How does a 28-year-old woman from Kent, England, with a thin résumé of bit parts in a few movies play a major role in the fall of two Hollywood moguls?
That’s the question that has riveted if not rocked the industry this week after NBCUniversal executive Ron Meyer acknowledged paying hush-money to actress Charlotte Kirk to cover up a years-old affair that spiraled into an alleged extortion plot, leading to his ouster from his longtime perch at the studio.
Meyer was the second mogul embroiled in a sex scandal with Kirk to be toppled in less than two years.
Last year, former Warner Bros. studio head Kevin Tsujihara resigned after text messages suggesting he would find film roles for Kirk, with whom he had a sexual relationship, became public. Tsujihara denied having a direct role in securing her roles.
The end began nine years ago in 2011 when Meyer, then 66, attended a film premiere in London hosted by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., where he was introduced to Kirk, an aspiring actress. She was 19 at the time.
Upon their meeting, Kirk told Meyer that she was going to be in Los Angeles. He responded that she should give him a call when she was in town. The pair began talking. A year after they first met, they became sexually involved.
The relationship was brief — two encounters during a two-week period, according to someone with knowledge of the relationship who was not authorized to comment publicly.
While the extramarital affair ended, Kirk continued to reach out to Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal, seeking his advice on the industry and acting roles.
Last year, Meyer agreed to pay Kirk $2 million in four installments and, in exchange, she signed a nondisclosure agreement, according to three sources familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment. At least one payment in the amount of $500,000 was made, the three sources said.
Kirk did not respond to requests for comment.
Rather than put an end to the matter, things escalated.
Meyer found himself in a dispute with Kirk's associates. Joshua Newton, Kirk’s former boyfriend who directed her in the in the low-budget film “Nicole & O.J.,” and her current boyfriend, director Neil Marshall, who directed 2019’s “Hellboy” and episodes of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” became aware of Kirk’s affair with Meyer and the subsequent settlement.
According to three sources familiar with the matter, over the last year the two directors ratcheted up pressure on Meyer, threatening to expose the affair and bring the information to Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal, if Meyer did not assist with their projects.
Late last week, Meyer divulged his secret settlement to NBCUniversal. By Monday night, there were plans for him to part ways with the company.
“I made this disclosure because other parties learned of the settlement and have continuously attempted to extort me into paying them money or else they intended to falsely implicate NBCUniversal, which had nothing to do with this matter, and to publish false allegations about me,” Meyer said in a statement.
Newton could not be reached for comment. Marshall and his representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement to Deadline, Marshall denied he attempted to extort Meyer, saying the claims were "nothing but lies based on falsehoods" and that his fiancée, Kirk, was the victim of a "witch hunt" that was "perpetrated by overprivileged men in positions of power."
Larry Caldwell, a Woodland Hills lawyer said to be representing Newton, declined to confirm that Newton was his client. Caldwell did call Meyer’s characterization of extortion a “false narrative.”
As the alleged pressure campaign mounted, representatives of Meyer’s contacted the FBI. A spokesperson for the FBI said, “While the FBI cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, it will investigate any allegation of extortion to determine if federal law has been violated.”
After studying acting in London, at 19, Kirk moved to the U.S. She’s had parts in the 2015 thriller “Vice” and the 2018 film “Ulysses: A Dark Odyssey.”
Kirk’s latest role is in the horror film “The Reckoning,” directed by Marshall. The film was set to screen Thursday during Montreal’s virtual Fantasia Festival in an event showcasing new genre films.
Kirk and Marshall were scheduled to participate in a Q&A about the film, but a spokeswoman for the festival told The Times in an email that while the film will screen there will be no Q&A as originally planned.
Despite the notoriety Kirk has attracted, those who have worked with her speak positively of the actress. Two independent filmmakers who worked on projects featuring Kirk described her as professional and easy to deal with.
Craig Williams, a director, producer and composer, cast her in his 2016 pilot, “The Demo,” a dark comedy in which a woman takes revenge for casting couch abuses in Hollywood.
“Charlotte is a unique woman,” he said in a telephone interview. “ When it all came out, we chuckled and said, ‘It’s kind of like the film.’”
Italian director Federico Alotto cast Kirk as Kaly (a modern version of the goddess Calypso) in his first feature, “Ulysses: A Dark Odyssey,” after meeting her at the Beverly Hills Film Festival in 2014.
“I chose Charlotte because, the first time I saw her, she was blond, she had this angel face, she was perfect,” he said, adding that he found her “really professional with me and my actors.”
A third filmmaker, who declined to be named out of fear of reprisals, noted that when Kirk went after roles, it was apparent that she had high-profile relationships throughout the industry. But he had no idea about the scandals that would soon envelop her.
“She was one of those people we hoped would blow up in a positive way,” this person said. “There was a sense that she was going places.”
It was Kirk’s relationship with Tsujihara and other notable Hollywood men, however, that thrust her name into the limelight.
Kirk appeared in minor roles in two Warner Bros. movies: the 2018 caper film “Ocean’s 8” and the 2016 New Line Cinema romantic comedy “How to Be Single.”
The text messages, first revealed in a Hollywood Reporter article detailing her relationship with Tsujihara, also chronicled what appeared to be a campaign to get her meetings and auditions.
They also disclosed that Kirk had a relationship with Australian billionaire James Packer, who introduced Kirk to Tsujihara. Packer had a business partnership with director Brett Ratner, and together they secured a $450-million deal with Warner Bros.
Among the text messages, Kirk texted Ratner and suggested she was “used as icing on the cake” for the deal between Warner Bros. and Ratner’s company.
In an interview with DailyMailTV last year, Kirk said that she didn’t consider herself a victim. “I wasn’t forced into anything, and I did what I wanted to do — good or bad,” but added that she would make different choices now. “I regret doing that.”
In a separate interview with the Daily Mail, her mother defended her daughter and said was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as a young girl.
Several reports have suggested that Meyer advised Kirk when she was pursuing a settlement with Tsujihara.
Meyer’s exit marked a stunning end to a long career. He became president of Universal Studios 25 years ago and previously was in charge of the theme parks and movie-studio operations until he took on a more advisory role in 2013.
Meyer is known for his tight relationships with industry insiders, including Steven Spielberg. He’s beloved for his penchant for calling friends to check in with them and his ability to soothe fragile Hollywood egos.
He also was known for having a high-stakes gambling habit for many years.
Last year, Meyer filed a $10-million lawsuit against two art dealers, claiming they sold him a forged Mark Rothko painting in 2001.
In May 2018, Meyer and his wife Kelly Chapman separated after 25 years of marriage.
The following year, he listed his compound on Pacific Coast Highway for a jaw-dropping $125 million. Meyer sold the property that sits on a three-plus-acre bluff overlooking the ocean, for $100 million in September, $25 million less than the asking price.
Meyer had taken out multiple mortgage loans on the property since 2014, in excess of $100 million, including more than $84 million from Hankey Capital, the investment company headed by local billionaire Don Hankey, The Times reported at the time.
“I’ve spent 25 years helping to grow and support an incredible company in a job I love,” Meyer said in the statement. “It is the people at this company that I will miss the most. I regret what has happened, and I am sorry for all the people in my life I may have let down, especially and most importantly, my family.”
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.