'He's a predator': Craig McLachlan accused of indecent assault


For the past 25 years Craig McLachlan has been the golden-haired boy of the Australian theatre and television industry.

But now the Gold Logie award-winning actor famous for his starring roles in the Doctor Blake Mysteries, Neighbours and Home and Away stands accused of indecent assault, sexual harassment, exposing himself and bullying female colleagues.

A major investigation by Fairfax Media and the ABC can reveal that a number of female cast members of the 2014 Rocky Horror Show have alleged they were abused, harassed or assaulted by McLachlan, 52.

Two cast members have lodged a complaint with Victorian police alleging that a number of actresses in the show were subjected to McLachlan touching their genitals, groping their breasts, exposing himself and pressing his penis against them.

Complaints to the production company, the Gordon Frost Organisation, fell on deaf ears, they say.

"He's really calculated and very manipulative, a predator," said model and actress Erika Heynatz, one of those who have gone to the police.

Another actress, who has previously worked with McLachlan, said her "biggest pet peeve is that people think he is this ukulele-playing larrikin that they see on the Today show every couple of months when he comes on to spruik something he's doing".

"He's a larrikin, up for a laugh and certainly, when we all first met him, that's indeed how he came across. But there is another side to this man that he has very, very craftily and cleverly disguised from people for so long. It's like this split personality. The other personality is this sinister, predatory behaviour," she said.

For his part, McLachlan, who is currently in Adelaide starring in the 2018 tour of Rocky Horror, says the allegations are "baseless" and "they seem to be simple inventions, perhaps made for financial reasons, perhaps to gain notoriety".

"These allegations are ALL made up," he said in an emailed response.

Christie Whelan Browne and Erika Heynatz, who appeared with Craig McLachlan in a 2014 production of the Rocky Horror Show.  Photo: Louise Kennerley

Christie Whelan Browne and Erika Heynatz, who appeared with Craig McLachlan in a 2014 production of the Rocky Horror Show. Photo: Louise Kennerley

One of the country's leading musical performers, Christie Whelan Browne, currently starring in Muriel's Wedding The Musical, performed the lead role of Janet during the 2014 Rocky Horror tour. She alleged that McLachlan indecently assaulted her during the show.

Whelan Browne, who had to perform a sex scene with McLachlan, was horrified when he went off script. The scene saw Whelan Browne in a vertical bed, covered by a sheet, where she was visible to the audience only from the shoulders up.

The carefully scripted choreography of that scene required McLachlan, who was playing the lead role of Dr Frank-N-Furter, to kiss Whelan Browne down the neck and then disappear below the sheets.

"So he started the kissing down the neck and down the arm, but then it gradually moved to the breasts and down the stomach. So he would keep kissing as if he was going to keep going and I would have to swat him away," said Whelan Browne.

"But this one night when he turned me around, he pulled my undies up so my bum cheek was out and he was kissing my bum. There is nothing I can do. I am stuck. There's 2000 people watching me and can't see him.

"As the tour went on he would say he could see my vagina through my white underpants - that was my costume - and he said that he could see the slit of my vagina and that he could smell it and it smells sweet."

Whelan Browne began to cry as she recounted the night "when he was down in the bed he traced the outline of my vagina with his finger and I slapped his hand away".

McLachlan denies that this happened. He claimed that the show was "a confrontational musical oozing with sexuality" and that to "make" the show "actors have to perform certain actions, all of which flow from the show itself".

Actress Angela Scundi has made a statement to police about Craig McLachlan's alleged behaviour. Photo: Janie Barrett

Actress Angela Scundi has made a statement to police about Craig McLachlan's alleged behaviour. Photo: Janie Barrett

McLachlan allegedly made inappropriate comments to actress Angela Scundi about her breasts, he created what he described as special "moments" for her on stage and on one occasion he was wearing only satin boxer shorts when he hugged her.

"He pushed his pelvis into me and moved around so I could feel his penis against my body," said Scundi, who played a phantom and also understudied Heynatz's role of Magenta.

On another occasion, "Craig grabbed my hand - and said to me, 'Every day I am falling more and more in love with you'."

