Former assistants on working with Scott Rudin: ‘It’s war time … all you’re thinking about is how you survive it’

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Hollywood and Broadway mega producer Scott Rudin faces allegations of mental and physical abuse. Photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com.

In April, The Hollywood Reporter published a cover story about the longstanding allegations of workplace abuse perpetrated by film and Broadway mega producer Scott Rudin. While his reported behavior was not news to anyone in the industry, the article broke ground by featuring on-the-record accounts of mental and physical abuse. In recent weeks, more former Rudin assistants have spoken out in other publications

Rudin is an EGOT — one of the few auteurs who have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards. And there’s a good chance he produced some of your favorite movies: “School of Rock,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “The Social Network” among them. His Broadway productions have included “The Book of Mormon” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

For decades, press accounts have detailed the grueling hours, wildly high turnover, and Rudin’s fits of rage that sometimes involved objects hurled at his assistants. KCRW’s Kim Masters wrote about Rudin’s behavior in 2003, and nearly 10 years before that, the movie “Swimming with Sharks” featured a character partly based on Rudin, played by Kevin Spacey. 

Since the April report was published, Rudin has apologized for the pain he has caused, and has announced that he’s stepping back from his Broadway shows and upcoming film projects. He has also said he intends to work on his issues, though he hasn’t elaborated. Given his legacy of successes, many in Hollywood say they hope he can find a path back. Others, such as Broadway actress Karen Olivo, aren’t so forgiving. 

So far, some of Rudin’s closest collaborators, including Aaron Sorkin and Frances McDormand — have yet to address his conduct. McDormand won two Oscars this year, but skipped the press line entirely to avoid being asked about him. 

They may be silent, but the former assistants are not. KCRW spoke to three of them. Eileen Klomhaus worked the phones in 2019. Evan Davis handled documents in 2012. Max Hoffman was an intern before becoming an executive assistant in 2020. All were in their 20s when they worked for Rudin for varying lengths of time.


Scott Rudin, center, is an EGOT. He’s won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, and wields powerful influence in Hollywood. Photo by Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com.

KCRW: Did all of you want to be in this business? What made you want to work for Scott Rudin?

Evan Davis: “I had seen the movie ‘Swimming with Sharks’ when I was a teenager, and his reputation preceded him. So I was aware of what that was going to entail when I took the job. But the guy who produces Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers films, who can allow you to launch your career, is a pretty enticing package, particularly as an assistant. 

And this isn't endemic only to Scott. This is a problem throughout the industry. You don't have any power, you don't have any leverage. And the job itself is not necessarily one that you want to make a career out of, anyway. Most people in Hollywood see it as a stepping stone. And the executive working above them knows that.”

Max Hoffman: “I took the job because I graduated college from NYU in 2018. I had been working in restaurants, at SoulCycle, and in child care for about a year and a half. And I was really ready for something in the industry. I'm an actor. So I was just dying for something theater-related. … So when my friend was able to help me get this job, I told my parents. I have very helicopter-y, Jewish parents, so I have to tell them everything. And so they knew Scott, but they didn't know all about him. So they Googled him. And they were really trying to get me not to take it. They were like, ‘This sounds awful. You'll never be able to do this.’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding? I've been yelled at by crazy Jewish people my whole life. I'm gonna be great at this.’ And I told that to the office manager in my interview, and she found it funny. 

And I was right. I had a really good relationship for the majority of the time. The few times that he would yell at me, before it got really bad towards the end, I would stand up for myself, or I would just stare at him and wait for him to be done. And then he'd say, ‘Leave the room.’ And then a minute later, he told me to come back in, and we'd continue the work we were doing before he blew up. So I think it was just the intrigue. And it was me telling myself, ‘I can do this.’ It was a little masochistic, I admit, but I think I was ready for the challenge. And I was up for it. And I wanted to see how far I could go.”

