to Los Angeles from Milwaukee in September 2000 to pursue her Hollywood dreams as a writer and possibly an actress.
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Pekar wrote a piece about her experience and also was interviewed for TheWrap by Kelly Hartog. Pekar’s allegations were corroborated by a witness who spoke to TheWrap on condition of anonymity. Asked to respond to these allegations, a spokesperson for Weinstein said: “Harvey… believes that this sequence of events did not happen as suggested here and that the accusation just isn’t true. The fact is that this narrative is so similar to others, it is therefore easy enough to suggest to some that it is a valid recollection, yet it is also possibly being repurposed for other reasons. Harvey said he did not do this.”
A lawyer for Fabrizio Lombardo didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.
I almost called Gloria Allred’s office a thousand times since 2017.
Your first question will undoubtedly be: But why did you wait so long? If that is the case, I can safely assume you have not been sexually assaulted, violated or humiliated, and have not been groomed by those taking advantage of our rape culture, or had a person in power seize yours and then use theirs to silence you.
I did not come forward sooner because of fear. Fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, fear of being forced to retell the story, fear of being blamed, fear of being judged and because of something inside that just stopped me: something deeply rooted in shame.
This current period has been particularly challenging with Weinstein’s recent Los Angeles trial and the state of New York agreeing to hear his appeal, and so I have come forward now because I feel the weight of not standing with the other victims weighing heavily on me. If it took me this long to come forward, how many more victims are out there?
I do not know why it took Gavin Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, to make me feel like I could finally find my voice, but it is time to add mine to those calling out Harvey Weinstein.
On Dec. 12, 2000, producer Fabrizio Lombardo of Miramax Italy and director Giuseppe Tornatore were having lunch on the patio at the now-closed celebrity restaurant Ago, where I was a hostess. Lombardo approached and introduced me to Tornatore, saying they were fascinated by my resemblance to the actress Monica Bellucci, the star of Tornatore’s new film, “Malena.” They were in town for the premiere, and left me a ticket to the screening at the Directors Guild of America. A couple of years later, I would be cast as Bellucci’s photo double in Antoine Fuqua’s 2003 film “Tears of the Sun.”
After the screening, Fabrizio said he’d introduce me to many powerful people. In the end, he only introduced me to one: Harvey Weinstein, at the 2001 Miramax Oscar party at the Beverly Hilton. It was such an honor for a girl who was fresh off the boat, or actually, out the Buick.
I went with my roommate. Harvey just asked Fabrizio if he had our numbers. Fabrizio said, “Yes.”
Then they were gone, off to make the rounds. My friend didn’t like the crowd and even used the word “creepy” to describe Fabrizio. I understood what she meant, but I knew I was going to have to deal with those kinds of people if I was going to be in this business.
Later that week, Fabrizio invited me to drinks with Harvey at the Sky Bar at the Mondrian Hotel. I brought an actress friend. She took to Fabrizio right away. Harvey was a gentleman. Kind, courteous and full of information. I told him I was interested in both writing and acting. He said, “Choose one and focus on that, whichever one you’re more passionate about.” I told him it was writing.
The four of us then went upstairs to Harvey’s suite. He popped a bottle of champagne, which Fabrizio and my friend took to the bedroom in the suite. Harvey and I continued to talk and he said he was surprised to have conversed for so long about art and photography and film with someone nearly half his age who could hold her own.
At about two in the morning, he said he felt compelled to give me a gift. The manager opened the gift shop just for him and he bought me David LaChapelle’s “Hotel LaChapelle.” Harvey paid my valet and said to send him anything I wrote, that he would read it personally. He said I was one of the good ones, and the good ones deserve a chance, too.
A couple of months later I was leaving the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank after one of many auditions. The roles were always “Hot Girl 1,” “Hot Girl 2,” “Hot Girl’s Friend” or “Corpse.” I was dressed for the part, red stilettos and all. Lo and behold who calls out of the blue but Mr. Weinstein himself. And upon hearing that I was not only writing but auditioning, as well, he said that was something he could actually help with. He asked me to come straight to the Peninsula Hotel for a cold reading on a film he was shooting in town. He said his assistant, Barbara Schneeweiss, would meet me in the lobby.
Barbara greeted me warmly with various questions about my budding career. I wholeheartedly believed she was unaware of the monster he was. I did read that some people had accused her of knowing, I just didn’t sense that she did. She seemed so sweet and timid and hardworking.
When I arrived in the suite, another older woman was already there, seated at the long table, glaring at me. Harvey arrived abruptly from another room within the suite, handed me a script, and asked me to wait while he finished that meeting.
After they left, Harvey opened a bottle of champagne. I asked if we could drink it after the reading, assuming this meeting was what he said it was. He agreed. There was small, friendly talk. He said I needed two things to be an actor, a good agent and the hallowed SAG card — one nearly impossible to secure without the other. He said the agent was easy because he knew them all and they all owed him a favor, but that the SAG card was tricky because I’d need a speaking role. Exactly what I thought I was there for — the chance to read for a speaking role.
