As a child actor, Eliza Dushku was thrilled to star opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in James Cameron’s 1994 action-romance True Lies. But last weekend, she shared how making the movie became a nightmare because of a lecherous stunt coordinator named Joel Kramer, who casually referred to her as “jailbait” and sexually assaulted her. Worse yet, Dushku says virtually no one on set did a thing about it.
Here is her story, as posted on Facebook:
When I was 12 years old, while filming “True Lies”, I was sexually molested by Joel Kramer, one of Hollywood’s leading stunt coordinators.
Ever since, I have struggled with how and when to disclose this, if ever. At the time, I shared what happened to me with my parents, two adult friends and one of my older brothers. No one seemed ready to confront this taboo subject then, nor was I.
I am grateful to the women and men who have gone before me in recent months. The ever-growing list of sexual abuse and harassment victims who have spoken out with their truths have finally given me the ability to speak out. It has been indescribably exhausting, bottling this up inside me for all of these years.
I remember, so clearly 25 years later, how Joel Kramer made me feel special, how he methodically built my and my parents’ trust, for months grooming me; exactly how he lured me to his Miami hotel room with a promise to my parent that he would take me for a swim at the stunt crew’s hotel pool and for my first sushi meal thereafter. I remember vividly how he methodically drew the shades and turned down the lights; how he cranked up the air-conditioning to what felt like freezing levels, where exactly he placed me on one of the two hotel room beds, what movie he put on the television (Coneheads); how he disappeared in the bathroom and emerged, naked, bearing nothing but a small hand towel held flimsy at his mid-section. I remember what I was wearing (my favorite white denim shorts, thankfully, secured enough for me to keep on). I remember how he laid me down on the bed, wrapped me with his gigantic writhing body, and rubbed all over me. He spoke these words: “You’re not going to sleep on me now sweetie, stop pretending you’re sleeping,” as he rubbed harder and faster against my catatonic body. When he was ‘finished’, he suggested, “I think we should be careful…,” [about telling anyone] he meant. I was 12, he was 36.
I remember how afterwards, the taxi driver stared at me in the rear view mirror when Joel Kramer put me on his lap in the backseat and clutched me and grew aroused again; and how my eyes never left the driver’s eyes during that long ride over a Miami bridge, back to my hotel and parent. I remember how Joel Kramer grew cold with me in the ensuing weeks, how everything felt different on the set.
And I remember how soon-after, when my tough adult female friend (in whom I had confided my terrible secret on the condition of a trade that she let me drive her car around the Hollywood Hills) came out to the set to visit and face him, later that very same day, by no small coincidence, I was injured from a stunt-gone-wrong on the Harrier jet. With broken ribs, I spent the evening in the hospital. To be clear, over the course of those months rehearsing and filming True Lies, it was Joel Kramer who was responsible for my safety on a film that at the time broke new ground for action films. On a daily basis he rigged wires and harnesses on my 12 year old body. My life was literally in his hands: he hung me in the open air, from a tower crane, atop an office tower, 25+ stories high. Whereas he was supposed to be my protector, he was my abuser.
Why speak out now? I was 12, he was 36. It is incomprehensible. Why didn’t an adult on the set find his predatory advances strange — that over-the-top special attention he gave me. Fairly early on he nicknamed me “Jailbait” and brazenly called me by this name in a sick flirty way in front of others (at the time, I remember asking one of my older brothers what it meant). Sure, I’ve come to understand the terrible power dynamics that play into whistle-blowing by “subordinates” against persons in power, how difficult it can be for someone to speak up. But I was a child. Over the years I’ve really struggled as I’ve wondered how my life might have been different if someone, any one grown-up who witnessed his sick ways, had spoken up before he lured me to that hotel room.
Years ago, I had heard second hand that Joel Kramer was “found out” and forced to leave the business. I learned recently that in fact he still works at the top of the industry. And a few weeks ago, I found an internet photo of Joel Kramer hugging a young girl. That image has haunted me near nonstop since. I can no longer hide what happened.
Hollywood has been very good to me in many ways. Nevertheless, Hollywood also failed to protect me, a child actress. I like to think of myself as a tough Boston chick, in many ways I suppose not unlike Faith, Missy, or Echo. Through the years, brave fans have regularly shared with me how some of my characters have given them the conviction to stand up to their abusers. Now it is you who give me strength and conviction. I hope that speaking out will help other victims and protect against future abuse.
With every person that speaks out, every banner that drops down onto my iphone screen disclosing similar stories/truths, my resolve strengthens. Sharing these words, finally calling my abuser out publicly by name, brings the start of a new calm.
Since Dushku posted this, JoAnne Colonna has revealed she was that “tough adult female friend,” and told Deadline that even before the assault, “I’d called Rae (Sanchini, True Lies executive producer) multiple times because there was such inappropriateness going on the set. There was sexual talk to and at (Dushku) at various occasions. She was a very feisty, precocious 12-year-old, a tomboy, they may have felt she was one of the boys but it was really inappropriate from the top.”
Once Dushku told her about the hotel incident, Colonna came to set to tell Sanchini. Plus, Colonna confronted Kramer, saying, “You are going to stay the fuck away from her.” But as far as Sanchini or the rest of the crew, Colonna says, “Nobody really did anything.”
Rejecting Colonna’s claim, Sanchini told Deadline she did not know about Dushku’s sexual assault allegations until her Facebook post went viral. Sanchina said, “(Dushku) has my full support and sympathy.”
Over the weekend, True Lies’ director James Cameron said the same, adding, “The fact that this was happening under our noses and we didn’t know about it, I think going forward it’s important for all industries — certainly Hollywood — to create a safe avenue for people to speak up. That they feel safe and that anybody who might be a predator or an abuser knows that that mechanism is there … and that there will be consequences…Had I known about it, there would have been no mercy. Now, especially. I have daughters. There’s really no mercy now.”
Jamie Lee Curtis responded to Dushku’s story on Huffington Post, writing that she was not aware during True Lies’ making, but that Dushku told her “privately a few years ago.” She’s hopeful that Dushku’s bravery in sharing this story will trigger a change in Hollywood regarding the treatment of child actors. Curtis writes, “All of us must take some responsibility that the loose and relaxed camaraderie that we share with our young performers has carried with it a misguided assumption that they are adults in an adult world, capable of making adult choices.”
As for Kramer, he found out about Dushku’s Facebook post when The Wrap called him for comment, and read it to him over the phone. He denied everything, saying, “These are absolute lies.”
Yesterday Kramer was dropped by his talent agency, whose president and general counsel Richard Caleel told Deadline, “WPA has elected to part ways with Joel Kramer based on the allegations of misconduct now being reported. Such behavior is unacceptable and entirely at odds with the the standards of conduct we demand of ourselves, and expect from our clients.”