Amy Pascal broke her silence today at the Women in the World conference at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown San Francisco, in an onstage interview with journalist Tina Brown.
“All the women here are doing incredible things in this world. All I did was get fired,” said the departing Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairperson, settling in for a free-flowing conversation with Brown. “Everyone knows everything about me. What am I doing here?”
Brown answered that for her.
“None of us can imagine …” Brown said.
“No, you cannot,” Pascal said.
Pascal’s digital record came into the spotlight when North Korea hacked Sony in retaliation for producing “The Interview,” a slapstick comedy about journalists sent to assassinate that country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un. The hackers exposed thousands of internal emails, including Pascal’s ALL-CAPS-laced missives about celebrities and a racially charged joke about President Obama. This week, she announced she’ll be stepping down to join the “Spiderman” production team in May (and receive close to a $40 million production/parachute package over the next four years).
During cocktails before she took the stage, Brown said Pascal decided to speak publicly in San Francisco for the first time because, “The timing was good. And in her home town, it’s a little too hot right now.”
After a dramatic video intro that featured footage of an explosion to indicate the hacking, Brown asked Pascal to recount the moment when she first realized that her emails would be exposed.
“I ran this company and I had to worry about everybody who was really scared … People were really scared … But nagging in the back of my mind, I kept calling [IT] and being like, ‘They don’t have our emails, tell me they don’t have our emails,’” she said. “But then they did. That was a bad moment. And you know what you write in emails.”
We know exactly what she writes in her emails.
Pascal — who dressed casually in clog heels and a leopard print wrap tied around her waist — said her off-the-cuff emails with Sony producer Scott Rudin were the result of a 30-year-relationship, an “ongoing fight” and playful “role-playing” since the day they met.
Brown brought up the Obama emails right away: “They accused you of being a racist,” she said.
“It was horrible. That was horrible,” Pascal said, tossing her hair and then brushing it out of her face, looking almost teary-eyed for a moment.
“As a woman, what I did was control how everybody felt about themselves and about me … and there was this horrible moment when I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do about whether I’d hurt people, whether I’d betrayed people,” she said. “I couldn’t protect anyone … It was horrible because that’s how I did my job.”
She paused and then said something surprising.
“It was also strangely freeing,” she said, looking at Brown. “Because all of a sudden, that was just what it was.”
Pascal continued: “There is nothing you can do. You can’t say anything. You can’t explain anything. It’s just there.”
Brown mentioned that “The Interview” was actually a pretty bad movie (no “Citizen Kane,” she said). Pascal had a quick retort: “You don’t get to choose what you stand up for.”
Relationships had been less damaged than people outside Hollywood may think because it is a unique kind of town, Pascal said.
“Everybody understood because we all live in this weird thing called Hollywood,” she said. “If we all actually were nice, it wouldn’t work.”
For example, even though Rudin called Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat,” Pascal said: “Angie didn’t care.”
Was she surprised that the press were so harsh?
“I’m not supposed to say anything about that,” she said, looking out at the audience coyly. “But I will say that I was. People found reasons that going through my trash and printing it was an ok thing to do. They found a way to justify that. And they have to live with that.”
Among the leaks was detailed payment information that showed women were paid less than men: “I’ve paid [Jennifer Lawrence] a lot more money since then, I promise you … Here’s the problem: I run a business. People want to work for less money, I pay them less money … Women shouldn’t work for less money. They should know what they’re worth. Women shouldn’t take less. ‘Stop, you don’t need the job that bad.’”
She said she’s learned a lot from the hack about how to relate to people.
“You should always say exactly what you think directly to people all the time,” she said. “In the moment, the first time.”
Brown said this might be hard to do given how vulnerable Hollywood stars can be.
Pascal unleashed a little of the energy found in those emails.
“They’re bottomless pits of need. You’ve never seen anything like it,” she said, adding sarcastically: “They are so great. They’re this magical thing that no one else can be. They’re filled with the need to be loved … but that’s because they’re magical.