Scundi, who has made a lengthy statement to police, alleges that on another occasion McLachlan asked her to come into his dressing room as he had something private to discuss. After the door was closed he undressed, took his underwear off and stood up naked.

"I said 'What the f---?!' and turned away to leave. He responded with laughter, saying 'No, no, no. Don't go, sorry, I'm just so comfortable'."

"I have NEVER done anything like this," said McLachlan in his emailed response.

Christie Whelan Browne and Craig McLachlan on stage in the Rocky Horror Show. Photo: Supplied

Christie Whelan Browne and Craig McLachlan on stage in the Rocky Horror Show. Photo: Supplied

McLachlan was also adamant that he never made unwanted sexual advances: "I am, and have been at all relevant times, in a stable relationship with my long-term partner."

However, Heynatz alleges she also experienced unwanted sexual advances from McLachlan.

Heynatz claims she had been sitting on a couch in the green room of Melbourne's Comedy Theatre when McLachlan walked over and "straddled me on the couch, knee either side and started kissing my neck".

When she recoiled, he leant back and said: "Too much?"

"Yes," replied Heynatz. McLachlan then nonchalantly "climbed off and just walked away".

"That's not normal workplace behaviour, that's not normal, that's not OK and yet for some reason, because of this sense of entitlement and this level of confidence - he thought there was nothing wrong with doing that," she said.

McLachlan said: "I have no recollection whatsoever of any such event."

Craig McLachlan in The Doctor Blake Mysteries. Photo: Adam Fulton

Craig McLachlan in The Doctor Blake Mysteries. Photo: Adam Fulton

This was allegedly not Heynatz's first unwanted encounter with McLachlan. Earlier in the tour, she says, he came into her dressing room as she was putting on her make-up ready to go on stage. McLachlan had told her to stop what she was doing. "What I have to tell you is important," he had said. McLachlan allegedly had then turned her chair around to face him.

"You're really beautiful and I can't stop thinking about you and every day I'm becoming more and more enchanted by you and I'm falling for you," he is said to have gushed. "And there's something that I've got to do."

With that, he allegedly took Heynatz by the face and kissed her. "I was almost paralysed - I was in shock. It was a yuck thing," she said.

"Ultimately, it's just like being kissed by the boss. You want to work with these people. You don't want to be touched by them, kissed by them, you don't want them to be sexualising you."

Heynatz observed that McLachlan's behaviour was escalating as time went on. She felt that "he was becoming more bold and more brazen with everything he did both on stage and off".

Craig McLachlan performing with the band Welter. Photo: Greg Totman

Craig McLachlan performing with the band Welter. Photo: Greg Totman

McLachlan rejected the suggestion that his kissing scenes were becoming longer and more intimate. "How little you appear to know about this production of the show," he said, claiming that during the performance "there are a number of small comic kisses directed in the piece".

But cast members allegedly observed McLachlan taking advantage of intimate scenes with one particular actress. When Scundi was told she had to fill in for this actress, she informed the company managers that she didn't want to be kissed like that.

Scundi claims it was to no avail and that on the second night he forced his tongue into her mouth. When they left the stage and she told him never to kiss her like that again, McLachlan became enraged, she said.

"The show was still going so it was quiet and he had his finger in my face - I was terrified," she said.

"You are nothing! Don't you dare talk to me like that. I will end you," McLachlan allegedly said.

"And in that moment, I believed him," said Scundi. Fearful that she would lose her job because of McLachlan's powerful position, she put her hands in the air and said: "I'm only joking."

During the final performance of the tour, when Scundi was back playing the role of a phantom, she says McLachlan again went off script, kneeling in front of her. "He grabbed my shoulders, pulling me in to kiss me. I pushed him off me and he fell backwards."

Scundi recalls his look of shock which quickly changed to rage. Even though she was still on stage, she burst into tears.

Scundi wasn't the only one who was frightened of his alleged unchecked behaviour. Heynatz recounted performing a duet with another actress. They were standing on a platform with only their heads and shoulders visible to the audience.

Knowing they were completely vulnerable, Heynatz alleges McLachlan took to groping her colleague. He was "reaching up and grabbing up between her legs and up at her bottom so she's having to kind of donkey kick him away," said Heynatz.

While McLachlan denied that this incident ever happened, the cast said his behaviour started impacting on their ability to perform.

