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Casting Couch Nightmares

November 8, 2015

Indian corporate lawyer-turned-film and television actress Sharika Raina recently shared some of her auditioning experiences with 101 India, describing several times she’s encountered the casting couch while establishing her acting career. Actually, Raina says, “Nothing ever goes down at an audition. It’s just an audition. It’s exactly what you would think it is…What do you expect? They take place at production houses and offices. It’s only after the audition that they sometimes call you to a hotel, or a house. Further discussions…” For Raina, such offers started when she was 16 years old, and have continued up till two years ago. Specific locations to which she’s been called were an unsavory pub, a director’s house, and a hotel. In one example she describes that after a particular audition she was told she received the role, and all she needed to do was sign the contract with the producer at a popular hotel. Suspicious, she attempted to change the meeting place to the production house, but she was told, “Sir is busy and flying out straight from there.” “Fair enough,” Raina thought. Turns out he met her in the lobby sweating profusely after a workout in the gym, and he said, “Let’s go back to my room so I can freshen up.” Raina “politely declined,” but the producer insisted that she go with him to his room saying, “…it was no problem at all.” Once in his room, he showed her the contract, but he stated there were still some things he was unhappy with. Raina says, “Apparently, I had a great body that could make him happy.” Distraught and crying, she went into the bathroom and immediately saw a package of condoms. She collected herself and thanked him for giving her a chance, but she told him she “can’t do it like this.” He responded, “Everyone does this.”

Now this story took place in far-off India, but the theme is very much in line with what we hear actors–both male and female-say is happening in the U.S. as well as in other countries across the globe. In fact, Raina’s story is quite similar to what Ashley Judd recently shared with Variety. Judd explained, “I was sexually harassed by one of our industry’s most famous, admired-slash-reviled bosses. I was making ‘Kiss the Girls’ at the time … He was very stealth and expert about it…’Oh, come meet at the hotel for something to eat.’ Fine, I show up. ‘Oh, he’s actually in his room.’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’…It was so disgusting. He physically lured me by saying, “Oh, help me pick out what I’m going to wear.'” When he continued with his advancements including asking her to watch him take a shower, Judd now explains, “…I would say, ‘No, no, no.’ I have a feeling if this is online and people have the opportunity to post comments, a lot of the people will say, ‘Why didn’t you leave the room?’ which is victim-blaming. When I kept saying, ‘no’ to everything, there was a huge asymmetry of power and control in that room.”

Other actors who’ve come forward to tell of their run ins with the casting couch include Thandie Newton, Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Susan Sarandon. The common denominator? Most instances occurred when these actors were just starting out. Megan Fox, however, alleges Hollywood legends have made such come ons after she became a star. Most commonly actors refrain from naming the person(s) who they said did these acts. But British actress Helen Mirren went a different route, and named English film producer and director Michael Winner who she said made her turn around and flaunt herself during an encounter in the 1960’s. Mirren said, “I was mortified and incredibly angry;” Winner, now deceased, countered that Mirren wasn’t remembering the moment correctly.

According to celebrity psychologist, Dr. Nancy Irwin, actors often refrain from naming names for various reasons. “Many times it is because they want to move on from that unpleasant experience, or perhaps they succumbed to it, or the ‘perpetrator’ was so huge that they do not want to defame that person because they think highly of their work,” she contends. “Others don’t want to be labeled a ‘snitch’ or feel nobody will believe them because it is such a cliche. Sadly, the cliche does perpetuate, probably because the creative process in and of itself can be a seductive process, and the temptation is non-stop in Hollywood,” Irwin told FOX411’S Pop Tarts column. But some argue that actors are enabling the abusers when they conceal their names, saying this assures the abuse will fester.

By highlighting these alleged instances, it’s important to note that plenty of respectful professionals work in the business, and shouldn’t be associated with the purported bad apples. Clearly, not “everyone does this.” But Ashley Judd asserted, “I have a feeling we are a legion.” Regardless of how widespread this matter is, it’s important to educate aspiring talent about possible warning signs that could arise along the way so they can better protect themselves.