Actor Harry Dreyfuss: When I Was 18, Kevin Spacey Groped Me
“He knew he could fondle me in a room with my father and that I wouldn’t say a word. He knew I wouldn’t have had the guts. And I didn’t.”
On Oct. 29, BuzzFeed News published a story about actor Anthony Rapp, who alleged that House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance toward him when he was 14, in 1986. Since that story, many more men have come forward with allegations against Spacey, ranging from workplace harassment to attempted rape. In this account, actor Harry Dreyfuss, son of Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss, details in his own words his own experience with Spacey. BuzzFeed News verified with five people — including his father, and his brother Ben — that Dreyfuss shared this story with them, and his father confirmed he was present for the night in question. On Wednesday, Spacey’s publicist released a statement that Spacey is seeking unspecified “evaluation and treatment.” When asked to comment on Dreyfuss’s story, Bryan Freedman, a lawyer representing Spacey, said, “Let me be clear, Mr. Spacey absolutely denies the allegations.”
When I was an 18-year-old senior in high school, Kevin Spacey groped me.
It was 2008, and he was directing my father, Richard Dreyfuss, in a play called Complicit at the Old Vic in London. I’d come to visit for Christmas Break. It happened one night when the three of us were alone in Kevin’s apartment rehearsing my father’s lines. My father didn’t see, and I didn’t tell him about the incident for many years. Instead, I spent the next nine years telling people the story at parties for laughs.
I lived by Carrie Fisher’s brilliant line, “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” Telling the story as a joke ensured that this was a story I could own. If I could laugh at it, then surely I was not a victim. As a young storyteller from a family dedicated to seeing the funny side of the absurd, this was my way of defanging the whole thing.
That technique fell apart once I got to college and started telling the story to people in the theater world in New York. Often, they would respond by saying, “I know a guy that that happened to as well.” The victims in many of these stories were often young men. These admissions became so common that I started to plan on a break in the story just so people could nod and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard this before.” All of these responses made me realize there wasn’t anything funny about my story. It wasn’t a joke. As I write this, 10 people, including actor Anthony Rapp, have come forward with their own allegations, which points to a pattern — Kevin Spacey is a sexual predator. But I still never thought talking about it seriously was ever an option.
First of all, on the scale of sexual abuse, I felt that what happened to me was relatively minor. It wasn’t until this year, when so many people have bravely come out with their stories, and the demand for a better world has gotten such broad support, that I saw my own story has value. What I see now is that when it comes to sexual abuse, there is no such thing as a “minor” assault. And if telling this story will help others speak up, then it is worth it. I also can’t stand that Kevin, in his apology, tried to distract from the real problem here by coming out, and in so doing managed to undermine all the work the LGBT community has done to do away with the association between pedophilia and homosexuality. The fact that he’s gay is not what’s important. Rather, it’s that he has no respect for consent. A lot of people have warned me this could hurt my career because it will make me look like I’m “jumping on the bandwagon.” But as long as the bandwagon is outing a sexual predator…then I’m good with that.
I remember before it happened I was so excited to meet Kevin. But I was also terrified that he would be just like so many of the characters he plays — a cold, calculating prick. But the first time I met him, he put all my worries to rest. He saw me and his eyes lit up. He gave me such a warm smile, and instead of shaking my hand, he gave me a hug. Instantly, my young-man-perpetually-seeking-father-figures heart melted. All I remember thinking was you’re so nice.
Then the cast of the play started their first run-through. At the time, I didn’t understand that the stage was taped out on the floor in a circle (the play was to be in the round), and the chair I was sitting on was inside the tape. I was onstage. Five minutes into the read, someone pointed that out, and I was morbidly embarrassed. Kevin came up to me, and I, sweating and blushing, apologized and started to get out of my seat. Kevin told me to keep sitting, and kindly, so kindly, came up behind my chair and grabbed the back of the seat. He proceeded to lift the chair into the air with me in it, and carry it out of the rehearsal space. Again, I thought you’re so nice.
A few days later my father had an appointment to meet Kevin at his apartment to run lines. I came along, excited to get to spend some time with my newest and most famous male authority figure.
He wrapped his fingers between my fingers, and peered into my eyes, and warmly said, "Don't be shy."
We were in Kevin’s kitchen when my dad ducked out for a moment to go to the bathroom. Kevin and I were looking out his window at the lights of London, when he came to my side and asked me how my Christmas had been. I had had a terrible Christmas, I told him, because I was too shy. I was 18, I’d mustered the courage to leave our hotel and go get legally drunk for the first time in my life, but I didn’t have the nerve to speak with anyone. Instead, I had a few drinks and then promptly returned to my hotel room to watch Tropic Thunder for the fourth time. After I’d told him that, Kevin slid his hand into mine. He wrapped his fingers between my fingers, and peered into my eyes, and warmly said, “Don’t be shy.” Then, “You’ll get over it.” I was stunned.
You’re so nice.
