‘Nobody Is Going to Believe You’
The Bohemian Rhapsody director Bryan Singer has been trailed by accusations of sexual misconduct for 20 years. Here, his alleged victims tell their stories.
Over the past two decades, Bryan Singer’s films—The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Superman Returns, four of the X-Men movies—have earned more than $3 billion at the box office, putting him in the top tier of Hollywood directors. He’s known for taking risks in his storytelling: It was Singer’s idea, for instance, to open the original X-Men movie with a scene at Auschwitz, where a boy uses his superpowers to bend the metal gates that separate him from his parents. Studio executives were skeptical about starting a comic-book movie in a concentration camp, but the film became a blockbuster and launched a hugely profitable franchise for 20th Century Fox.
Singer’s most recent project debuted in November. Critics gave Bohemian Rhapsody—which chronicles the rise of the rock band Queen—only lukewarm reviews, but it earned more than $50 million in its opening weekend. By the end of December, it had brought in more than $700 million, making it one of the year’s biggest hits.
The film’s success should have been a triumph for Singer, proof of his enduring ability to intuit what audiences want. In January it won two Golden Globes, including the award for best drama. But Singer was conspicuously absent from the ceremony—and his name went unmentioned in the acceptance speeches. He had been fired by 20th Century Fox in December 2017, with less than three weeks of filming left. Reports emerged of a production in chaos: Singer was feuding with his cast and crew, and had disappeared from the set for days at a time.
On December 7, 2017, three days after The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of Singer’s firing, a Seattle man named Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit against the director, alleging that Singer had raped him in 2003, when Sanchez-Guzman was 17. The day after that, Deadline Hollywood published an interview with a former boyfriend of Singer’s, Bret Tyler Skopek, in which Skopek described a lifestyle of drugs and orgies.
According to multiple sources, Fox had no idea that the Sanchez-Guzman lawsuit was coming when the studio fired Singer. Still, Sanchez-Guzman’s claims shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Almost from the moment his star began to rise, Singer, who is now 53, has been trailed by allegations of sexual misconduct. These allegations were so well known that 4,000 students, faculty members, and alumni at the University of Southern California had signed a petition asking the school to take Singer’s name off one of its programs, the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies—which the school did immediately after Sanchez-Guzman filed his suit. As one prominent actor told us, “After the Harvey Weinstein news came out, everyone thought Bryan Singer would be next.”
We spent 12 months investigating various lawsuits and allegations against Singer. In total, we spoke with more than 50 sources, including four men who have never before told their stories to reporters. A man we’ll call Eric told us that he was 17 in 1997 when he and Singer had sex at a party at the director’s house; another we’ll call Andy says he was only 15 that same year, when he and Singer had sex in a Beverly Hills mansion. Both men say Singer, who was then in his early 30s, knew they were under 18, the age of consent in California. (They asked The Atlantic to conceal their identity for fear of retaliation, and because they didn’t want certain details about their past made public.)
The accusations against Singer cover a spectrum. Some of the alleged victims say they were seduced by the director while underage; others say they were raped. The victims we interviewed told us these experiences left them psychologically damaged, with substance-abuse problems, depression, and PTSD.
The portrait of Singer that emerges is of a troubled man who surrounded himself with vulnerable teenage boys, many of them estranged from their families. Their accounts suggest that Singer didn’t act alone; he was aided by friends and associates who brought him young men. And he was abetted, in a less direct way, by an industry in which a record of producing hits confers immense power: Many of the sources we interviewed insisted, out of fear of damaging their own career, that we withhold their name, even as they expressed dismay at the behavior they’d witnessed.
When asked for comment, Singer’s lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, noted that Singer has never been arrested for or charged with any crime, and that Singer categorically denies ever having sex with, or a preference for, underage men. (He also disputed specific details in this story, as noted throughout.) Singer himself wrote an Instagram post in October that read, in part:
I have known for some time that [there may be] a negative article about me. They have contacted my friends, colleagues and people I don’t even know. In today’s climate where people’s careers are being harmed by mere accusations, what [these reporters are] attempting to do is a reckless disregard for the truth, making assumptions that are fictional and irresponsible.
Singer continues to enjoy the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood. This fall, Millennium Films signed Singer to direct Red Sonja, an adaptation of a sword-and-sorcery comic book, for a reported $10 million. (Asked why Singer was hired despite the allegations against him, a Millennium publicist said, “I am afraid the response is ‘unavailable for comment.’ ”) The protagonist of Red Sonja is a survivor of sexual assault.
In the spring of 1997, when Victor Valdovinos was in seventh grade, he showed up to school one day to find a big-budget film production under way: All around him were tractor trailers, mobile dressing rooms, and people with walkie-talkies behaving as though they owned the place. The movie was Apt Pupil, Singer’s first project after his breakthrough, The Usual Suspects.
Filming took over Eliot Middle School in Altadena, northeast of Los Angeles. Late one afternoon, after basketball practice, Valdovinos stopped in an empty restroom. While standing at a urinal, he says, he felt a presence behind him. He turned and saw a bespectacled man in his early 30s. It was Bryan Singer. He looked Valdovinos over; Valdovinos remembers him saying, “You’re so good-looking. What are you doing tomorrow? Maybe I could have somebody contact you about putting you in this movie.” (Through his attorney, Singer said that he did not know who Valdovinos was and denied that anything had happened between them.)
The film, which was based on a Stephen King novella, starred Ian McKellen as Kurt Dussander, a former Nazi concentration-camp commandant living in Southern California, decades removed from the war and trying to keep his past a secret. The other lead was a 14-year-old named Brad Renfro—cast as Todd Bowden, Dussander’s neighbor, who discovers the Nazi’s secret and threatens to turn him over to authorities unless the old man tells him in graphic detail about the atrocities he committed. One scene has Todd taking a shower in his school’s gym, which triggers images of Jews in a gas chamber.
That scene would lead to a series of lawsuits against Singer and the production. At least five plaintiffs, all minors between the ages of 14 and 17, were extras in the film and, in essence, claimed that members of the crew had bullied them into stripping naked for the shower scene. The boys and some of their parents said they’d been aware that the job called for partial nudity, which they had been led to believe meant wearing a Speedo or a towel. One of the crew members later said he thought that there had been a screwup the day of the shoot—that only the adult extras were supposed to have been asked to appear naked, and that somehow the minor and adult extras had been mixed together. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to press any criminal charges; the suits—which alleged negligence, unlawful sexual harassment, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress—were settled for an undisclosed sum, and all parties were bound by confidentiality agreements.
By Valdovinos’s account, his experience on the Apt Pupil set was far more upsetting. After being dropped off by his father one morning, he was directed to the locker room. Shooting was about to begin. He remembers that the locker room had been divided—a screen here and lights over there. A crew member gave him a towel and told him to disrobe completely and wrap the towel around his waist. He was 13 years old. He hadn’t yet had his first kiss.
“I’m hanging out,” Valdovinos says. “All of a sudden, Bryan comes in. He goes, ‘Hey! How are you?’ Real cheerful. And I’m like, ‘Hi.’ I can’t remember his exact words, but he was kind of just saying ‘Come back here.’ He kind of directs me; he kind of grabs me; and he takes us to the back area, which was kind of closed off. Like, this is the whole locker room”—Valdovinos gestures to suggest the space—“they’re doing their stuff over there, and I was back here, in the towel, with no shirt and no clothes on, sitting on one of the locker-room benches. Bryan’s like, ‘Just hang out here. It’s going to be all day. Don’t worry.” Singer left, and Valdovinos waited for what seemed like hours.
Eventually, he says, Singer came back and made small talk. How are you doing? Do you need anything? “Every time he had a chance—three times—he would go back there … He was always touching my chest.” Finally, according to Valdovinos, Singer reached through the towel flaps and “grabbed my genitals and started masturbating it.” The director also “rubbed his front part on me,” Valdovinos alleges. “He did it all with this smile.” Valdovinos says that Singer told him, “You’re so good-looking … I really want to work with you … I have a nice Ferrari … I’m going to take care of you.”
“I was frozen. Speechless,” Valdovinos continues. “He came back to where I was in the locker room throughout the day to molest me.” (Three sources confirmed that Singer did drive a Ferrari at the time, and we were able to verify Valdovinos’s description of how the set was arranged and of certain people he says he met there. His father told us he remembers dropping him off for the filming and thinking that perhaps his son would become an actor. Singer’s lawyer said that he could find no record of Valdovinos’s having been an extra and questioned why Valdovinos was not able to produce a pay stub or other documentation.)
Valdovinos says that although he did end up being used as an extra in a number of takes, he couldn’t ever bring himself to watch Apt Pupil. His brother Edgar did, though, and when Edgar told Valdovinos that he didn’t appear on-screen, Valdovinos replied, “That dude was, like, touching on me.” Edgar pressed for more details, but Valdovinos didn’t explain what he meant to his brother, who is now deceased. “It was embarrassing. I didn’t want anyone to know. So I locked it away.”
By Valdovinos’s account, his life changed after the molestation. When he was 16, he got his girlfriend pregnant, and they had a daughter. “I was trying to prove that I was a man,” he says. He had been an A and B student and a standout football prospect, but he stopped going to classes and was kicked off the team. He dropped out of school for six months and worked a series of minimum-wage jobs—at a fast-food restaurant, a deli—before returning and eventually graduating.
Valdovinos and the baby’s mother argued; he was arrested after a neighbor reported a domestic disturbance. They broke up when their daughter was six months old. Valdovinos had other failed relationships. Years later, an affair with a married woman, estranged from her husband, ended in catastrophe: an arrest and a year-long jail sentence for domestic battery, drug possession, and driving a car without the owner’s permission. He lost one job after another.
Valdovinos began to question how his life might have gone differently if not for that locker-room encounter with Singer. “What if he never did this to me—would I be a different person? Would I be more successful? Would I be married?” As he watched the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfold, Valdovinos thought, “Me too—only I was a kid.” He considered going to Singer’s house and knocking on the door and asking him, Why? He thought about going public. But who would believe him?
He contacted Jeff Herman, the same attorney who is representing Cesar Sanchez-Guzman, and another lawyer to discuss bringing a civil suit, but they told him that too much time had passed. Not knowing what else to do, Valdovinos filed a complaint with the California attorney general’s office this past spring, using a form intended for consumer complaints. He says he felt rushed, and the form didn’t provide much space. He quickly scribbled a short summary of his story; it differs on a couple of points from what he now swears is true—whether he went to the shoot one or two days after meeting Singer, and whether Singer molested him in the bathroom as well as the locker room. Because he had signed a retainer agreement with Jeff Herman’s law firm, he listed Herman as his attorney. The attorney general’s office sent Valdovinos a letter suggesting that he report the incident to the police, but he didn’t, because he’d been told the statute of limitations had lapsed.
In December, Valdovinos emailed Singer’s attorney and warned him that this article was forthcoming. “I would like to get an apology and a settlement from Bryan,” he wrote. “I prefer this article not come out and have my name and picture all over the news.” He received no reply. He told us later that he knows a financial settlement is unlikely, but he’s angry and frustrated at being ignored. He wants Singer to apologize for what he did.
As Singer completed Apt Pupil, the industry’s expectations were high: Stephen King had agreed to sell the film rights for $1 in order to get the wunderkind Singer, hot off The Usual Suspects—winner of two Academy Awards—as the director. Many thought he might be one of the blossoming greats, like his idol, Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg was the reason Singer had wanted to be a filmmaker. Singer saw E.T. when he was 16, and then watched a television profile of the director. Like Spielberg, Singer had begun making 8-mm films for fun when he was 12. He was a Jewish teenager who would eventually come out as gay, living in a mostly Catholic neighborhood of West Windsor, New Jersey. In E.T. he saw a story about a bunch of outsider nerds—kids who feel like aliens who find an actual alien.
Singer applied to the University of Southern California’s film school but didn’t get in; he settled for the Division of Critical Studies instead. He made a short film, Lion’s Den, starring his childhood friend Ethan Hawke; that short got him financing for his first feature, Public Access, a low-budget thriller that shared a Grand Jury Prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, which in turn enabled him to secure funding for The Usual Suspects.
One of the Oscars The Usual Suspects won was for best original screenplay. The other, for best supporting actor, went to Kevin Spacey for his performance as Verbal, the unlikely villain, who utters one of the film’s most memorable lines: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The Usual Suspects showcased what many who have worked with Singer say is among his greatest skills: an ability to spin a narrative in which the audience is never quite sure who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy, a suspenseful uncertainty rooted in Singer’s instinct for clever misdirection.
In a 2001 interview, Singer reflected on The Usual Suspects this way: “At one point I shot Gabriel Byrne pointing the gun and firing, and he said, ‘I don’t understand why I’m doing this.’ I kind of didn’t either. But that’s one of the things I like most about moviemaking—that sense of power, manipulating an audience. Saying, ‘This guy could be the murderer, or maybe it’s this guy.’ ”
By the late ’90s, Singer also had a reputation on the gay Hollywood scene—in part for the pool parties he threw at a house he lived in on Butler Avenue, in the Mar Vista neighborhood. A friend of Singer’s recalls attending one of these parties when he was in his early 20s (and Singer was in his early 30s) and being shocked by how young many of the guests looked. “It felt like a high-school party,” the friend says. He remembers wondering: How did all these boys get here? Where are their parents?
Ben was one of the boys at those parties. (He, too, asked The Atlantic to withhold his real name.) His family had kicked him out when he was 16, and he met Singer soon after, through a friend and housemate of Singer’s. He says he was passed around among the adult men in Singer’s social circle.
Ben says he and Singer made out once, and another time, when he was either 17 or 18 (he can’t remember his exact age), they had oral sex. He recalls Singer seducing him this way: “One time after a party, Bryan went to bed early. He said he didn’t feel well and needed me to tuck him in.” Singer was fine; that was when he and Ben had oral sex. (Ben was able to tell us the address of the Butler Avenue house and the name of its owner, and to accurately describe details of the interior. Another source in this article recalls seeing him at parties during this period.)
Ben describes Singer as someone who liked to cross boundaries. “He would stick his hands down your pants without your consent,” Ben recalls. “He was predatory in that he would ply people with alcohol and drugs and then have sex with them.” But, at least in Ben’s experience, “it wasn’t a hold-you-down-and-rape-you situation.”
“I was a fat kid, and socially awkward,” Ben continues. “But then I was getting all this attention. It led me to believe that was the way it’s supposed to be—that the way to get attention is to be sexual.” At the time, he thought the parties and the sex were fun. But then he realized he was being used. “I just felt like an idiot. It’s like when the victim blames himself for what happened.”
David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who studies the impact of childhood sexual trauma on male survivors, says this kind of thinking is common. “Boys are expected to be strong, capable of defending themselves, and far less vulnerable than girls,” he says. As a result, “they are very likely to blame themselves for the abuse that they suffer, and are therefore less likely to disclose the abuse, until much later in their lives.”
Lisak adds that even when a teenager is a willing participant, sex with an adult distorts what is supposed to be a period of exploration and discovery. “I have seen this firsthand in interviews I have done with men in this situation—their vulnerability is taken advantage of,” Lisak says. “It creates really long-lasting harm.”
Around the time Singer was finishing Apt Pupil and about to begin directing the first X-Men movie, he invested in a Hollywood start-up, Digital Entertainment Network, that would eventually end in scandal. Singer contributed $30,000 and pledged $20,000 more, according to records kept by the founding CEO, Marc Collins-Rector.
Collins-Rector’s idea for Digital Entertainment Network, or DEN, was to produce TV shows and movies for 14-to-24-year-olds, with an emphasis on stories for gay teens, and distribute them online. Collins-Rector had arrived in Hollywood in the mid‑’90s with his much younger business partner and lover, Chad Shackley. (Shackley had been 16 when he’d started dating Collins-Rector, who had been about 32.) They predicted that DEN would upend Hollywood.
Collins-Rector had already founded and sold several tech companies for tens of millions of dollars, and he was able to raise more than $60 million for DEN within two years. Corporate investors included Microsoft, NBC, Dell, and Chase Capital Partners. Along with Singer, some of Hollywood’s most powerful executives and filmmakers also chipped in.
Collins-Rector and Shackley launched DEN from a mansion on Benedict Canyon Drive, in Beverly Hills, but around the fall of 1997 they moved the company to a mansion in Encino; it was dubbed the “M&C Estate,” for “Marc and Chad.” They also brought on a third co-founder: Brock Pierce, a 17-year-old actor who’d appeared in Disney’s Mighty Ducks movies. They made Pierce an executive vice president with a salary of $250,000, and he moved in with them.
On paper, DEN was indeed a forward-thinking idea. But according to a series of lawsuits, criminal complaints, and a federal investigation, the company’s Encino mansion became a party house where teenage boys were allegedly given alcohol and drugs, encouraged to have sex with older men, and in some cases raped.
