Why This Story of Sexual Harassment in Hollywood Is Unique

Dani Alvarado is one of the many accusers of filmmaker James Toback — and her experiences are now on film, in 'Lost Beneath the Stars'

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 27 Dec 2017 at 9:30 AM

Dani Alvarado — like dozens and dozens of other women — came forward recently with stories of the harassment she says she suffered at the hands of filmmaker James Toback. The difference between her story and that of so many others? It’s quite simple: Hers was told on film.

More specifically, her situation was revealed in a scene in her new short, “Lost Beneath the Stars” — which was partly inspired by her strange encounter with the director in 2011.

Alvarado (pictured above left) was putting together her film before the #MeToo movement and numerous sexual misconduct scandals came out of Hollywood — but the recent exposure of these cases has given her project extra attention.

Alvarado's Toback story is similar in its details to many of the tales from the more than 200 women who have accused the director of sexual harassment and/or assault.

Toback allegedly followed Alvarado on a New York City street and offered her a role in an upcoming project. As a struggling actress, she accepted — hesitantly — an invitation to a meeting. The meeting turned out to not be about a film role at all — but instead an opportunity for the director to try to make Alvarado perform strange sexual acts.

She eventually left the meeting, only to have Toback follow her into a cab. Finally she broke free of him when her stop came; she said before leaving, "You seem incredibly lost and searching for something. I will pray for you."

The odd encounter makes up the opening scene of Alvarado's new film.

Despite the serious and personal subject matter involved, Alvarado — who is originally from Canada and now resides in Los Angeles — described it to LifeZette in an exclusive interview as "very much a dramedy," something she didn't realize early on in the making of it.

The actress said it wasn't until she told her story and people responded to it with laughter that she realized the absurdity of the encounter could be translated into something positive and even relatable.

Related: Why the #MeToo Movement Is Targeting Matt Damon

"When I would share it [the story of meeting] with people, they would laugh, and I think it's because some of the elements of this story, almost all of them that are true, are so outrageous," she said.

She added, "As painful as it was, sometimes in retrospect the things [he said] were just so outlandish."

"Look, I know a star when I see one and you need to be making art. Let's partake in a trust exercise so I know we can work together," says the Toback character in "Lost Beneath Our Stars." That "trust exercise," as one can probably guess by now, has little to do with "trust."

Though the meeting turned out to be fraudulent and the role Toback promised didn't exist, Alvarado ultimately found humor in how things turned out.

"How ironic that I ended up writing a role for him," she said, laughing.

"How ironic that I ended up writing a role for him," she said, laughing.

Alvarado teamed up with her friend and fellow actress Claire Bermingham (pictured above right), to co-star in and produce (through their company, Four Leaf Films) "Lost Beneath the Stars" with her. The actresses met as struggling artists in Los Angeles when they were both working at the same Irish pub. They star in the movie as young women struggling to achieve their dreams of stardom.

"It was strangely cathartic," Alvarado said of putting her experiences into a film, especially the encounter with Toback — a point in time that originally left her feeling "ashamed" and "embarrassed."

Making the movie taught her a lesson she hopes the project imparts on viewers. "There's going to be struggle in the pursuit of your dream no matter what, but there's so much beauty to be had in that struggle," she said.

Related: Another Sexual Predator in Hollywood Faces Allegations

Bermingham, who is originally from Ireland, added to her co-star's thoughts, "Good things happen and bad things happen all the time, so it's how you take those experiences and channel them into your work, into your attitude, into your investments in the future that matters."

"This whole process has been incredibly healing," Alvarado added of the making of the film and putting her story into her art. She hopes audience members who see the film end up walking away from it with a sense of "hope."

Said Alvarado, "We took something that was painful, and we used it for something constructive."

"Lost Beneath the Stars" recently premiered at the Warsaw (Poland) Film Festival. Bermingham said they are currently exploring larger distribution options for the movie.

PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected] 

  1. metoo
  2. actress
  3. dani-alvarado
  4. hollywood
  5. james-toback
  6. leeman
  7. lost-beneath-the-stars
  8. sexual-assault
  9. sexual-harassment
  10. sexual-misconduct
You May Also Like...