“This isn't endemic only to Scott. This is a problem throughout the industry. You don't have any power, you don't have any leverage.”

Eileen, you came in as a temporary worker.  Were you looking at this as a longer term gig, or were you thinking you might just do it for a week? 

Eileen Klomhaus: “I was pretty desperate, I would say, is the emotion that I was experiencing at the time that the job was offered to me. I had just been downsized, I just moved to New York. It was my first year. So I felt like I had something to prove. And, like Max, I had worked in the restaurant industry in high school and college. I'd worked in customer service. I dealt with a lot of difficult people. I had some very not good bosses. I'd had some mean bosses before. So I thought … I could manage it because I was aware of his reputation going in. 

And it became so clear on the first day that there is nothing that is worth this level of cruelty. That was what became clear. So I was relieved when I got fired. In my subconscious, I was actively campaigning to get out of there as fast as I could, because there was no justification for the way that he treated, not just me, but the people around me. The girl that trained me my first day, she cried like three times. I had never felt like prey before. That was how he looked at you. 

I don't know that I can really define why people behave the way that they do. But what I think is so interesting about Scott is that, if you look at it objectively, like if you look at his office, just from a business perspective, and you completely remove the emotional abuse and the turmoil that takes place in that workplace, at the heart of it, it's a very inefficiently run workplace because there's constant turnover. 

He has created conditions in which it is very difficult for people to succeed in that office, and ultimately, that hurts him and that hurts his productivity and his efficiency, as well. So I can't really come up with an explanation for why someone would hurt their own business in that way, except for the fact that he is getting something out of treating people like this. And I really don't know what it is, like a sense of power or satisfaction, or who knows?”

Evan, what do you think? 

Davis: “I think that's pretty correct. It has always struck me that every one of his decisions is a desire for the maintenance of control and power over the people he works with or work under him. Eileen mentioned inefficiency. This is a man who works in three different media — film, theater and television — and has dozens of projects in development at any one time. And yet, his office is only comprised of about a dozen people at any one time, which is one of the primary reasons why we all worked 16 hours a day, five or six days a week, sometimes seven days a week. How better to control your own employees than to ensure that they don't have a life outside of him? 

And I think another really salient point, which Max kind of hinted at with his relationship with Scott, is there are times when Scott is a very pleasant, convivial, joking person to you. At least it was the case for me. And that seems to allow you to internalize this. This was my sense, from my own experience. When you did screw up, it was much easier for you to say, ‘Well, this actually was my fault. And I do deserve this.’ 

It's this internalization of abuse, this self-regulating mechanism, that prevents you, or at least me, from being able to say, ‘It doesn't matter if I made a mistake in his eyes. I don't deserve to be treated this way.’ I've used this phrase a few times: He dangles the tiniest carrot in order to whack you with the biggest stick. He knows the moments to pick when he's going to treat you well. Because that will set up the fall to make you feel gaslighted at a later moment.”

“He dangles the tiniest carrot in order to whack you with the biggest stick.”

Was there a low point for each of you where you thought, ‘Okay, I can't with this guy anymore?’ What was the worst thing you saw or experienced?

Klomhaus: “When he fired me [after three days], he said, ‘You ruin everything you touch.’ This man probably doesn't even know my name. He doesn't know anything about me, but the level of contempt that he has for me, and pretty much everyone in the office ... I think that I was in kind of a different experience. Because everybody who was his assistant at the time that I was there was a woman. And it was very unusual. So it'd be him and the other producers and his executives sitting in an office, and then he would just scream at these 20-something women in the other room. And it was very strange, it was very vicious. 

I felt awful for some of the people who had been there longer than me. At the point that I was there, the assistant who had been there longest had been there for one month, and she left on the same day that I was fired. … I've had other jobs since then. And sometimes when something is going on at work, and maybe a supervisor starts to get a little upset about something, I can feel that dread starting to creep in. Not as much anymore, but in the months after I left, sometimes I would start to feel myself getting that fight-or-flight.”