One early, senior-level DEN employee remembers asking why so many teenage boys were on the payroll and being told that they did computer work. The employee also recalls attending a company party and seeing teenage boys filing into a movie theater in the Encino mansion. The employee tried to go inside but was stopped by a bodyguard, who said: “Kids only.” The employee asked a colleague what was going on. “[He] said that he had seen some of it, and that it was definitely porn … [The kids] were all laughing and eating candy. But we were totally not allowed into that room.”
Singer and Collins-Rector were close friends, and according to at least five sources, Singer was a regular at the M&C Estate. He even starred in what amounted to a digital station identification for DEN—in a short promotional clip, he reclines in a chair while announcing, “You’re watching www.DEN.net.”
It was at a DEN gathering that the man we’re calling Andy first met Singer. According to Andy’s account, he entered the DEN orbit in 1997, during spring break of his freshman year in high school, when he started chatting online with Collins-Rector, who was then 37 years old. Collins-Rector boasted that he had a private jet and suggested they meet. The next day, Andy says, Collins-Rector sent a cab to pick him up in front of his apartment complex in Las Vegas and bring him to one of the big casinos on the Strip. Andy says he stayed with Collins-Rector until late that night, maybe until the next morning, and that they had oral sex. Andy was 14.
According to Andy, in the following weeks Collins-Rector made himself part of Andy’s life. He returned to Vegas for visits and ingratiated himself with Andy’s mom—Andy says she saw Collins-Rector as a successful man who had taken him under his wing, someone who could be a role model for a son with an absent father.
Collins-Rector arranged for Andy and his family to visit the set of Apt Pupil. “They were filming the scene where Ian McKellen’s character puts the cat in the oven,” Andy recalls. “It was really weird, because the cat was the most lethargic thing in the world. So they’re trying to make it seem like he was afraid—picking it up and spinning it around. The cat didn’t do shit.” (A source who worked on the movie confirmed this description of the cat’s behavior.)
Afterward, Collins-Rector took Andy on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree and then he and Andy had sex. It was Andy’s first time.
That summer, Andy began taking all-expenses-paid trips to visit Collins-Rector. One night Andy, now 15, got to talking with Singer, who led him away from the other men in the living room of the Benedict Canyon mansion and up a flight of stairs. “First room on the right, top of the stairs,” Andy says definitively, as if making the walk all over again. (His description of the mansion matches its layout, based on photos that were posted online when it was for sale.) Inside was a waterbed. He says he and Singer had talked about what grade he was in. “Bryan knew I was 15,” he says. Singer would have been about 31.
As Andy tells it, he and Singer weren’t alone in the bedroom. Singer had brought along Brad Renfro—the star of Apt Pupil, who was now 15. (According to two sources, Singer sometimes referred to Renfro as his boyfriend.) Renfro sat sheepishly next to the waterbed, looking unsure of what to do while Singer and Andy fooled around. Clothes came off, but Renfro didn’t move. “I remember wanting Brad to join in,” Andy says. “I don’t think Brad was gay, or even bi. I think he was going with the flow. We talked about it. Like me, he looked around at all of the things these guys had, all of the money. Maybe he thought the guys were going to do things for him.” (Renfro died of a drug overdose in 2008, at the age of 25.)
Andy says Renfro left the room, and then Andy had sex with Singer. “I just remember how loud the moaning was. I remember thinking, God, there’s a big group of people downstairs hanging out in the living room, and they can probably hear him. That bothered me, so I stuck my hand over his mouth or in his mouth just to stop it. When we went downstairs, it was really awkward. I just acted like it was no big thing.”(Andy was listed in a DEN address book kept by Chad Shackley’s younger brother, and another source for this article recalls seeing Andy at DEN parties and says that Andy told him years ago about his sexual relationship with Singer.)
Andy says he slept with Singer a handful of times after that. One night, around 1999, he met up with Singer in Las Vegas. They took a long walk. “I showed him where all the gay bars were,” Andy recalls. “It was awkward. He had another boy or two with him and had no interest in me.”
Meanwhile, Andy was falling apart. He had started prostituting himself and got hooked on meth. He missed 53 of the first 60 days of school in his junior year of high school and was expelled. He did jail time. He appeared in porn films.
In his early 20s, Andy moved to West Hollywood, where he says he ran into Singer a few times. “I was such a wreck,” he says. “I gave him a sob story about how I was just trying to survive. I was looking for money for drugs, just enough to get through the day. He gave me, like, $1,200. Another time it was five or six grand. I had his phone number. We talked here and there.” Andy thought maybe if he could come up with the perfect business idea, Singer might help him launch it. “Instead, he blocked my calls.”
In his late 20s, Andy was caught dealing drugs and faced nine years in prison. “I asked the judge to send me to rehab instead,” he says. That stint in rehab led to two more. “I was depressed, miserable.” On New Year’s Day 2014, he decided to try to get clean again, and he’s been sober ever since.
Andy is now 36 years old. He lives outside L.A., in a sleepy town where he is happily employed. Neatly dressed, with a buzz cut and a polite, understated demeanor, he could pass for a military veteran. “I sort of wonder,” he says, “if I’d never met Marc and then Bryan, if I would have ever got into the drugs.”
At 17, Eric was a bright kid from a small town in Northern California. He was handsome, and desperate for attention. He graduated from high school a year early and in 1997 moved to Los Angeles, where he became a regular at the M&C Estate—swimming in the pool, soaking naked in the hot tub after dark, even working for the company. And sleeping with older men there. “I was passed around like a party favor,” he says.
