The text from billionaire film financier James Packer to his girlfriend, British actress Charlotte Kirk, could not have been clearer. ‘I have the opportunity of a lifetime for u,’ it read. ‘Come to [the hotel] Bel Air now. You will never be able to repay me.’ He was promising to introduce her to ‘the most important man you will ever meet’.
Small-town dreams have always been at the beck and call of Tinseltown’s money and power, and Charlotte, then 21, didn’t hesitate. The film boss to whom she was to get a golden introduction that night was one of Hollywood’s biggest names – Kevin Tsujihara, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros.
She spent an hour with the two men in Packer’s suite in the Bel Air, sharing industry gossip. Before she left, she exchanged phone numbers with Tsujihara, setting in motion a sex-for-auditions scandal which has detonated just as communications giant AT&T completes a £63 billion takeover of Time Warner.
Tsujihara, 56, is under investigation and has had to apologise publicly to every one of his employees as well as, one assumes, his wife.
British actress Charlotte Kirk (pictured) became involved with Warner boss Kevin Tsujihara
Charlotte has been portrayed as a modern-day Becky Sharp, the Vanity Fair heroine who cynically uses her looks and charm to secure advancement. The Hollywood casting couch looks as rumpled as ever and accusations of extortion, blackmail, lying and hypocrisy have all followed.
Most toxic of all is industry speculation that the undoubted charms of Charlotte were used as a sweetener for a £350 million film deal Packer’s company was doing with Warner. (Denials by all parties have done little to quell this gossip.)
Until now, Charlotte has publicly protected Tsujihara and her own reputation by denying anything improper passed between. Today, however, she admits they did become lovers after an evening drinking Grey Goose martinis in a West Hollywood boutique hotel. That was in February 2014 and they met up for a second time before the incipient affair fizzled out.
There is speculation that Charlotte’s charms were used as a ‘sweetener’ for boyfriend James Packer’s £350 million film deal
It would have remained their private business but for the fact that a sensational string of texts covering a three-year period from 2014 to 2017 have been published by The Hollywood Reporter.
Their contents – the actress asking for help to get auditions, Tsujihara agreeing, Packer and his business partner Brett Ratner trying to help him back out and keep Charlotte quiet – serve to drag the actress, the movie boss, the billionaire financier and his partner into an imbroglio from which no one emerges well.
‘It was not casting-couch sex,’ says Charlotte, 26, and back in London preparing to shoot a new movie. ‘Kevin might have thought I was on his casting couch but my sense of self-worth is such that I thought I was just having sex with a man I fancied. Like any normal women, I kept on good terms and in touch afterwards.
‘Hollywood pivots on helpful friends. You can talk to someone differently after you have been intimate with them. There is a connection. You don’t say, “Get me a role”, but you expect openness and honesty when you have been lovers and you expect them to be there for you as a friend. In my case, that meant him potentially directing me towards auditions, helping me get into the room.
‘Whatever work I got from an audition would be on my own professional acting ability and merit.’
Charlotte’s career was indeed flourishing with roles in blockbuster movies Ocean’s 8 with Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock and How To Be Single alongside Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson.
‘If I’d been a man I would have had a pat on the back,’ she says. ‘Instead, because I am a young woman, I am accused of being a slut and a conniving, calculating one at that. Women like powerful men. Power is attractive – anyone who doesn’t believe that needs to look at the history of Hollywood or politics or big business. I liked Kevin, there was chemistry.
The leaked text messages included the actress asking Kevin Tsujihara (right) for help to get auditions, and James Packer (left) and his business partner Brett Ratner (centre) trying to help him back out and keep Charlotte quiet
‘Los Angeles is full of very talented people working in bars, not in front of cameras. They are never discovered, sadly. Luck plays a part in making it. So does timing. The stars have to be aligned.’
However, it’s clear that by September 2014, the studio boss was becoming evasive.
‘I value myself, I have sufficient confidence in who I am to think I shouldn’t not matter to someone else, however wealthy and powerful they are. I did not come this far’ – she means from her working-class Kent roots – ‘to be treated as though I’m disposable as a friend.’
It’s hard to square this sense of self-worth with a young woman who admits she’s turned on by older, powerful men undoubtedly in a position to advance her career.
What’s more admirable is that, having had choices she squared with her own conscience made explosively public, she has chosen not to hide behind the MeToo movement and fake a victimhood that she clearly does not feel. ‘That would cheapen all the men and women who have genuinely been exploited. That’s not me. I had a relationship with Kevin because I wanted to.’
‘Hollywood pivots on helpful friends. You can talk to someone differently after you have been intimate with them. There is a connection. You don’t say, “Get me a role”, but you expect openness and honesty,’ says Kirk
There are perhaps three elements at work which help explain this almost reckless honesty – most notably seen in her heartfelt texts, many of which she now regrets.
First, Charlotte is on the autistic spectrum, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when she was six. She doesn’t think before she speaks and she doesn’t do social nuance, either face to face or verbally. She believes what she is told and has rigid expectations.
‘I don’t use it as an excuse but I guess it might explain some things,’ she says ruefully.
Second, she’s been slugging it out in Hollywood since she arrived there as an Italia Conti-trained hopeful aged just 19. Her mother is a carer, her father an electrician. She was raised in Bexley and only turned to drama as a way of helping her cope with her Asperger’s. She remains determined to make it in Hollywood. ‘They [Packer, Ratner and Tsujihara] may be rich and powerful but they massively underestimated me,’ she says.
