There’s a Devil Loose: Bohemian Rhapsody Director Bryan Singer Has Been Accused of Having Sex With Underage Boys

Over the past two decades, Bryan Singer’s films—The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Superman Returns, four of the X-Men movies—have earned more than $3 billion at the box office, putting him in the top tier of Hollywood directors. He’s known for taking risks in his storytelling: It was Singer’s idea, for instance, to open the original X-Men movie with a scene at Auschwitz, where a boy uses his superpowers to bend the metal gates that separate him from his parents. Studio executives were skeptical about starting a comic-book movie in a concentration camp, but the film became a blockbuster and launched a hugely profitable franchise for 20th Century Fox.

Singer’s most recent project debuted in November. Critics gave Bohemian Rhapsody—which chronicles the rise of the rock band Queen—only lukewarm reviews, but it earned more than $50 million in its opening weekend. By the end of December, it had brought in more than $700 million, making it one of the year’s biggest hits.
The film’s success should have been a triumph for Singer, proof of his enduring ability to intuit what audiences want. In January it won two Golden Globes, including the award for best drama. But Singer was conspicuously absent from the ceremony—and his name went unmentioned in the acceptance speeches. He had been fired by 20th Century Fox in December 2017, with less than three weeks of filming left. Reports emerged of a production in chaos: Singer was feuding with his cast and crew, and had disappeared from the set for days at a time.

On December 7, 2017, three days after The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of Singer’s firing, a Seattle man named Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit against the director, alleging that Singer had raped him in 2003, when Sanchez-Guzman was 17. The day after that, Deadline Hollywood published an interview with a former boyfriend of Singer’s, Bret Tyler Skopek, in which Skopek described a lifestyle of drugs and orgies.According to multiple sources, Fox had no idea that the Sanchez-Guzman lawsuit was coming when the studio fired Singer. Still, Sanchez-Guzman’s claims shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Almost from the moment his star began to rise, Singer, who is now 53, has been trailed by allegations of sexual misconduct. These allegations were so well known that 4,000 students, faculty members, and alumni at the University of Southern California had signed a petition asking the school to take Singer’s name off one of its programs, the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies—which the school did immediately after Sanchez-Guzman filed his suit. As one prominent actor told us, “After the Harvey Weinstein news came out, everyone thought Bryan Singer would be next.”

We spent 12 months investigating various lawsuits and allegations against Singer. In total, we spoke with more than 50 sources, including four men who have never before told their stories to reporters. A man we’ll call Eric told us that he was 17 in 1997 when he and Singer had sex at a party at the director’s house; another we’ll call Andy says he was only 15 that same year, when he and Singer had sex in a Beverly Hills mansion. Both men say Singer, who was then in his early 30s, knew they were under 18, the age of consent in California. (They asked The Atlantic to conceal their identity for fear of retaliation, and because they didn’t want certain details about their past made public.)

The accusations against Singer cover a spectrum. Some of the alleged victims say they were seduced by the director while underage; others say they were raped. The victims we interviewed told us these experiences left them psychologically damaged, with substance-abuse problems, depression, and PTSD.The portrait of Singer that emerges is of a troubled man who surrounded himself with vulnerable teenage boys, many of them estranged from their families. Their accounts suggest that Singer didn’t act alone; he was aided by friends and associates who brought him young men. And he was abetted, in a less direct way, by an industry in which a record of producing hits confers immense power: Many of the sources we interviewed insisted, out of fear of damaging their own career, that we withhold their name, even as they expressed dismay at the behavior they’d witnessed.

When asked for comment, Singer’s lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, noted that Singer has never been arrested for or charged with any crime, and that Singer categorically denies ever having sex with, or a preference for, underage men. (He also disputed specific details in this story, as noted throughout.) Singer himself wrote an Instagram post in October that read, in part:

I have known for some time that [there may be] a negative article about me. They have contacted my friends, colleagues and people I don’t even know. In today’s climate where people’s careers are being harmed by mere accusations, what [these reporters are] attempting to do is a reckless disregard for the truth, making assumptions that are fictional and irresponsible.

Singer continues to enjoy the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood. This fall, Millennium Films signed Singer to direct Red Sonja, an adaptation of a sword-and-sorcery comic book, for a reported $10 million. (Asked why Singer was hired despite the allegations against him, a Millennium publicist said, “I am afraid the response is ‘unavailable for comment.’ ”) The protagonist of Red Sonjais a survivor of sexual assault.

In the spring of 1997, when Victor Valdovinos was in seventh grade, he showed up to school one day to find a big-budget film production under way: All around him were tractor trailers, mobile dressing rooms, and people with walkie-talkies behaving as though they owned the place. The movie was Apt Pupil, Singer’s first project after his breakthrough, The Usual Suspects.