Now an executive at a film-production company, Eric says he first met Singer at a party at the director’s place on Butler Avenue. The Apt Pupil controversy was then big news in Hollywood. According to Eric, Singer mocked the lawsuits. “He imitated a southern lawyer: ‘Mr. Singer, please tell the court exactly, did you or did you not put your hands on that boy? Mr. Singer, answer the question!’ ”
Later that evening, Eric says, he and Singer got to flirting in the hot tub. “Just so you know, I’m 31,” Singer said. “Just so you know, I’m 17,” Eric responded. He says they had sex that night.
Over the following weeks, Eric says he hooked up with Singer a few more times—at Singer’s place and at the M&C Estate. Eric understood that he had no purchase on Singer: The director, he says, had people who brought him other boys just like Eric. “If you weren’t young and cute enough to be their boy, you could still ingratiate yourself by bringing boys to them,” he says. “That’s how I met Bryan, and that’s how I wound up at the DEN estate—people trying to ingratiate themselves.”
Eric says he and Singer had sex on and off for about five years, into Eric’s 20s, when Singer’s interest waned. In 2002, when Eric decided to go to film school, Singer was finishing X-Men 2, and Eric reached out. “He brought me around on a tour of the Fox lot,” Eric recalls. A few years after that, Singer helped Eric land an internship on a big-budget feature.
His history with Singer sometimes comes up at his current job in the film industry. Eric says he’s been asked whether he knows Singer, whether he was one of “those boys” at the pool parties. “I never want people to think of me as a victim, so I always put up the front of ‘I’m good. I was in charge.’ But I spent a decade in therapy trying to figure out if what happened was bad or not bad. And if it was bad, was it my fault? What I’ve decided is that adults are supposed to look out for kids.”
Eric has been in a steady relationship since 2016. His boyfriend confirmed that Eric had told him about his sexual experiences with Singer well before we contacted Eric for this article. Like Andy, Eric was listed in the address book that Shackley’s brother kept.
Eric goes to regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings now, and he says he’s met other men there who have their own stories about Singer. “There’s a bunch of us,” he says. “It’s like, ‘You were one of Singer’s boys? Me too.’ ”
In August 2000, a federal grand jury indicted Marc Collins-Rector on charges related to transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of sex.
Collins-Rector fled the country and was a fugitive for almost two years before being arrested in Spain, where authorities discovered a cache of weapons and 8,000 images of child pornography in the villa where he was living. He was held in a Spanish jail from May 2002 until October 2003. Upon his release, he was extradited to the United States and ultimately pleaded guilty to nine charges of transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of sex. He was sentenced to time served in Spain plus three years of court supervision and is now a registered sex offender.
Chad Shackley and Brock Pierce had accompanied Collins-Rector to Spain, but neither was charged with any crimes. (In an interview, Pierce, who is now a cryptocurrency promoter, told us he was never aware of anyone associated with DEN having sex with or abusing minors in any way. Shackley and Collins-Rector could not be reached for comment.)
Singer wasn’t named in any of the DEN lawsuits or investigations, and his involvement with the company went largely unnoticed. Though Apt Pupil proved to be a box-office disappointment, X-Men secured him a spot among A-list directors. At its core, the film is about a group of kids who feel alienated until the much older Professor Charles Xavier shows them that their mutations are really superpowers—a compelling allegory for gay teenagers struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity.
Along the way, there were media reports of Singer’s erratic behavior on set. In 2002, production on X-Men 2 was delayed for a day because producers determined that Singer had taken too many painkillers to do his job, according to a source who worked on the film. (Singer said the delay was due to an argument he’d had with one of the producers.) In 2005, while he was directing Superman Returns, Singer again appeared to be “heavily medicated,” as The Hollywood Reporter later put it, and he failed to show up on the set often enough that an executive producer camped out at the Australian location to ensure that Singer completed the film. (Singer’s lawyer said that he took medication for back pain.)
Singer’s personal life didn’t come under close scrutiny until 2014, when a man named Michael Egan brought a lawsuit against him. The case made headlines from the start: Egan’s attorney, Jeff Herman, held a packed press conference at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons. Filed in Hawaii federal court, the suit alleged that Singer was part of a group of powerful entertainment executives who “maintained and exploited boys in a sordid sex ring.” Egan also sued three other men who had been affiliated with DEN.
Egan claimed that he had been abused at the M&C Estate from the age of 15. He alleged that Collins-Rector had passed him to Singer for a sex act, and that Singer had abused him during two trips to Hawaii. (The fact that some of the alleged offenses took place in Hawaii enabled Herman to file in that jurisdiction, where the statute of limitations had not expired.)
According to the four complaints, the Hawaii trips took place between August 1, 1999, and October 31, 1999. One night after a long walk alone, according to the suit against Singer, Egan came across Singer in the pool area. Singer was angry that Egan had gone missing. He allegedly gave Egan a drink that “impacted his motor skills.” Egan claimed that Singer laid him down on a lounge chair and “spit on [Egan’s] buttocks, spanked him, and forced a handful of cocaine onto [Egan’s] face. He then anally raped [Egan].” Egan alleged that Singer raped him multiple times on that particular trip and that the three other defendants—Gary Goddard, an amusement-park designer and DEN investor; Garth Ancier, a television executive who had also invested in DEN; and David Neuman, who had left his job as president of Walt Disney Television to become president of DEN—committed similar acts on him in Hawaii.
After an initial wave of publicity, the cases began to unravel in pretrial discovery. Egan was caught in numerous inconsistencies—most notably, regarding whether he and the defendants were in Hawaii at the times he’d specified. During a deposition related to a 2000 lawsuit, Egan had indicated that although he had taken trips to places like Lake Havasu, Arizona, with DEN executives and others affiliated with the company, his mother hadn’t allowed him to go to Hawaii with them. (The back-and-forth between Egan and the attorney who questioned him was confusing, and according to Herman, Egan’s mother later said that she had, in fact, allowed him to go to Hawaii at least twice.) All four men denied the allegations and offered evidence that they had not been in Hawaii. Neuman produced a signed statement he had obtained from Egan in 2003, saying that Neuman hadn’t sexually abused him. (It read, in part: “I have never been in any hot tub or swimming pool at all at any time or any place with David Neuman … I have never seen David Neuman naked, and he has never seen me naked.”)