Davis: “I was only there for about six weeks. Of course, I was fired three times during those six weeks, which is pretty surreal. The worst experience, I think, is just all those moments where you are given an impossible hill to climb. He gives you tasks that he knows you will fail at in some way. And even if you don't, he will find a way. 

I was the documents assistant. So I was responsible for cataloging and archiving any printed material that came through the office. And one of those responsibilities was to create an overnight collection of things for him to read and to watch. And there were times when all of a sudden he would demand an excessive amount of material toward the end of the day, that I would then have to prepare very quickly and ensure that it got to his apartment in time, particularly if it was the weekend when I would have to fill a whole crate full of this material. 

Because his office is in Times Square, I couldn't get a cab uptown on a Friday night at six o'clock. And so I was late, and ended up taking a tourist bicycle to try and beat him to his apartment on the Upper West Side. And I barely beat him. The guy didn't take credit cards, and because I had an office card, Scott was forced to pay cash for the guy. And that was a blow up. And he just went through every possible thing: that he wasn't going to protect me, that he couldn't wait to fire me. Which is a strange thing to say. Why wouldn't you just fire me? It's just constantly walking on eggshells.

And again, I think one of the things that Max and Eileen both pointed to is that you began to take it as a point of pride if you did succeed in any way, shape, or form. Because all of a sudden, this was a test of your mettle. This was a test of your strength, and it was a test of your superiority to other people. This is the mentality that you start to get yourself into. And it also helps fuel the idea that if you screw up, it's on you. It's not on him. And the cycle just repeats itself to the point where, finally, he fired me for the last time the day after New Year's Day. And that was it. 

And it's a very surreal thing. Where Eileen said she felt relieved, I felt a little bit of pride that I was finally getting out. But your body also just feels completely drained, but you don't really know how to feel any joy from it. It's wartime. When you're there, all you're thinking about is how you survive it. And you never have the time to process how to cope with it.”

“It's wartime. When you're there, all you're thinking about is how you survive it. And you never have the time to process how to cope with it.”

Hoffman: “On day one, I saw a bunch of people cry, and throughout my entire time with him. I was with him on and off for about nine months. I saw a lot of people cry. And I'm not a crier. So I always joked with myself like, ‘All right, the day he makes me cry is the day I'm out.’ And so that didn't happen for a while. But I really started to set my boundaries because I just felt it starting to get so unhealthy. Then around the end of September, I remember I was walking through Midtown, because he was at rehearsal for ‘The Music Man.’ And he asked me to go back to the office to do a bunch of stuff that I guess I didn't do well, and I just cried.

And I was like, ‘Fuck.’ So I called my mom. And I called my grandfather right after I called my mom, just for like a second opinion. And they both said the same thing, which is, ‘Maxie, you’ve got to eat shit to get further in life.’ So I was like, ‘You know what, I'll keep going. And I'll see how long, how far I can go.’ And then a week later, I again had to leave rehearsal, because there was a list of calls that I didn't get set. And he said, ‘By the end of the day, you need to get this set, or you won't be happy.’ And that was the biggest threat he had ever made to me. He had never soft fired me, he had never fired me. So I knew that I was in deep shit. 

So I ran out of that rehearsal room, and I was just a pool of tears. And I remember walking through Herald Square, and I called my mom again. And I was like, ‘Mom, I'm shaking.’ And she was like, ‘So quit.’ And so the next morning, I quit. And we had this really long conversation for like 45 minutes. Not a conversation, more like 45 minutes of him just digging into me, calling me stupid and stubborn and selfish, saying no one would ever want to work with me again in this industry, because how could anyone want to work with someone as self centered as me? Don't I know that I'm really fucking up something that could have been so good for me? And I said, ‘Of course, I know that.’ Then he said, ‘Hasn't anyone ever taught you to eat shit?’ And I said, ‘Funny you say that — my grandfather and my mom said the same thing last week.’ And he was like, ‘Well, don't you want to listen to them?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, of course I do. But I'm not going to be verbally abused by you on a daily basis.’ 

And he said, ‘This isn't verbal abuse, it's me trying to push you to be better.’ And I was like, ‘I am better. I'm done.’ And I walked out. And a few weeks later, I started talking to a therapist, because I had anxiety that had developed.”

There has been relative silence from a lot of talent surrounding these reports about Scott. Has that been disappointing for you?

Davis: “It's certainly disappointing, but I can't say that I'm very surprised. Talent  feel very taken care of by him. And you don't say that about every producer in the business. 

You can see the way that he changes with talent when they come into the office or they're on the phone. I spent a whole weekend with him while he was holding Aaron Sorkin's hand while he broke story on season two of ‘The Newsroom.’ He makes sure that talent knows that he's thinking about them, but there's going to come a point where the talent that he works with will give statements, and I feel like a lot of them will be to the effect of, ‘We didn't know, we had no idea that this was going on, and that's just stretching the truth at best.’ Hollywood doesn't keep secrets. And also, you are in that office. You see what goes on.”

“Hollywood doesn't keep secrets. You are in that office. You see what goes on.”

Klomhaus: “Also, even if you call into that office, there's a nonzero chance that you'll hear him screaming in the background. I'm pretty confident. I had been on the phone. And I know that people could hear him yelling in the background, because they would comment on it. There's no secrets. Everybody knows. But I think that people will go out of their way at every opportunity to protect their financial interest. I think that's pretty much just what's happening.”

Hoffman: “I was really turned off by the people who have spoken out so far, like Sutton Foster's quote, if you can call it that. She was on Instagram Live, and she said something along the lines of, ‘I didn't want to trumpet my emotions right away, I needed to take a step back. Because in the 40-something years of my life, I've never had to deal with something like … a producer of a show I’ve been working on being accused of such awful things.’ 

And I was thinking to myself, ‘You needed to take the time to speak out against something that is so obvious?’ Whereas people like me, people like us, have to make last-second decisions to either quit your job and not know where your next paycheck is going to come from, or keep going and withstand emotional, mental, and physical absolute turmoil. But you need to take a second, days, a week to come to terms with something that's so in your face? 

And then Hugh Jackman, her co-star in this ‘Music Man’ revival, did an all-caps comment, in which he said, ‘We heard from Scott, who's the most important voice to hear from right now.’ ... Essentially, he was like, ‘We can move on and be better.’ And it was really disturbing. Because when we were in the rehearsal room, he was so nice. And every day that I was there, even though I was only there for two weeks before I quit, he'd be like, ‘Hey, Max,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, Hugh Jackman is saying hi to me.’ … But then he has the audacity, or the ignorance, to say, ‘We've heard from Scott. So we don't have to hear from anyone else. We can keep going.’ ... It was so upsetting. 

Davis: “I think it's also a matter of self preservation. Scott Rudin is not the exception in Hollywood. He's the rule. He might be an extreme version of the rule, but he's the rule. And people don't want to face repercussions for the way that they've treated their staff. And so they're going to go out of their way to propagate the fiction that Scott did … that this is somehow a sign of strengthening you, or toughening you, or making you better, or making you more efficient at your job. 

“Scott Rudin is not the exception in Hollywood. He's the rule. ... And people don't want to face repercussions for the way they've treated their staff."

This kind of verbal abuse has been romanticized throughout the entire history of Hollywood. So I have been skeptical from the moment Tatiana Siegel's piece was published that this wasn't going to be a blip on the radar, rather than something more substantial and consequential. And, sadly, I think Kim's piece bears that out. I could be wrong. There's always room for hope. But I'm very skeptical that this will have real consequences.”

Credits

Guests:

Host:

Kim Masters

Producer:

Kaitlin Parker