Filming took over Eliot Middle School in Altadena, northeast of Los Angeles. Late one afternoon, after basketball practice, Valdovinos stopped in an empty restroom. While standing at a urinal, he says, he felt a presence behind him. He turned and saw a bespectacled man in his early 30s. It was Bryan Singer. He looked Valdovinos over; Valdovinos remembers him saying, “You’re so good-looking. What are you doing tomorrow? Maybe I could have somebody contact you about putting you in this movie.” (Through his attorney, Singer said that he did not know who Valdovinos was and denied that anything had happened between them.)

Bryan Singer on the set of Apt Pupil, which was filmed, in part, at a middle school in Altadena, California (John Baer / Phoenix Pictures / Alamy)

The film, which was based on a Stephen King novella, starred Ian McKellen as Kurt Dussander, a former Nazi concentration-camp commandant living in Southern California, decades removed from the war and trying to keep his past a secret. The other lead was a 14-year-old named Brad Renfro—cast as Todd Bowden, Dussander’s neighbor, who discovers the Nazi’s secret and threatens to turn him over to authorities unless the old man tells him in graphic detail about the atrocities he committed. One scene has Todd taking a shower in his school’s gym, which triggers images of Jews in a gas chamber.

That scene would lead to a series of lawsuits against Singer and the production. At least five plaintiffs, all minors between the ages of 14 and 17, were extras in the film and, in essence, claimed that members of the crew had bullied them into stripping naked for the shower scene. The boys and some of their parents said they’d been aware that the job called for partial nudity, which they had been led to believe meant wearing a Speedo or a towel. One of the crew members later said he thought that there had been a screwup the day of the shoot—that only the adult extras were supposed to have been asked to appear naked, and that somehow the minor and adult extras had been mixed together. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to press any criminal charges; the suits—which alleged negligence, unlawful sexual harassment, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress—were settled for an undisclosed sum, and all parties were bound by confidentiality agreements.

By Valdovinos’s account, his experience on the Apt Pupil set was far more upsetting. After being dropped off by his father one morning, he was directed to the locker room. Shooting was about to begin. He remembers that the locker room had been divided—a screen here and lights over there. A crew member gave him a towel and told him to disrobe completely and wrap the towel around his waist. He was 13 years old. He hadn’t yet had his first kiss.
“I’m hanging out,” Valdovinos says. “All of a sudden, Bryan comes in. He goes, ‘Hey! How are you?’ Real cheerful. And I’m like, ‘Hi.’ I can’t remember his exact words, but he was kind of just saying ‘Come back here.’ He kind of directs me; he kind of grabs me; and he takes us to the back area, which was kind of closed off. Like, this is the whole locker room”—Valdovinos gestures to suggest the space—“they’re doing their stuff over there, and I was back here, in the towel, with no shirt and no clothes on, sitting on one of the locker-room benches. Bryan’s like, ‘Just hang out here. It’s going to be all day. Don’t worry.” Singer left, and Valdovinos waited for what seemed like hours.Eventually, he says, Singer came back and made small talk. How are you doing? Do you need anything? “Every time he had a chance—three times—he would go back there … He was always touching my chest.” Finally, according to Valdovinos, Singer reached through the towel flaps and “grabbed my genitals and started masturbating it.” The director also “rubbed his front part on me,” Valdovinos alleges. “He did it all with this smile.” Valdovinos says that Singer told him, “You’re so good-looking … I really want to work with you … I have a nice Ferrari … I’m going to take care of you.”

“I was frozen. Speechless,” Valdovinos continues. “He came back to where I was in the locker room throughout the day to molest me.” (Three sources confirmed that Singer did drive a Ferrari at the time, and we were able to verify Valdovinos’s description of how the set was arranged and of certain people he says he met there. His father told us he remembers dropping him off for the filming and thinking that perhaps his son would become an actor. Singer’s lawyer said that he could find no record of Valdovinos’s having been an extra and questioned why Valdovinos was not able to produce a pay stub or other documentation.)

Victor Valdovinos says Singer molested him on the set of Apt Pupil when he was 13 years old. He’s shown here at age 17. By then he’d had a child and temporarily dropped out of school. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times / Getty)

Valdovinos says that although he did end up being used as an extra in a number of takes, he couldn’t ever bring himself to watch Apt Pupil. His brother Edgar did, though, and when Edgar told Valdovinos that he didn’t appear on-screen, Valdovinos replied, “That dude was, like, touching on me.” Edgar pressed for more details, but Valdovinos didn’t explain what he meant to his brother, who is now deceased. “It was embarrassing. I didn’t want anyone to know. So I locked it away.”

By Valdovinos’s account, his life changed after the molestation. When he was 16, he got his girlfriend pregnant, and they had a daughter. “I was trying to prove that I was a man,” he says. He had been an A and B student and a standout football prospect, but he stopped going to classes and was kicked off the team. He dropped out of school for six months and worked a series of minimum-wage jobs—at a fast-food restaurant, a deli—before returning and eventually graduating.Valdovinos and the baby’s mother argued; he was arrested after a neighbor reported a domestic disturbance. They broke up when their daughter was six months old. Valdovinos had other failed relationships. Years later, an affair with a married woman, estranged from her husband, ended in catastrophe: an arrest and a year-long jail sentence for domestic battery, drug possession, and driving a car without the owner’s permission. He lost one job after another.

Valdovinos began to question how his life might have gone differently if not for that locker-room encounter with Singer. “What if he never did this to me—would I be a different person? Would I be more successful? Would I be married?” As he watched the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfold, Valdovinos thought, “Me too—only I was a kid.” He considered going to Singer’s house and knocking on the door and asking him, Why? He thought about going public. But who would believe him?

He contacted Jeff Herman, the same attorney who is representing Cesar Sanchez-Guzman, and another lawyer to discuss bringing a civil suit, but they told him that too much time had passed. Not knowing what else to do, Valdovinos filed a complaint with the California attorney general’s office this past spring, using a form intended for consumer complaints. He says he felt rushed, and the form didn’t provide much space. He quickly scribbled a short summary of his story; it differs on a couple of points from what he now swears is true—whether he went to the shoot one or two days after meeting Singer, and whether Singer molested him in the bathroom as well as the locker room. Because he had signed a retainer agreement with Jeff Herman’s law firm, he listed Herman as his attorney. The attorney general’s office sent Valdovinos a letter suggesting that he report the incident to the police, but he didn’t, because he’d been told the statute of limitations had lapsed.
Victor Valdovinos in December 2018 (Rozette Rago)
In December, Valdovinos emailed Singer’s attorney and warned him that this article was forthcoming. “I would like to get an apology and a settlement from Bryan,” he wrote. “I prefer this article not come out and have my name and picture all over the news.” He received no reply. He told us later that he knows a financial settlement is unlikely, but he’s angry and frustrated at being ignored. He wants Singer to apologize for what he did.As singer completed Apt Pupil, the industry’s expectations were high: Stephen King had agreed to sell the film rights for $1 in order to get the wunderkind Singer, hot off The Usual Suspects—­winner of two Academy Awards—as the director. Many thought he might be one of the blossoming greats, like his idol, Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg was the reason Singer had wanted to be a filmmaker. Singer saw E.T.when he was 16, and then watched a television profile of the director. Like Spielberg, Singer had begun making 8-mm films for fun when he was 12. He was a Jewish teenager who would eventually come out as gay, living in a mostly Catholic neighborhood of West Windsor, New Jersey. In E.T. he saw a story about a bunch of outsider nerds—kids who feel like aliens who find an actual alien.

Singer applied to the University of Southern California’s film school but didn’t get in; he settled for the Division of Critical Studies instead. He made a short film, Lion’s Den, starring his childhood friend Ethan Hawke; that short got him financing for his first feature, Public Access, a low-budget thriller that shared a Grand Jury Prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, which in turn enabled him to secure funding for The Usual Suspects.One of the Oscars The Usual Suspects won was for best original screenplay. The other, for best supporting actor, went to Kevin Spacey for his performance as Verbal, the unlikely villain, who utters one of the film’s most memorable lines: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The Usual Suspects showcased what many who have worked with Singer say is among his greatest skills: an ability to spin a narrative in which the audience is never quite sure who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy, a suspenseful uncertainty rooted in Singer’s instinct for clever misdirection.

In a 2001 interview, Singer reflected on The Usual Suspects this way: “At one point I shot Gabriel Byrne pointing the gun and firing, and he said, ‘I don’t understand why I’m doing this.’ I kind of didn’t either. But that’s one of the things I like most about moviemaking—that sense of power, manipulating an audience. Saying, ‘This guy could be the murderer, or maybe it’s this guy.’ ”By the late ’90s, Singer also had a reputation on the gay Hollywood scene—in part for the pool parties he threw at a house he lived in on Butler Avenue, in the Mar Vista neighborhood. A friend of Singer’s recalls attending one of these parties when he was in his early 20s (and Singer was in his early 30s) and being shocked by how young many of the guests looked. “It felt like a high-school party,” the friend says. He remembers wondering: How did all these boys get here?Where are their parents?

