That is the driving plotline of “Tape,” a movie opening in online screenings this week, with a villain whose words and actions might seem too brazen to be real. “I need to know, as a performer, you have the capacity to do this,” he tells the reluctant Pearl, adding, “You’re in control of all of this.”
But the film is based on an actress’s description of an encounter with an actual agent, and off screen, recent lawsuits filed by models describe similar behavior by the same man, a little-known player in the entertainment industry’s backwaters. He is 41, lives in Brooklyn, and he is, as they say, having a moment.
His name is Brhonson Lexier St. Surin and, after at least 10 years of dwelling on the fringes of the film and modeling industries, he finds himself in separate simultaneous spotlights — a movie that draws attention to two lawsuits that in turn seem to closely track the plot of the movie.
The accusations are also a reminder that young women with ambition in the entertainment industry are far more likely to encounter a little-known agent who meets clients at a Starbucks in Chelsea than a cigar-chomping mogul who can make or break Hollywood careers.
And these incidents were not from a bygone era — the women said their encounters with St. Surin took place as recently as 2017.
“It is the culture that we as women live in,” Deborah Kampmeier, the director of “Tape,” said in an interview. “It’s right now. It’s not back then.”
St. Surin, leaving a court hearing in Brooklyn on March 3, declined to discuss the case. “I can’t comment on the allegations,” he said. He is representing himself in court and said his filings would speak for him. He did not respond to follow-up requests for comment.
The film was scheduled to open in an East Village theater before the coronavirus outbreak closed the city’s cinemas. Instead, “Tape” will screen online at 7 p.m. Thursday, followed by screenings at the same time every evening through April 9. Each screening will be followed by an online panel discussion; the creators hope to replicate the experience of being together in a theater.
“Tape” is based on the account of an actress, Annarosa Mudd, who works with Kampmeier and helped turn her story into the film. She also joined the cast — not to play the actress but to portray a former victim-turned-avenger who is stalking the agent.
Mudd, 35, said in an interview that she met St. Surin in 2010 through Casting Networks, a site for actors seeking exposure. “I am eager to learn and to develop myself into a professional,” she wrote in an email exchange with the man who went by “Lex” that she shared with The New York Times.
She was invited to audition for a reality show about young actors and met St. Surin at a rehearsal space near Astor Place in Manhattan. “He seemed like the people you meet when you do that,” she said. “He knew how to create a dialogue that created support and comfort.”
She was told she wasn’t selected for the show, and the following day, she received an email from St. Surin: “Your potential was impeded by your fear, nervousness and lack of preparation,” he wrote, before offering to place her in his “protégé program.”
“As a protégé you will have a certain set of responsibilities to me as your patron,” he wrote, according to the emails provided by Mudd. He offered to help her “expression and body articulation” in a screen test that would include “a love-scene and a fight-scene.”
She agreed. The two met at an apartment in downtown Brooklyn in March 2010. Together, they acted from a script about a husband and wife facing hard times.
The scene included a kiss that was “like acting,” Mudd said, but then St. Surin told her she needed to appear nude in another scene. Then came another twist: “At some point it was revealed that we were going to have actual sex on camera,” she said.
She said that she objected and stalled for time, and that St. Surin — who had already disrobed — matter of factly stated his case, over some hours, for shooting the scene. The incident is portrayed in “Tape,” with the actor playing an agent named “Lux,” Tarek Bishara, nude and sharing “my knowledge of the sacred arts, both ancient and modern.”
In the film, as in Mudd’s account, the actress agreed. St. Surin asked Mudd to state, on camera, that she consented to the scene and that she was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, she said.
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Pearl, played by Isabelle Fuhrman (“Orphan”), rationalizes that a shot at a career in film is worth an uncomfortable act. Watching that scene being filmed and recalling her own experience, Mudd said, “I saw someone just dealing with a problem, and I stopped feeling like an idiot.”
Then, St. Surin took her to dinner at an International House of Pancakes restaurant, Mudd said. He gave her a contract that she reviewed and refused to sign. “I would hate to tell anyone how I got that contract,” she wrote St. Surin in an email days later. “It seemed like such a cliché.”
“I wish you would have said something to me when we left the IHOP,” St. Surin replied. “I truly hope you don’t beat yourself up psychologically. You did nothing wrong in surrendering to the moment.”
Mudd took her next acting opportunity quickly, a small Shakespeare production, followed by others. She said she told a friend about the incident; that friend confirmed this week that she remembered Mudd’s account clearly. Then, Mudd said, she put aside her memories for years, until she revealed them to Kampmeier in 2016.
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Only after the filming of “Tape” was completed did Mudd learn of two lawsuits naming St. Surin. One was filed last year but was withdrawn and replaced with a new version this month, when St. Surin was served with a copy in a Brooklyn courtroom.
A second lawsuit has four anonymous plaintiffs, all models alleging breach of contract and emotional abuse. Both were brought by the same lawyer, Steven Fairchild.
The models alleged in the lawsuit that they answered a casting call for a project described as “a fine art series that exhibits the seductive and alluring power of the female form and essence,” to be used for a “private collection and a museum exhibition” that would include “nudity and/or sexual situations.”
One model, Anne Therese Gennari, 28, one of the four anonymous plaintiffs who agreed to be quoted by name, said she auditioned for a spot in the project in a studio near Astor Place. She was rejected, she said, but was called back by St. Surin. She arrived to find another model already there.
St. Surin instructed the women to kiss on camera, which “lasted a long time and made them feel awkward and uncomfortable,” the lawsuit states.
“I look back now and I’m ashamed of it,” Gennari said in an interview, “but at that time, in that position, you’re like, ‘Get out of your comfort zone, this is fine.’”
St. Surin “solicited sexual favors from the models,” the lawsuit claims. “However, they refused.”
Another plaintiff, Nikkol Irene Wade of Virginia, alleged in an interview and in the lawsuit that she, too, left after St. Surin said her shoot would include sex.
A third, who lives in Michigan, said in an interview and alleged in the lawsuit — where she is referred to as Plaintiff 4 — that she traveled to New York in November 2017 for a photo shoot with Surin.
“During this photographic session, Defendant Surin required Plaintiff 4 to perform sexual favors on him” and to “wear a mask while he coerced her into intercourse,” the lawsuit states. He used “professional equipment” and his cellphone to record the incident, the lawsuit states.
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She said she flew home the next day, shortly before a family gathering for Thanksgiving and new developments in the #MeToo cases.
“One of my relatives was saying about the Harvey Weinstein victim: ‘What was she doing at his hotel room at midnight? What was she thinking?’” the woman said, asking that her name be withheld. “I thought, ‘I could never tell them what happened to me.’ There’s only two friends in my whole life who actually know about this.”
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None of the women interviewed said they had seen any footage of themselves in the years since the alleged incidents. Mudd, the actress, asked St. Surin in her parting emails to destroy any footage out of “decency.” St. Surin seemed to take offense, “as if I am a child that needs to be lectured on integrity and virtue.”
Mudd said she hopes “Tape” helps women like the model in Michigan living with her secret.
“It’s too big of an issue to hide from,” she said. “I really want to be of service to people who are holding so much shame.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .