Brooke Shields is speaking out for the first time about a sexual assault she experienced in her early 20s. The actress and model shares her story in Lana Wilson’s new two-part documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, which premiered today at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Although Shields doesn’t identify her assaulter in the film, she confirms it was someone she knew and was friendly with. “This is the first time I’ve ever spoken about what happened,” Shields says as she tearfully recounts her story.
At the time the assault occurred, the former child star was looking to re-start her acting career after stepping away from the spotlight to attend Princeton University. But her re-entry into Hollywood proved more difficult than expected. That was when her assaulter first reached out. “I had heard there was a movie being made, and I was in consideration,” Shields recalls in the film. “It was the first time since college that any interested was sort of expressed [in me].”
“We had a dinner,” she continues. “I thought it was a work meeting. I had met this person before, and he was always nice to me.” But the mood of the meeting abruptly changed midway through the meal, and she quickly began looking to make an exit. “I said, ‘I have to get a cab,’ and he said, ‘Come back to the hotel — I’ll call you a cab.'”
Following him up to his hotel room, Shields remembers being left alone for a period of time and feeling uncertain what to do. “I don’t want to go over to the phone, because it’s not my phone,” she says. “I don’t want to sit down, because I’m not staying.” While looking out at the view of the beach with a pair of binoculars, her assaulter re-emerged. “The door opens, and the person comes out naked,” she says. “I put the binoculars back and he was right on me.”
“It was like wrestling,” Shields describes, adding that she was too scared of being choked or hit to think of fighting back. “I just absolutely froze. I thought: ‘My one ‘No’ should have been enough. Stay alive and get out.”
During the assault, Shields says that she “disassociated” herself from her body, an experience she’d had earlier in her career on the set of the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli film Endless Love. While filming a love scene for that romance, Shields — who was 15 when the film was shot — remembers the late Italian director grabbing her toe and twisting it to capture the look of “ecstasy” that he wanted on camera.
“It was more fear than anything because he was hurting me,” Shields says in Pretty Baby. “I didn’t want to appear stupid our untalented, so I just disassociated. It’s like you’re [instantly] zooming out: seeing a situation, but you’re not connected to it. You instantly become. a vapor of yourself around something that’s happening.” (Zeffirelli also directed the 1968 film version of Romeo & Juliet that featured a brief nude scene with the film’s then-underage stars, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. Both actors are now suing Paramount over the scene.
When the assault ended, Shields recalls her still-nude attacker not even acknowledging what happened. “The next thing I know, the door is open and the person says, ‘I’ll see you around.’ I just said ‘Yeah,’ and walked out, went down in the elevator and got my own cab. I cried all the way to my friend’s apartment.”
According to Shields, she later confronted her assaulter in a letter rather than discuss the incident publicly. “I said, ‘That was a huge trust that was just blown up. How dare you? I’m better than that. I’m better than you are. That’s the way I dealt with things. I wanted to erase the whole thing from my mind and body and just keep on the path that I was on. The system had never once come to help me. So I just had to get stronger on my own.”
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter prior to the Sundance premiere of Pretty Baby, Shields said that she initially wasn’t sure if she’d share her story when she sat down to be interviewed by Wilson for the film. “I had no idea I was going to say it,” she explained, adding that the tenor of the #MeToo times made her realize now would be the right time to speak up. “I feel as a mother of two young girls that I hope that just by even hearing my incident that I can add myself to becoming an advocate. Because this is something that does happen every day, and it should not be happening. I felt that I had arrived at a place where I could talk about it. It’s taken me a long time.”
Premiering on Hulu later this year, Pretty Baby features Shields reflecting on many of her high-profile relationships, including with Michael Jackson, who she says was never a romantic partner despite the intense public scrutiny of their years-long friendship. “We met when I was 13 and we hung out,” she recalls in the film. “It was very childlike.”
“We were just really friends,” Shields continues. “But he always wanted to be sort of seen with me. If he would pick a restaurant, I would say, ‘How did [the paparazzi] know we were here?’ And then at one point, he said that we should adopt a child and raise a child together.”
The actress also indicates that Jackson lied when he told Oprah Winfrey that he and Shields were dating during a famous TV interview in 1993. “I called him [afterwards] and said, ‘What are you doing?'” she remembers. “‘I’m currently with my boyfriend in New York City! What are you doing?’ I eventually lost touch with him.”
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields premieres on Hulu later this year.