Ben was one of the boys at those parties. (He, too, asked The Atlantic to withhold his real name.) His family had kicked him out when he was 16, and he met Singer soon after, through a friend and housemate of Singer’s. He says he was passed around among the adult men in Singer’s social circle.

Ben says he and Singer made out once, and another time, when he was either 17 or 18 (he can’t remember his exact age), they had oral sex. He recalls Singer seducing him this way: “One time after a party, Bryan went to bed early. He said he didn’t feel well and needed me to tuck him in.” Singer was fine; that was when he and Ben had oral sex. (Ben was able to tell us the address of the Butler Avenue house and the name of its owner, and to accurately describe details of the interior. Another source in this article recalls seeing him at parties during this period.)

Ben describes Singer as someone who liked to cross boundaries. “He would stick his hands down your pants without your consent,” Ben recalls. “He was predatory in that he would ply people with alcohol and drugs and then have sex with them.” But, at least in Ben’s experience, “it wasn’t a hold-you-down-and-rape-you situation.”“I was a fat kid, and socially awkward,” Ben continues. “But then I was getting all this attention. It led me to believe that was the way it’s supposed to be—that the way to get attention is to be sexual.” At the time, he thought the parties and the sex were fun. But then he realized he was being used. “I just felt like an idiot. It’s like when the victim blames himself for what happened.”

David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who studies the impact of childhood sexual trauma on male survivors, says this kind of thinking is common. “Boys are expected to be strong, capable of defending themselves, and far less vulnerable than girls,” he says. As a result, “they are very likely to blame themselves for the abuse that they suffer, and are therefore less likely to disclose the abuse, until much later in their lives.”

Lisak adds that even when a teenager is a willing participant, sex with an adult distorts what is supposed to be a period of exploration and discovery. “I have seen this firsthand in interviews I have done with men in this situation—their vulnerability is taken advantage of,” Lisak says. “It creates really long-lasting harm.”

Around the time Singer was finishing Apt Pupil and about to begin directing the first X-Men movie, he invested in a Hollywood start-up, Digital Entertainment Network, that would eventually end in scandal. Singer contributed $30,000 and pledged $20,000 more, according to records kept by the founding CEO, Marc Collins-Rector.

Collins-Rector’s idea for Digital Entertainment Network, or DEN, was to produce TV shows and movies for 14-to-24-year-olds, with an emphasis on stories for gay teens, and distribute them online. Collins-Rector had arrived in Hollywood in the mid‑’90s with his much younger business partner and lover, Chad Shackley. (Shackley had been 16 when he’d started dating Collins-Rector, who had been about 32.) They predicted that DEN would upend Hollywood.

Collins-Rector had already founded and sold several tech companies for tens of millions of dollars, and he was able to raise more than $60 million for DEN within two years. Corporate investors included Microsoft, NBC, Dell, and Chase Capital Partners. Along with Singer, some of Hollywood’s most powerful executives and filmmakers also chipped in.Collins-Rector and Shackley launched DEN from a mansion on Benedict Canyon Drive, in Beverly Hills, but around the fall of 1997 they moved the company to a mansion in Encino; it was dubbed the “M&C Estate,” for “Marc and Chad.” They also brought on a third co-founder: Brock Pierce, a 17-year-old actor who’d appeared in Disney’s Mighty Ducks movies. They made Pierce an executive vice president with a salary of $250,000, and he moved in with them.

On paper, DEN was indeed a forward-thinking idea. But according to a series of lawsuits, criminal complaints, and a federal investigation, the company’s Encino mansion became a party house where teenage boys were allegedly given alcohol and drugs, encouraged to have sex with older men, and in some cases raped.One early, senior-level DEN employee remembers asking why so many teenage boys were on the payroll and being told that they did computer work. The employee also recalls attending a company party and seeing teenage boys filing into a movie theater in the Encino mansion. The employee tried to go inside but was stopped by a bodyguard, who said: “Kids only.” The employee asked a colleague what was going on. “[He] said that he had seen some of it, and that it was definitely porn … [The kids] were all laughing and eating candy. But we were totally not allowed into that room.”

Singer and Collins-Rector were close friends, and according to at least five sources, Singer was a regular at the M&C Estate. He even starred in what amounted to a digital station identification for DEN—in a short promotional clip, he reclines in a chair while announcing, “You’re watching http://www.DEN.net.”