Meanwhile, Egan was hit with criminal fraud charges related to a Ponzi scheme in North Carolina, to which he pleaded guilty. Ancier and Neuman countersued both Egan and Herman for “malicious prosecution,” for wrongfully including them in the suits. Egan declared bankruptcy and Herman ultimately settled with them, agreeing to pay the two men a total of more than $1 million and issue public apologies to both. Egan withdrew his cases and was branded a liar and a con man in the media. Singer’s allies seized upon the fraud charges in North Carolina as proof that his allegations were part of an elaborate shakedown.
Despite all this, there are reasons to believe Egan may have been abused. He was a regular at the DEN estate and appeared on one of the company’s shows, Royal Standard. (The senior-level employee who recounted the party where underage boys had been shown porn also recalls once seeing Egan—so high that he could barely stand up—getting out of a limo with four DEN executives.) Before withdrawing his lawsuits, Egan passed a polygraph and was interviewed for nearly seven hours by a psychiatrist, who found him to be credible. At one point, Singer agreed to pay Egan a $100,000 settlement, but Egan rejected the offer, refusing to sign a nondisclosure agreement. He also said that he had felt pressured to sign the Neuman statement.
David Lisak, the clinical psychologist, says he sees dozens of sexual-abuse cases thrown out every year because the plaintiff “misremembers some sequence of events or a detail that’s really inconsequential, and the credibility of their entire story is spoiled.” Exploiting the symptoms that flow from trauma in order to undermine a victim’s credibility—whether substance abuse, a subsequent criminal offense, or holes in a victim’s memory—has become a common defense and PR strategy. “There is something uniquely diabolical about this cycle,” Lisak says.
The collapse of the Egan case was a huge win for Singer, creating the lasting impression that the director had been exonerated. In interviews for this article, numerous people told us that Egan was a proven liar and several asserted—incorrectly—that Egan had publicly apologized to Singer. Meanwhile, other alleged victims said that they had taken note of the price Egan paid for coming forward and decided not to do the same.
Egan wasn’t Jeff Herman’s only client with a claim against Singer, however. “In addition to your case, this firm is handling several other sexual abuse cases against Defendant Bryan Singer,” Herman informed Egan in a letter in June 2014. “We represent three other victims such as yourself and another potential client.”
One of these cases involved a civil suit Herman filed against Singer and Gary Goddard in a California district court on behalf of a “John Doe.” The complaint lays out the following allegations: In 2003, Goddard started a relationship over social media with the plaintiff, who was then 14 years old and living with his parents a few hours north of London. Goddard told the boy “he had ‘good looks’ and inquired whether he wanted to be an actor,” because Goddard knew people, including Singer, who could help his career. Goddard allegedly sent the boy chocolates and told him he loved him. In return, the boy participated in nude webcam sessions.
The boy claimed that he had sex with Goddard in London when he was 16, the age of consent in the U.K. In 2006, Goddard introduced the boy to Singer over the phone. The two men then allegedly invited him to the U.K. premiere of Superman Returns. According to the complaint, Singer brought him to the VIP party after the screening. He offered the boy a quaalude, which he declined. Later, Singer gave the boy a drink that left him extremely intoxicated and brought him to a hotel room with Goddard.
“Once in the bedroom,” the complaint states, “Singer and Goddard started grabbing John Doe in a sexual manner.” The complaint alleges that Goddard and Singer, with the help of an unidentified third man who was apparently working for Goddard, forced the boy onto the bed and took off his clothes. Singer then allegedly fellated him against his will, and asked the boy to sit on top of him and ejaculate, which the boy did, the complaint says, because he feared he would otherwise be raped. The complaint states that Singer then attempted to have anal sex with the boy. The next day, the director allegedly called to apologize.
Singer’s lawyers dismissed the accusations as baseless and malicious, and Goddard denied the charges as well. The suit against the two men was voluntarily dismissed. Herman told us he couldn’t comment on any of his cases against Singer and the other men involved with DEN, but in May the Los Angeles Times reported that he had reached a settlement in at least one of the 2014 cases.
In 2017, Goddard faced a fresh batch of allegations, when the ER actor Anthony Edwards and seven other former child actors accused him of sexual abuse. He again denied the allegations.
“I remember that kid,” Bryan Singer said through his tears, according to the 19-year-old who was lying in bed next to him. “I swear to God, I never touched him.” It was the spring of 2014, not long after Michael Egan filed his lawsuit. Crying himself to sleep had become Singer’s routine, according to his lover of almost six months, a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid named Bret Tyler Skopek.
Skopek says Egan’s lawsuit turned Singer’s life upside down. His latest X-Men sequel was coming out, and Singer withdrew from the publicity tour to avoid being a distraction. Gossip blogs began digging into his sex life, and mounting legal fees became a source of stress. (Singer was also trying to have a baby with his close friend Michelle Clunie. When they conceived, Skopek was among the first to know. Their son was born in January 2015.)
Skopek was 18 in 2013 when he moved to L.A. from Phoenix, hoping to launch a music career. Shortly after, a friend brought him to a Halloween party, where he met Bryan Singer, who was dressed in a priest’s habit, with lipstick kisses all over his face. Skopek and Singer took a photo together and exchanged contact information.
