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.
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.
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.
“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.)
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.”
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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