Three of Hollywood's biggest names shine a light on Fox News' devastating sexual harassment scandal, writes Dominic Corry.

Before there was Harvey Weinstein, there was Roger Ailes.

It's generally perceived the October 2017 reports about film producer Harvey Weinstein's behaviour ignited the still-evolving reckoning around sexual harassment and assault in media industries.

But in reality, there were several notable precedents in the lead-up to the Weinstein scandal, the most significant of which is the subject of the new film Bombshell, which stars three of Hollywood's most in-demand talents: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie.

Bombshell chronicles how infamous Fox News chief executive/right-wing propaganda enthusiast Roger Ailes was ousted from the conservative "news" network he ran for 20 years in mid-2016 after being accused of the repeated sexual harassment of hosts Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), Megyn Kelly (Theron) and a number of other employees.

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Ailes died in 2017, denying the allegations all the way. In Bombshell and assisted by prosthetic makeup from Oscar-winner Kazu Hiro (Mindhunter, Darkest Hour), legendary character actor John Lithgow plays Ailes. (Russell Crowe won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the same character in TV series The Loudest Voice.)

Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes in Bombshell. Photo / Supplied
Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes in Bombshell. Photo / Supplied

Theron, who is also a producer on the film, tells TimeOut during an interview in Los Angeles that Ailes' ousting from Fox News set the stage for more powerful men to be held to account.

"It was really the thing that catapulted us into this new wave of MeToo and TimesUp," says Theron, referencing the hashtags associated with the movement. "What's happened now is that women are realising that when women come together there is a strength that is undeniable."

Theron says she has witnessed major changes in the film industry. "There's way more importance placed on the work environment; what does it feel like, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. We still have a very long way to go. I think it was important for us to not have this movie feel like a victory. Because it's still happening and we have to continue the fight."

Robbie plays a composite character named Kayla Pospisil, a young Fox News employee based on several real-life women who detailed harassment at the hands of Ailes.

In Bombshell's most devastating scene, she meets the chief executive in his office to discuss her career advancement and Ailes forces her to undress for him. Robbie says she has been encouraged by reaction to the film.

Nicole Kidman stars as Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in Bombshell. Photo / Supplied
Nicole Kidman stars as Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in Bombshell. Photo / Supplied

"Last night after watching it, a guy came up to me and said: 'Being in that room with Kayla when she experienced sexual harassment, that's the closest I've come to understanding what it might be like to be sexually harassed,'" Robbie tells TimeOut.

"And I was like, 'Wow. If men watch this movie and have empathy for women who've experienced sexual harassment, I think that is so hugely important to the movement.' So I hope a lot of men see this movie."

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Kidman believes the story represents an important moment that transcends what the film is about.

"It is a moment in history that was the catalyst for enormous change. The storytelling is so strong and it is told from the female point of view, which is very powerful. It's entertaining but still strong. That was really appealing."

As Kidman says, Bombshell is surprisingly humorous at times, especially considering the subject matter. Theron says it was important for the film to not be an entirely sombre affair.

"We've been screening the movie to a lot of people and the thing we keep hearing is the level of surprise," says Theron. "That they weren't expecting this story to look
like this, to sound like this, to feel like this. So that's also a really nice thing that I think is important when you make a film. You want people to not think that they can predict the movie. And people have not been able to predict this film."

Although the injustices it chronicles are pretty evident, Theron says Bombshell was not designed to be prescriptive.

"What's happened now is that women are realising that when women come together there is a strength that is undeniable," says Charlize Theron, who stars in Bombshell. Photo / Supplied

"You want to make a film that has so many dimensions to it that people feel differently about it," says the Oscar-winner. "So if this can generate conversation, not necessarily just one-sided conversation, but a two-sided, three-sided conversation, that would be great."

"It doesn't matter what politics you have," says Kidman. "It's a brilliant, empathetic story."
Robbie tells TimeOut that working on the project enlightened her about the legal definition of sexual harassment.

"Originally the first lines of this script were the definition of sexual harassment. It was a voiceover from [Ailes' lawyer] Susan Estrich saying what sexual harassment is. I was like: 'Holy s***, that's sexual harassment?' And I was like, 'Well, if sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention, in that case, I don't know a single woman who hasn't been sexually harassed on some level.' And that was just astounding to me."

WHO'S WHO IN BOMBSHELL?

Nicole Kidman plays former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes in 2016.

Under some remarkable, yet subtle, makeup, South African-born Charlize Theron plays controversial former Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

Character actor John Lithgow (who memorably played Winston Churchill in The Crown), also under some remarkable makeup, plays Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, who died in 2017.

Iconic English actor Malcolm McDowell, familiar for everything from A Clockwork Orange to Entourage, plays Australian media titan Rupert Murdoch, who took over as Fox News chief executive when Ailes was pushed out.

Aussie actor brothers Ben and Josh Lawson play Rupert's sons/Fox executives, Lachlan and James Murdoch.

Making a huge impact with only minimal screentime, Alanna Ubach (Legally Blonde) is hilarious as Fox News host Jeanine Pirro.

• Bombshell is now in theatres.