A month later, Singer invited Skopek to a birthday dinner at Nobu, an upscale restaurant in West Hollywood, that he was hosting for a friend. (According to Skopek and two other sources, this friend was one of several people who curried favor with Singer by introducing him to young men they thought he would like.) After dinner, Singer, Skopek, and several others went back to Singer’s house, where they all took the party drug Molly and went to Bryan’s bedroom. “Bryan had me [and two other men] in the bed,” Skopek says. “And we probably all took turns fucking Bryan.”
Skopek says Singer liked to call him his “favorite late-night snack,” and Skopek felt certain the director liked him because he looked very young. As he told Deadline Hollywood, Singer would sometimes offer him up to his friends. In that article, he recounted Singer texting someone: “Hey, I have little Bret here. I want you to come over and do him.” Skopek told us he didn’t participate that time.
Skopek says Singer told him he could help him with his career, even dangling an X-Men audition. (Singer denied this and said that Skopek asked him for a role in X-Men: Apocalypse. He also said that Skopek frequently asked him for money.) “I got a photograph with him, and my sister would be like, ‘That’s so cool you know the director of X-Men,’ ” Skopek recalls. “I had my grandparents saying, ‘Keep making contacts like that; that’s so awesome.’ ”
Skopek never got an audition. He worked at a fast-casual restaurant, but didn’t earn enough to afford a permanent place to live. Sometimes, when he left Singer’s house after an overnight, he says the director would hand him $400, for “cab fare.” When he didn’t sleep at Singer’s mansion, Skopek would crash with friends, or stay with one of Singer’s pals, swapping sexual favors for a night of lodging. When all else failed, he stayed in a homeless shelter.
Not long after Egan filed his suit against Singer, Skopek says, Singer’s assistant handed him a big roll of cash—he recalls that it was about $10,000 in hundreds—and passed on a message that Skopek should find a place to stay. Skopek assumed this was because Singer’s private life had come under scrutiny.
By then, Skopek was growing tired of the drug-fueled orgies, and of waking up feeling used. He eventually moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where his father lived, and started writing a novel based on his time in Los Angeles. Skopek self-published The Prince of Darkness last spring.
Bohemian Rhapsody started generating buzz back in 2010, when it was still making its way through development. By the time the film went into production in September 2017, 20th Century Fox was clearly counting on it to be a hit. Rami Malek—the Emmy-winning star of Mr. Robot—was cast as Freddie Mercury, Queen’s front man, and Singer was at the helm with a budget of $60 million.
According to three sources who know what happened on and off the set, both Stacey Snider, the chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox, and Emma Watts, Fox’s vice chair and president of production, had had concerns when the project came their way with Singer already attached. But Singer had the support of the surviving members of Queen. The choice for Fox was to do the film with him or to not do it at all. According to the three sources, it wasn’t an easy decision.
Snider’s concerns weren’t about sexual-abuse allegations. As far as she knew, there had been only one case against Singer—Michael Egan’s—and it had been dismissed. Instead Snider was worried about Singer’s reputation for disappearing from sets. Before the film went into production, according to the three sources, Snider and Watts met with Singer, and Snider told him that she had two rules and that if he violated either one, he’d be fired: “Don’t break the law. And show up for work.”
Once production got under way, Malek and Singer feuded and Singer threw tantrums, at one point ripping a video monitor off a rig and slamming it on the ground. Tom Hollander, who plays Queen’s manager, reportedly found Singer’s behavior so abhorrent that he briefly quit the movie. The studio dispatched a team to the set, in London, to investigate.
Gregg Schneider, a now-estranged friend of Singer’s, says that he was with the director in London, and that Singer stormed off the set on November 21 and then didn’t leave his hotel suite for four days. Schneider describes Singer during this time as a “vortex of brokenness.”
At one point, Singer told Snider he was exhausted and asked that the production be delayed for more than a month—an extraordinary request on a major feature shoot, given salaries, schedules, and equipment and studio rentals. Snider angrily replied that she, too, was exhausted and told him to suck it up and finish the film. On November 26, Singer abandoned the movie entirely and returned to Los Angeles.
When Fox fired him a week later, Singer issued a statement saying that he had wanted to finish the film, but the studio had declined his request to delay production. He attributed his absences, in part, to “pressing health matters concerning one of my parents.”
Though it wasn’t yet public knowledge, Singer’s attorneys were again dealing with Jeff Herman, the attorney who had represented Michael Egan and the John Doe client. Herman was seeking a settlement for Cesar Sanchez-Guzman, the Seattle man who alleges that Singer raped him in 2003. “Bryan kept quiet about it at the time, but I could tell something was eating him up,” Gregg Schneider says.
Schneider was close with Singer from early 2014 until the spring of 2018. He says he used to feel certain the accusations against his friend were false. Like others we spoke with, he says he’s seen Singer check the IDs of young guys who approached him to make sure they were of age. But now he has doubts. Why was Singer friends with those men who allegedly found sexual partners for him? Why was he friends with Marc Collins-Rector, and why is he still friends with Gary Goddard?
Schneider says there are two sides to Singer: “When Bryan is sober, he can be great—generous to a fault, engaging, and so analytical when talking about films and history or doing his job so well, which he loves.” But Schneider says Singer becomes another person when he’s drinking and taking pills.
Two of Singer’s friends recounted a 2016 New Year’s Eve party they attended, at which Singer grabbed his much younger boyfriend by the hair and dragged him down a hallway. “Many of us regarded it as just another Bryan Singer moment,” one of the friends says. He figured Singer would eventually sober up and apologize. “That kind of behavior—out here, people put up with it.”
Cesar Sanchez-Guzman is 32 years old now; his civil complaint against Singer details an alleged rape in 2003, when he was 17. As soon as Sanchez-Guzman’s suit was made public, Singer’s attorneys seized on Jeff Herman’s involvement. “We are confident that this case will turn out the same way the Egan case did,” the statement said. “And once Bryan prevails, he will pursue his own claims for malicious prosecution.” (Singer denies ever having met Sanchez-Guzman.)
