April 1, 2020

The morning after: What I learned from Brett Ratner hitting on me

Every time I see the director Brett Ratner I remind him who I am.

“Danielle Berrin, from The Jewish Journal.”

For starters, I figure the lecherous lothario could use some help keeping tabs on all the women in his life. But second, I want to remind him that if he acts like a jerk, I could wind up writing something like this:

I’ve been cornered downstairs in the gold lamé disco basement at Brett Ratner’s house and he’s hitting on me.

That was the opening line of a profile I wrote of Ratner in October 2008. I worked hard to persuade him to interview with me, but not that hard, since the very first time I met him, at an event at American Jewish University, he gave me his phone number.

My M.O. after that was turn his own trick right back on him: Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

That line is part of the Brett-Ratner-rise-in-Hollywood mythology – and has been referenced countless times (see: Entourage, profiles etc.). But it’s also part of the mythology of Brett Ratner the man: He doesn’t take ‘no.’ He has no boundaries. He does whatever the heck he wants. It’s part of his big-Hollywood-director cache. And most of the time, he gets away with it.

Not anymore.

My guess is that if it were up to Brett Ratner The Man, and not Brett Ratner The Director, to get women to like him, he could have played The Forty-Year-Old-Virgin instead of Steve Carrell. And not because he’s modest and cute and shy; because he’s disrespectful and smarmy and childish.

Every time I see Brett Ratner, he hits on me again. Though only after he insults me: “You’re still at the Jewish Journal? Your piece on me was supposed to advance your career.” (Editor’s note: It did. I got salaried and health insurance.)

The last time I saw him, at the Museum of Tolerance dinner honoring Tom Cruise, he said, “You’re cute, but can you cook?”

Months later, I texted him to ask for an interview about “Tower Heist” (which he did not grant) and to maybe do a live Q-and-A with me in advance of the Oscar cast he was supposed to produce. I asked if we could have lunch and talk it over. He only wanted to know if I still had a boyfriend.

After all this, I figure, ‘This is his shtick. This is what he does. This is who he is.’ But when I read what he says about other women, how he humiliates them with the bully pulpit he doesn’t deserve – for example, he referred to Olivia Munn, who at the age of 30 has accomplished more than most, as a “whore” and revealed to Howard Stern that he forced Lindsay Lohan, who has enough problems, to get checked for sexually transmitted diseases before he would sleep with her—I get angry.

Then I feel inclined to say things like this: If Lindsay Lohan was infected with the Ebola virus, Ratner would be lucky to get five minutes in a room with her.

But admittedly, I have Ratner baggage. When I look back on my first big Hollywood interview, I remember sitting on Ratner’s couch, with a handful of people around, watching Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon, and repeatedly removing Ratner’s hands from between my legs.

I was a young, inexperienced journalist then, and told myself that getting the story was more important than my dignity. So in a big way, I’m grateful to Brett Ratner – because the very same profile that got me a full-time reporting job was also the one that taught me that no story is worth compromising my integrity. I should have slapped him and stormed from the house. It would have been cinematic.

It is precisely because movies represent some imaginative ideal that the movie industry should have standards. Lots of directors get away with way worse than Ratner – Roman Polanski comes to mind, for example. Famous people tend to get away with things, because they’re famous and they can.

Today was the first day Brett Ratner didn’t get away with it.

Earlier today, I wrote that I didn’t care whether Ratner produced the Oscars or not, but in the dark of evening, long after the sun has set, I applaud the Academy for taking a stand – for standing for something.

It was a Jewish thing to do.