He laughed and said I didn’t need to read for this role. I only needed to take off my shirt. He said he needed to see my breasts, and he assured me that getting naked gets an actress noticed.
I decided to trust him. I grew up a ballerina and model. Getting naked in front of other people came with the territory. I took off my blouse. He motioned for me to take off my bra. I did. He nodded and asked me to take off my skirt. I knew he needed to see if my thighs were fat. He asked me to turn around. I complied, in my thong and stiletto red heels. He confirmed I was beautiful but needed to lose 10 pounds. I was about to ask if I could get dressed but before I could, he disrobed.
I didn’t think it was a possibility that he might assault me. When I first saw him in the suite, he was in a suit. While he was talking to me, he was taking off the jacket, tie, just getting comfortable, unbuttoning his shirt. But I didn’t think anything of it. But then he took off his pants and told me how it worked in Hollywood. He said the more I helped him, the more he would help me. He rattled on that he had recently had a vasectomy, so if we had sex, I wouldn’t get pregnant. Nausea set in as he bragged about all the people’s careers he was responsible for, saying that no one ever said no to him. He said I was in good company and that he f—ed them all.
I was kind panicking at that point but didn’t understand why he would say that, because that was not fathomable. I didn’t even understand how the conversation had gotten to this point. I was frozen.
Then, without another word, he swung his giant arm around to the back of my head, grabbed a handful of my hair in his hand, and pushed my head downwards, toppling me off my heels, collapsing me to my knees, the other hand prying my mouth, smashing my face into his mangled mess of genitalia. I asked him to stop. I pleaded. I used the word “no.” He yanked me up by my hair and sat down on a chair, trying to put me on his lap like a deviant Santa. This went on, like a game, only he was playing. A tug of war. He was trying to pull my legs and knees apart, trying to force his fingers inside me. I cried, and he growled, “You’re really ruining the mood.” He then stomped away.
I don’t know where he went, but when I tried to open the hotel room door to leave, suddenly his hand came from nowhere, pressed the door firmly shut, and he warned me, “I wouldn’t mention this, if I were you.”
I think he was wearing a robe then, and he let me open the door. Barbara was standing outside in the hall. I said nothing to her. I just went home and told no one.
Days later, Barbara called me with an acting job offer and said that Harvey would not take no for an answer. An executive car picked me up and Barbara was inside. But it wasn’t a grimy set at all. And I wasn’t required to take off my clothes. In fact, it was an A-list movie — 2003’s “View From the Top” — and I was to have a scene with the lead actress, Gwyneth Paltrow.
In the end, I had just one line. I think it was supposed to maybe be more but I remember Gwyneth was very upset that she was there that day.
A couple of weeks after filming “View From the Top,” Barbara reached out. She said a meeting had been arranged for me with the casting director Nancy Nayor, to read for a supporting role in the Emmanuelle Chriqui film “On the Line.” She said, “Don’t worry, Harvey won’t be there.”
Of course, I wanted to meet such a prominent casting director, especially with Barbara’s reassurances, so I agreed. I met Nancy in the evening at her office. It was just the two of us. However, afterwards, it was Harvey who called me. He said he heard I had read well but if I wanted to solidify the role I’d have to come see him at his hotel. If I didn’t, he said not only would I not get that role, I might have trouble getting other roles or an agent in the future. I said no. And I knew that was the end for me.
My experience with Harvey ended my career. I quit acting, or at least auditioning, and vowed I would not vie for a role unless I was the one calling the shots and financing the project. Which I finally did, in 2007 — with a little French and English film I made with my producing partner that screened at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
That’s where I ran into Harvey again. I had not seen him since the Peninsula incident six years earlier. He recognized me in the crowd at the American Pavilion and made a beeline for me. He asked if he knew me, so I reminded him of my name. He said he remembered it, vaguely, and inquired why I was in Cannes. He then left me tickets to a party and a screening, which I attended with a fellow actor.
At the screening, Harvey’s new assistant, Victoria Parker, said Harvey had requested a meeting with me and my producing partner. I couldn’t tell my producing partner why we couldn’t go without telling her the truth. To her, he was still Harvey Weinstein and meeting him was a huge opportunity.
We were supposed to meet him at the restaurant of his hotel, Le Majestic. Instead, Victoria took us to meet him in his hotel room. Harvey was in a robe and without even greeting me, he put his arm around my friend’s waist, pulled her close and stuck his tongue down her throat. I was frozen, appalled and ashamed. Now, my silence had affected someone else.
It would be years before I shared my experience with others. Why are we programmed to hide the truth? Fear. Every time a victim is not heard, not believed, not supported, another one shuts down.
I tremble still, as I write these words, but each little step toward action makes us stronger. I commend those that have publicly told their stories on the witness stand. For those that doubt the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, I can attest to his sick, twisted, villainous existence.
And for those convinced that #metoo is over, I believe more stories will continue to surface from within every industry, each one illuminating the path for the next.
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