Marc Collins-Rector (left) founded the Digital Entertainment Network with Chad Shackley (center) and Brock Pierce (right). (Illustrations by WG600; photographs by Alamy; Alessia Pierdomenico / Bloomberg / Getty)

It was at a DEN gathering that the man we’re calling Andy first met Singer. According to Andy’s account, he entered the DEN orbit in 1997, during spring break of his freshman year in high school, when he started chatting online with Collins-Rector, who was then 37 years old. Collins-Rector boasted that he had a private jet and suggested they meet. The next day, Andy says, Collins-Rector sent a cab to pick him up in front of his apartment complex in Las Vegas and bring him to one of the big casinos on the Strip. Andy says he stayed with Collins-Rector until late that night, maybe until the next morning, and that they had oral sex. Andy was 14.

According to Andy, in the following weeks Collins-Rector made himself part of Andy’s life. He returned to Vegas for visits and ingratiated himself with Andy’s mom—Andy says she saw Collins-Rector as a successful man who had taken him under his wing, someone who could be a role model for a son with an absent father.Collins-Rector arranged for Andy and his family to visit the set of Apt Pupil. “They were filming the scene where Ian McKellen’s character puts the cat in the oven,” Andy recalls. “It was really weird, because the cat was the most lethargic thing in the world. So they’re trying to make it seem like he was afraid—picking it up and spinning it around. The cat didn’t do shit.” (A source who worked on the movie confirmed this description of the cat’s behavior.)

Afterward, Collins-Rector took Andy on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree and then he and Andy had sex. It was Andy’s first time.

That summer, Andy began taking all-expenses-paid trips to visit Collins-Rector. One night Andy, now 15, got to talking with Singer, who led him away from the other men in the living room of the Benedict Canyon mansion and up a flight of stairs. “First room on the right, top of the stairs,” Andy says definitively, as if making the walk all over again. (His description of the mansion matches its layout, based on photos that were posted online when it was for sale.) Inside was a waterbed. He says he and Singer had talked about what grade he was in. “Bryan knew I was 15,” he says. Singer would have been about 31.

As Andy tells it, he and Singer weren’t alone in the bedroom. Singer had brought along Brad Renfro—the star of Apt Pupil, who was now 15. (According to two sources, Singer sometimes referred to Renfro as his boyfriend.) Renfro sat sheepishly next to the waterbed, looking unsure of what to do while Singer and Andy fooled around. Clothes came off, but Renfro didn’t move. “I remember wanting Brad to join in,” Andy says. “I don’t think Brad was gay, or even bi. I think he was going with the flow. We talked about it. Like me, he looked around at all of the things these guys had, all of the money. Maybe he thought the guys were going to do things for him.” (Renfro died of a drug overdose in 2008, at the age of 25.)Andy says Renfro left the room, and then Andy had sex with Singer. “I just remember how loud the moaning was. I remember thinking, God, there’s a big group of people downstairs hanging out in the living room, and they can probably hear him. That bothered me, so I stuck my hand over his mouth or in his mouth just to stop it. When we went downstairs, it was really awkward. I just acted like it was no big thing.”(Andy was listed in a DEN address book kept by Chad Shackley’s younger brother, and another source for this article recalls seeing Andy at DEN parties and says that Andy told him years ago about his sexual relationship with Singer.)

Andy says he slept with Singer a handful of times after that. One night, around 1999, he met up with Singer in Las Vegas. They took a long walk. “I showed him where all the gay bars were,” Andy recalls. “It was awkward. He had another boy or two with him and had no interest in me.”

Meanwhile, Andy was falling apart. He had started prostituting himself and got hooked on meth. He missed 53 of the first 60 days of school in his junior year of high school and was expelled. He did jail time. He appeared in porn films.In his early 20s, Andy moved to West Hollywood, where he says he ran into Singer a few times. “I was such a wreck,” he says. “I gave him a sob story about how I was just trying to survive. I was looking for money for drugs, just enough to get through the day. He gave me, like, $1,200. Another time it was five or six grand. I had his phone number. We talked here and there.” Andy thought maybe if he could come up with the perfect business idea, Singer might help him launch it. “Instead, he blocked my calls.”

In his late 20s, Andy was caught dealing drugs and faced nine years in prison. “I asked the judge to send me to rehab instead,” he says. That stint in rehab led to two more. “I was depressed, miserable.” On New Year’s Day 2014, he decided to try to get clean again, and he’s been sober ever since.

Andy is now 36 years old. He lives outside L.A., in a sleepy town where he is happily employed. Neatly dressed, with a buzz cut and a polite, understated demeanor, he could pass for a military veteran. “I sort of wonder,” he says, “if I’d never met Marc and then Bryan, if I would have ever got into the drugs.”

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Source: The Atlantic