Sanchez-Guzman says that soon after he filed the complaint, men in trench coats began loitering outside the watch boutique where he works. (His boss confirmed this.) Sanchez-Guzman called mall security and then the police. One of the men revealed himself to be a private investigator from a firm that specializes in “civil-litigation support” but told police that he was surveilling someone else at the store. Sanchez-Guzman has also received anonymous, threatening voicemails, which he shared with us: Hey, Guzman, fuck you, you scumbag cocksucker. Give me a call, you faggot. He’s gotten dozens of calls like this. (Singer’s attorney said that no one associated with Singer has ever threatened or harassed Sanchez-Guzman.)
Sanchez-Guzman’s parents are born-again Christians, and as a teen he felt he had to hide his sexuality around them. But he hung out at a Seattle LGBTQ center, where he made friends who introduced him to the local party scene. He was figuring out who he was. “You went to those parties to find your first boyfriend,” he says. That’s what he wanted.
Some of these new friends invited him to parties thrown by a local tech millionaire named Lester Waters. Sanchez-Guzman recalls that sometimes 60 kids would show up at Waters’s mansion, many of them under the age of 18. Booze flowed freely. Waters was friendly but didn’t say much, and Sanchez-Guzman thought he looked harmless—like a middle-aged dad. During a party one night, Waters invited Sanchez-Guzman to join him and some close friends on a yacht the next day—they would sail from Lake Union into Lake Washington. Sanchez-Guzman was floored by the offer. The next morning, at the marina, Waters introduced him to his friends, including Bryan Singer. (Waters did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
According to Sanchez-Guzman, roughly 20 people were on board the yacht—most of them teenage boys. He didn’t know anyone but Waters. Early in the night, Singer was friendly and flirtatious. Later, the director offered to give Sanchez-Guzman a tour of the yacht. They found their way to a small room.
Sanchez-Guzman says he’s relived what happened next many times. In conversation, he seems physically unable to repeat the details, saying only “And then Singer did what he did.” But the civil complaint describes the alleged attack in detail:
[Singer] approached Cesar and thrust his body on him. Bryan Singer then forced Cesar to the floor, shoved Cesar’s face against his crotch area and demanded Cesar perform oral sex on him. Bryan Singer pulled out his penis, smacked Cesar in the face with it and forced it into Cesar’s mouth.
Later in the attack, according to the suit, Singer “forcibly anally penetrated Cesar. Cesar pleaded for him to stop.”
Afterward, Sanchez-Guzman says he found Waters above deck and told him what had happened; he says Waters laughed and told him he should feel lucky. Then, Sanchez-Guzman recalls, “Bryan approached me wearing this grotesque smile. Like he was laughing.” Sanchez-Guzman says Singer told him to keep his mouth shut: “Nobody is going to believe you.” Sanchez-Guzman says Singer told him he was working on the next X-Men movie and he could help him get into the business. “I kept turning all of this around in my head, and I wanted to stay as far away from it as I could.”
Sanchez-Guzman says he couldn’t bring himself to tell his parents what had happened; they still didn’t know he was gay. But the next day he called his best friend, who asked to be identified only as Rene. By her account, Sanchez-Guzman was in tears when he called her. He went to her house and told her what had happened the night before. “He told me everything,” Rene says. “Singer locking them in the room. The assault. Afterwards how Lester Waters blew him off, saying it was normal. And then Singer saying afterwards that nobody would believe him, because money talks. My mom and I tried convincing him to go to the police, but he said he couldn’t. Coming out was the hardest thing for him to do.”
Sanchez-Guzman tried to erase the event from his life. In 2005, he married a woman with whom he’d been friends since childhood. She was from the same small town in Mexico as Sanchez-Guzman’s family. “Marriage was the easy thing for me, the best way to hold my parents at bay,” he says. “When this thing happened to me, with Bryan, that just made it even more difficult for me, because I was like, If my parents find out about this situation, if my family finds out about it … My mother has high blood pressure. She would have had a heart attack.” The couple stayed married for eight years but never lived under the same roof. Sanchez-Guzman didn’t bring his wife to London when he went there to study fashion and marketing the year after their wedding. He says being with him wouldn’t have been good for her: He suffered from extreme anxiety and depression. He didn’t have health insurance and, back in Seattle, went deep into debt. Eventually he filed for bankruptcy.
In April 2018, four months after he filed his complaint, a British media consultant and journalist named Lee Harpin emailed Jeff Herman with disconcerting information. Harpin said a source had told him that associates of Singer’s were reporting Sanchez-Guzman and his ex-wife to the IRS and immigration authorities. That the couple had failed to live together meant they’d violated naturalization eligibility laws, leaving Sanchez-Guzman worried that his ex‑wife’s green card could be revoked. (Singer’s lawyer said that no one connected with Singer has reported Sanchez-Guzman.)
In May, Singer’s lawyers forced Sanchez-Guzman to reopen his bankruptcy case, on the Kafkaesque grounds that he hadn’t declared a potential lawsuit against Singer as an asset. Until the bankruptcy proceeding is settled, the Singer suit cannot proceed.
When Sanchez-Guzman filed his lawsuit, he was certain that doing so would help him heal. More than a year later, that feeling is long forgotten. He’s depressed by how slowly his case is moving, and frustrated that months go by without an update from his lawyers. He wasn’t surprised when Bohemian Rhapsody won the Golden Globe for best drama. “The industry will brush things under the rug and pretend nothing happened,” he says. “Most people don’t see the truth.”
This article appears in the March 2019 print edition with the headline “‘Nobody Is Going to Believe You.’”