Sarah Solemani has spoken out about her experience of sexual harassment in the television and film industry.
The actress and writer, whose credits include Bridget Jones’s Baby, Him & Her, Bad Education and The Wrong Mans, said the problem was “toxic and starts in the audition room”.
In a piece for the Guardian she described her first experience of sexism in showbiz at 19.
She wrote: “I was invited to the director’s house for dinner, just the two of us. He cooked. It was delicious. He’d had practice, to be fair, being in his 50s.
“After dinner he asked how I felt about nudity. Another role in the project we were working on had involved nudity, so it didn’t feel a strange question, being 19 and ever so keen.
“‘Oh but your story needed it,’ I gushed. ‘It was brilliantly done.’
“‘But would you ever get naked?’ he asked.
“‘Yes!’ I said. ‘Of course, if the story needed it.’
“He looked at me. He smiled. ‘Go on then,’ he said, gently. ‘If you think you could, why don’t you just take your clothes off right now?’
“Bang. Suddenly I remembered my male co-star tutting when I told him I was having this meeting. Shit.
“‘Oh, OK, it’s just…..it’s just… I’ve got a little bit of period left.’”
Ms Solemani said it was a decade before she realised “what an abuse of power this had been.”
She said like many women in her industry she had “normalised it” to carry on with her job.
She wrote: “The truth is, most of the really appalling things in the industry happen in the audition room – and often with a female casting director supervising, facilitating the (usually) male director’s vision.
“If an actress’s heart doesn’t sink at the words, ‘there’s no script, this audition is going to be improvised’, it will thud into her guts upon hearing, ‘and this is Adam, he’s playing your boyfriend, Simeon’.”
Ms Solemani described the pressure put on women to be as “relaxed” as possible and willing to let fellow actors touch them during an audition with no warning.
She wrote: “This is a test to see how relaxed and spontaneous you are, how free – which in acting, for women, means how little you flinch when a stranger runs his hands over your body.”
The actress said she had been inspired to speak out about sexual harassment by the campaigning on gender and race by her peers such as actresses Lena Dunham, and Jessica Chastain.
She wrote: “They’ve taught me to speak up, to call people to account, to be unafraid of burning bridges.”