Finally the three of us moved into his living room to read the script. My dad sat in a big chair on the side of the room, while Kevin and I sat on his couch. Kevin was sitting extremely close to me, but I didn’t blink because Kevin handed me the script and told me to read with my dad (playing the part of his wife). The only thing going through my mind at the time was how amazing it was that I was getting to act in front of one of my idols.
After a few minutes, he put his hand on my thigh. Finally (finally, finally) I became suspicious. It took that long because it just never occurred to me that Kevin would be interested in me in the first place. He was an adult man, a hero of mine, my dad’s boss, none of which were categories on my radar for sexual interactions. Besides, I thought, Surely he can’t be coming on to me like this right in front of my dad. But his hand stayed there. So after a bit, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant safety tactic: I stood up and walked to the other side of the couch, and sat back down. Bulletproof. But without missing a beat, Kevin stood up too, and followed me. He sat just as close and immediately put his hand back on my thigh.
My dad saw none of this and none of what would follow, because he was deeply focused on his script. (Richard Dreyfuss confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he did not see the incident at the time and was not made aware of it until Harry told him several years later.)
I was unable to process what was happening: My dad and I were pretending to be lovers in a play while Kevin Spacey was trying to seduce me and all the while in real life I was a hapless, straight virgin who just wanted to become a famous actor.
So I stood up one more time and returned to my original place on the couch, giving Kevin another opportunity to take the hint. I also added one more layer of protection. The moment I sat down, I firmly placed my own hands upon my thighs, palms down, claiming that territory for myself.
Once again Kevin followed me, sat down, and with considerable effort, slid his hand between my right hand and my right leg. He’d snuck in. At this point I didn’t think there was anything I could do short of alerting my dad to what was happening. But I didn’t want to start a feud between them. I didn’t want the play to be threatened. This job really mattered to my dad, and Kevin was his boss. And besides, I thought, He isn’t really doing anything wrong...
And then he did. Over the course of about 20 seconds, centimeter by centimeter, Kevin crawled his hand from my thigh over toward my crotch. My mind went blank. Suddenly, he had completed his journey and now he had all of me in his hand. I stopped reading the script and my eyes went wide. I lifted up my head and faced him. Looking into his eyes, I gave the most meager shake of my head that I could manage. I was trying to warn him without alerting my dad, who still had his eyes glued to the page. I thought I was protecting everyone. I was protecting my dad’s career. I was protecting Kevin, who my dad surely would have tried to punch. I was protecting myself, because I thought one day I’d want to work with this man. Kevin had no reaction and kept his hand there. My eyes went back to the script and I kept reading.
I don't know how long we sat there like that. It could have been as little as 20 seconds, or it could have been five minutes. It’s the hardest part of the story for me to recall. What I do remember is that, other than being a shy kid who obviously admired Kevin Spacey a lot, I never once gave him a signal that I would want to be with him in that way.
I can’t remember how the night ended. I don’t remember leaving. I’m sure it looked entirely normal. We probably hugged and smiled as we left. I didn’t tell my dad anything then. I went home to my hotel and probably watched Tropic Thunder again. But I obviously couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Now having had nine years to process it, it finally is clear to me how wrong Kevin’s behavior was. Not because of how it made me feel. Again, I think being male, and roughly the same size as Kevin, meant that I never felt physically unsafe. My dad was in the room, and I could have alerted him at any time. It didn’t make me feel traumatized, and instead I spun it into a funny story. Kevin Spacey came on to me! He’s famous! Haha!
And that kind of thinking has to be addressed. I did a lot of mental gymnastics to normalize my experience. For the last nine years, whenever I would tell this story to people who refused to laugh — who insisted that I had gone through something profoundly wrong — I would always try to downplay it so they could just see the funny side. I especially wanted to discourage them from thinking that what happened to me was something I ever needed to speak publicly about. This is how I approached finally telling my father when I was in college, four or five years after the incident. He was furious, and I spent the rest of the evening ensuring him that it wasn’t a big deal, and that I would be mortified if he did anything about it.
As the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came rolling in, and so many women I know posted their stories of sexual abuse during the #MeToo campaign, I came to see how important it is to add my voice to the people who are demanding a better world. A world in which powerful men are no longer allowed to feel safe to do this, or far worse. In retrospect, what disgusts me about Kevin was how safe he did feel. He knew he could fondle me in a room with my father and that I wouldn’t say a word. He knew I wouldn’t have had the guts. And I didn’t.
So to all the people who have spoken up already, about Kevin, about Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby, and Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes, and all the women who have opened my eyes to how pervasive this problem is, I can’t thank you enough. You helped me see that what was once treated as normal never deserved to be, and that things we all could have condemned sooner were happening right under many of our noses. In minimizing my own experience all these years, I unwittingly played a role in minimizing it for everyone. That ends now. This was never a funny story. Rather than a punchline, I hope my story can serve as inspiration to others who may have felt that they couldn’t or shouldn’t speak up until now.
Harry Dreyfuss is a writer and actor based in Los Angeles.