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Geena Davis recalls audition with director who made her sit on his lap to act out sex scene: 'I didn't know you could say no'

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Geena Davis at the Napa Valley Film Festival on Nov. 7, 2018. (Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage)

Geena Davis says she probably has “a million examples” of inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

The Oscar-winning actress, who appears in Season 3 of GLOW, out Friday, is also featured in the new documentary This Changes Everything, which is about sexism in the Hollywood film industry. Davis, who has long been calling for gender equality through her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, is a backer in the film and in a new interview says changes are long overdue.

Related Video: Geena Davis’ Mission to Promote Diversity in the Entertainment Industry

Asked if she could recall any uncomfortable incidents with directors early in her career, The Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own star, 63, told USA Today, “There's probably a million examples. One was very early on: I was auditioning for a part where in one scene, my character was going to be sitting on the lap of the male character. The director said, ‘Just act the scene out with me,’ and made me sit on his lap.”

Davis, who made her feature film debut in 1982’s Tootsie, remembered it being a “sexy scene” and she said, “I didn't want to do it, and I was very uncomfortable.” However, she added, “I didn't know you could say no.”

Davis hopes that young actors today don’t have have to go through the same thing.

“Hopefully in the time of #MeToo and Time's Up, women aren't going to have to suffer through that,” she added. “It's pretty standard that you don't meet alone with a man in a private room or hotel suite anymore, but plenty of that stuff goes on and has gone on for a long time.”

The doc — in theaters in NY and L.A. on Friday and expanding to additional theaters and video-on-demand platforms on Aug. 16 — also features Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Tiffany Haddish and various execs, directors and academic experts.

As the #MeToo Movement was blowing up in 2017, Davis also spoke about an incident where she hoping to audition for a movie and the male star, who was also producing the film, suggested they instead meet for dinner. She recalled asking, “‘Is that the audition, or is it that he just wants to have dinner with me?’ My agent came back and said, ‘He says it’s not just having dinner, but it is having dinner. It’s not not a date.’” She declined the invite, sending back the message that she’d still like to audition. However, she wasn’t given the opportunity and it turned out “the woman who got cast, he ended up dating.”

Davis, who has been pushing for equality in the film industry for 15 years, said she was inspired by her daughter, who was born in 2002.

“When [Alizeh] was a toddler, I was appalled to notice so many more male characters than female ones in preschool shows and little kids’ movie,” Davis, who also has twin sons, said in another interview. “If I had a meeting with a studio executive or director, I would casually mention it, and every single person said ‘Oh no, no, that’s not true anymore.’ I was stunned because to me it was glaringly obvious. The people making the entertainments weren’t even aware of it. Bias can be completely unconscious.”

Her other inspiration to be a voice for women was her Thelma & Louise co-star Susan Sarandon. Having been raised to be “extraordinarily polite” and “never a bother” to the point where “complaining about your salary or asking for a script change was outside anything I would even consider,” she said working with Sarandon gave her a “fantastic, first-hand lesson in being bold. I had never met somebody who just very comfortably says what she thinks and lives in her skin and shares an opinion. She would do that every day, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Women can be like that?’”

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