Gabriel Byrne describes culture of 'sex pests' and 'abject sexism' in 1970s RTÉ

By Cillian Sherlock

The climate of "abject sexism" in RTÉ was "absolutely ridiculous", according to Gabriel Byrne.

The famous actor said RTÉ still has "sex pests" walking the halls who had made life a misery for his then-girlfriend, an employee at RTÉ.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today With Sean O’Rourke, Mr Byrne spoke about working with Harvey Weinstein on Into The West and being aware of rumours of what was going on behind closed doors.

"I had a vague idea that there were things that went on behind closed doors. The problem is, they were rumours," he said.

He said Weinstein came to Dublin to oversee production on the film.

"It is a very difficult thing for a rumour to land in your presence. What do you do with a rumour? If you pass it on and it is not true then you’re contributing to something that defames the person," he said.

"If it is true and something did happen then it is not your job to call out the person because you weren’t there. You have to wait for the person themselves to be courageous enough to do that," he added.

He admitted that speaking out would require "tremendous courage".

Mr Byrne said he knew some of the actresses approached by Weinstein.

"I heard rumours of some very well known actresses. But again they were rumours. I, and most people that I knew, knew that Harvey was a - the word for it would be a sleazebag."

He said Weinstein was unsavoury in his attitude towards women but Mr Byrne added he "never came across anybody who was aware of the violence of his behaviour".

"It’s still shocking to me today, even though I knew he was, as I said, a sleazebag," he added.

He said the behaviour was widespread, Mr Byrne referenced a recent public interview by British comedian and television host in the US John Oliver’s recent public interview with Dustin Hoffman.

"The climate now has got to a stage where there is zero-tolerance. There is no mercy now for people who are accused of it," he said.

He said he knows seven people who have been called out for sexual misconduct.

Promoting his new documentary airing tonight on RTÉ about George Bernard Shaw, ’My Astonishing Self’, the actor spoke about his time working on soap opera ’The Riordans’ in the 70s.

He said his then-girlfriend was subjected to inappropriate sexual behaviour and two producers took bets on who would get a different female employee to bed first.

"The climate of abject sexism there was absolutely ridiculous, and there are still a few people walking around the place, I don’t know what you’d call them..., sex pests?

"People just kind of laughed, saying ’There he is doing his thing again’. One of those guys made her life an absolute misery through his sexual improprieties.

"Nobody thought ’Oh My God’, that this was really appalling behaviour. It was just the climate that it was at the time. Nobody questioned it."

He said the behaviour was not reported and the only way his girlfriend could deal with it was to treat him derisively and laugh at him.

"It was common knowledge and the idea that you’d go to RTÉ and complain about it was never an option... people just knew it.

"Your job as a woman if you were lucky enough to get in there was avoiding these people who took it as they’re right to say ’I’m entitled to you’."

He said it was not just in RTÉ and he remembered one politician who propositioned his girlfriend in front of him.

"He thought because of his power he could walk up to people and say outrageously suggestive things."

He said the climate of the time was unquestioned.

"That’s the way it was if you were a woman. And if you were a man, you weren’t praised but it was accepted that men behaved in that way."

However, he rejected the defence from men who claimed it was the widespread accepted culture of the time.

He said it was not all men but "a percentage".

"Most men were decent and respectful to women," he added.

Mr Byrne said there was great comradery on set while filming The Usual Suspects, in which he starred alongside Kevin Spacey.

However, one day filming came to a halt - an unusual and expensive decision.

"It later transpired that something inappropriately sexual had happened and it involved Kevin," he said.

He said he would not consider Spacey a friend.

In the interview, Mr Byrne also discusses becoming a dad again.

"Pure love, pure joy, pure innocence. When you see innocence and the purity of that soul looking at you it’s deeply, deeply moving. I’m absolutely loving it."

He said it was bittersweet at his age but he said the one thing that matters in life was giving and receiving love.

Mr Byrne, who lived close to where George Bernard Shaw was born, described the author as one of the greatest writer’s in English literature.

"I started to get interested in his social views and that led me to the plays - which are an extension of his views," he said.

The documentary also explores the authors interests in dictators like Mussolini and Hitler.

’My Astonishing Self’ airs tonight on RTÉ One at 9.35PM.


 

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