Third, and most curiously, was Charlotte’s genuine relationship with Packer, the son of Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer now perhaps best known for his failed engagement to singer Mariah Carey.
By Charlotte’s account, theirs was a full-blown seven-month romance which, when it ended, broke her heart. The night she received the Bel Air text from Packer, it came at a time when he was returning her calls and messages less frequently.
She was just 20 when she met him at an industry party where Warren Beatty was the VIP guest. Packer, more than twice her age, called her the next day and in a scene straight from the Pretty Woman playbook, said he wanted to take her shopping. ‘You can have whatever you want,’ he told her. ‘Cars, clothes…’ Soon they were on Rodeo Drive, LA’s most prestigious shopping street.
He bought his date a £50,000 diamond-encrusted Rolex she admired and would have bought more but, Charlotte says, she stopped him.
A week later she became Packer’s girlfriend and spent many happy hours with him in the Bel Air. ‘It was a proper relationship, I wasn’t hidden away, we were cosy together, lying on the bed watching a movie and sharing a bag of Haribos,’ she says. Their pet name for each other was Boo. This is the hinterland to that ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ text which came within days of Packer and Ratner, a producer and director with major credits on films such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant and Johnny Depp’s Black Mass, concluding their deal with Warner.
‘That was my Cinderella story. I loved James. I thought we had a future. Since when was Cinders criticised for running off with her prince?’ she says. It’s telling, however, that when Packer met a woman he really did want to spend the rest of his life with – Carey – he presented her with a £10 million 35-carat diamond engagement ring.
Kevin Tsujihara (pictured) apologized to WarnerMedia staff on Friday after his alleged affair with British actress Charlotte Kirk was exposed
Back then, Charlotte was scrabbling on the foothills of fame with appearances in some films that she admits she’d be happy to forget. But she had also enjoyed other more substantial projects, including a Bruce Willis movie, before she encountered Tsujihara.
After her split from Packer, Charlotte was free to network as she chose with Tsujihara: he was married but she was unattached.
She was saddened by the end of her relationship and believed herself to be on the rebound. Her texts to Tsujihara, though, do not make for savoury reading: ‘You’re very busy I know but when we were in that motel having sex u said u would help me and when u just ignore me like you are doing now it makes me feel used. Are u going to help me like u said?’
His response – ‘Sorry you feel that way, [an executive] will be reaching out to you tonight’ – suggests he was initially keen. There are many others between them, ranging from flirty to demanding. There are also screeds between Charlotte and Packer and Ratner, with both demanding that she stopped asking for Tsujihara’s help. Some appear to show Charlotte complaining she’d been used as ‘the icing on the cake’ for the finance deal between the trio, saying ‘It’s gross what you all did to me.’
Today she says she does not believe this to be true. ‘I don’t recognise some of the texts and I believe they may have been doctored. Certainly, they have been chosen and weaponised for their lascivious value and taken out of context. I said some stupid things. Everyone speaks in the heat of the moment and says stuff they don’t mean. You say something face to face and it’s gone – in a text it is there for ever.
‘I might have felt used at the time but I don’t now. Not at all. I was sad it ended badly. I did not pick a fight but I had to fight when one was brought to me. I was not intimidated or embarrassed and my real regret is that those friendships turned out be fragile.’ Indeed they did, with Packer eventually telling her: ‘Get back in your box.’
The key question is who released the texts which hurt Charlotte and must surely threaten Tsujihara’s ascendancy within the new power structure at Warner Media. She adamantly claims they were stolen from her phone by a former friend who knew of her relationships with Packer and Tsujihara and betrayed her. Industry sources suggest she leaked them herself in a headline-grabbing act of vengeance, but she says: ‘I didn’t. That would have been an act of supreme self-sabotage.’
The texts emerged in 2017, but Tsujihara denied them. They surfaced again a year later but an inquiry revealed no sign of misconduct. Now the executive has been forced to admit ‘mistakes in his personal life and embarrassment to the company’. Last night, a Warner spokesman said: ‘As far as any personal details relating to Mr Tsujihara, we wouldn’t comment.’
Charlotte said: ‘This was a regrettable period when I was young and naive. I’m a professional and I work tirelessly to improve my craft.’
She has just finished shooting Nicole And O J, a movie about O J Simpson, in which she has the lead female role. She is also developing a writing career and will soon start filming a movie called The Reckoning with British Game Of Thrones director Neil Marshall.
‘It’s about an innocent woman being persecuted for being a witch,’ says Charlotte. ‘Talk about ironic.’
Sensational texts with a film backer
After meeting Tsujihara in early 2014, Charlotte texts Packer: ‘His [sic] not very nice. He just wants to ****, nothing else, does not even want to say anything!’
March 2014, Tsujihara to Charlotte: ‘I’ve got a dinner in santa monica next Thursday night – u want to meet up after?? We’re also beginning to cast some cable tv pilots.’
September 2014, Charlotte to Tsujihara: ‘So your going to speak with Richard [Hollywood producer Richard Brener]?’
October 2014, Charlotte to Packer: ‘Putting me in one of your many movies shouldn’t be a big deal… I did help u out with Kevin which was hard for me but I did it for you.’
When Charlotte then threatened legal action, Packer replied: ‘Can’t wait tough girl… Get back in your box or let’s fight.’
March 2015, Charlotte to Tsujihara: ‘When we were in that motel having sex u said u would help me and when u just ignore me – it makes me feel used.’