Lord of the Rings director: You'd better believe the Weinsteins blackballed Judd, Sorvino

Could we have seen Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino in the Lord of the Rings trilogy instead of Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler? Maybe, maybe not, but they never had an opportunity to try. Peter Jackson has ended his silence about Harvey Weinstein and confirmed to New Zealand-based Stuff that the Weinsteins spread derogatory information about both actresses after alleged sexual harassment incidents, and their feedback convinced the Oscar-winning director to take them out of consideration for auditions. It’s the first independent public corroboration of alleged retribution and career damage made against Weinstein:

Speaking to Stuff for the first time since multiple sexual assault allegations emerged against the disgraced Harvey Weinstein, Jackson said he had “no direct experience or knowledge of the sexual allegations” against the Hollywood powerbroker, but had earlier made a conscious decision to never work with him again. …

“I recall Miramax telling us they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs. This was probably in 1998,” Jackson said.

“At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us – but in hindsight, I realise that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing.

“I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women – and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list.”

Since the stories broke about Weinstein, he has insisted that all of his sexual relationships were consensual and that he never retaliated against anyone for declining sexual relations. Reporters such as Ronan Farrow have detailed the threats and pressure Weinstein allegedly used to solicit sexual favors and then to keep it quiet afterward, including hiring spies and attorneys to discredit accusers in public and co-opt journalists by dangling film deals. The picture painted in these exposés is that of a mogul who wielded his power to punish anyone who defied him and to ensure that no proof of abuses ever emerged.

This statement from Jackson provides an independent confirmation that Weinstein did more than just threaten retribution. At least when it came to Jackson, they actively interfered in the careers of these actors. That would affirm the picture painted in numerous reports about Weinstein, and the image that has emerged of the mogul as a ruthless medieval pasha.

Or perhaps Jackson himself puts it better in describing both Harvey and Bob Weinstein:

“My experience, when Miramax controlled the Lord of the Rings (before New Line took over production of the film), was of Weinstein and his brother behaving like second-rate Mafia bullies. They weren’t the type of guys I wanted to work with – so I haven’t,” he said.

Both Judd and Sorvino reacted on Twitter:

What makes this even more compelling is the relative stature of both women in the entertainment industry. Judd’s mother and sister had risen to the top of the country charts before her Hollywood career had taken off; Sorvino’s father Paul is a popular actor who appeared in classic films such as Goodfellas. Sorvino herself had won an Oscar and a Golden Globe two years before this took place for Mighty Aphrodite. If Weinstein could derail their careers with a smear campaign, how many other actresses and whistleblowers of lesser stature got blackballed out of the industry?

Weinstein has more pressing legal issues than this at the moment, as several jurisdictions are reviewing potential sexual assault charges that could land him in prison. However, Jackson’s statement to Stuff will matter when it comes to the inevitable onslaught of lawsuits against Weinstein personally, the Weinstein Company, and probably Miramax (now part of Disney). That could get very ugly and not just for the Weinsteins. Each of these lawsuits might require depositions from a wide range of Hollywood figures, from Jackson on down, to determine just how many victims had their careers ruined by the Weinsteins. They may have styled themselves as “second-rate Mafia bullies,” but don’t expect their omertà to stand up for very long now.