"Because I've already been on the receiving end of some unwanted attention, I'm thinking, any minute now, that's going to be me. So of course my legs start shaking and ultimately it's not safe," Heynatz said. "While you are on stage you've still got to do your job, and meanwhile you've got this person who's kind of messing with you, messing with you from the waist down."

Heynatz went immediately to the head mechanic, whose job it was to ensure safety. She recalled that he was laughing "uncomfortably". But she told him that McLachlan had to be spoken to, that this was a safety issue.

As the tour went on, Heynatz said the anxiety about what McLachlan would do next started affecting her performance. "I started to get really anxious on stage. I started to get the shakes. My voice started to close up," she said.

The words "sexual harassment" are mentioned in the notes of the doctor who Heynatz consulted about her anxiety while the show was touring.

When a male cast member complained first to management and then to McLachlan about the unnecessary lewdness that McLachlan had allegedly added to a scene, McLachlan is said have flown into a rage. That night, as the cast and crew were gathered backstage for the cast call before the show, McLachlan allegedly shouted at them: "You are a bunch of untalented and ungrateful c---s."

He is said to have become aggressive to cast members during the performance. Whelan Browne said that he was supposed to stroke her face lovingly as he sang his goodbye. Instead, he "grabbed me by the jaw" and wrenched her face to one side. And as they were taking their bow, Whelan Browne recalled her terror as he glared angrily at her and "clapped his hands in my face".

"I ran off stage and said to our resident director, 'What the f--- is going on?'", and she said, "He's angry." Whelan Browne said the director then just stared straight ahead.

The next day John Frost, the managing director of GFO, happened to drop by the theatre. He asked if she was all right. "I burst into tears and said, 'I am not OK. I am frightened of him'."

On hearing what had happened, Frost said: "No, no, no we can't have that. That's terrible. God, I can't believe he's been like this. We've never had a problem with him before." After giving her a hug and handing over his phone number in case there were any further problems, he left.

Frost was not available for comment but his suggestion that the company had never had a previous problem with McLachlan is disputed by other cast members who said that complaints had been made. They also said that the production crew had witnessed McLachlan's behaviour but had failed to intervene.

Emboldened by her conversation with Frost, the following day Whelan Browne expressed her concerns to the stage manager. "That's a very serious accusation and if you want to take that further I'm going to have to call the producers. Is that what you want?" said the stage manager. Whelan Browne got the clear impression she was being warned that it was not worth her while taking her concerns further.

McLachlan denied that he ever bullied or intimidated cast members. "These are baseless and vicious lies," he said.

The turning point for the women was the fallout from the exposure of legendary Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator.

"When the Harvey Weinstein story broke I started to get terrible anxiety that was keeping me up at night - my heart punching through my chest day and night," said Whelan Browne.

Heynatz and Scundi experienced a similar reaction.

The women had not shared their experiences during the show. They said they felt isolated and alone and that McLachlan had played them off against each other.

Whelan Browne, who took two weeks off for a back injury, said that when she returned McLachlan had said of her understudy: "Thank God you're back, her pussy stinks."

Heynatz and Scundi said that when Whelan Browne had gone off injured, McLachlan said: "She's a c--- and she won't be coming back."

"This is a simple lie," said McLachlan. "The use of such language is repugnant." He also pointed out that his "accusers" have had "thousands of opportunities to raise these accusations" but none of them did.

Said Heynatz about their reticence to come forward at the time: "They're not going to believe us, he's the big head star, they're going to keep him, we're going to lose our jobs."

"We were replaceable ... That's the disgusting thing about it. We all feel as though our voice isn't enough, we're not important enough, we don't earn enough money," she said.

In the wake of the Weinstein allegations the women reconnected. When they realised that they were not alone in regards to McLachlan's behaviour, they decided it was time to act.

"We all decided ... the time is now and it has to be done and then perhaps now we will be taken seriously," said a tearful Scundi. She also said she hoped that "other people will have the opportunity to actually come forward and be heard as well".

"We're all considered strong, resilient, self-assured women, we've been in this industry a long time. So the fact we were intimidated and we were made to feel vulnerable at that time, is one thing," said Heynatz, "but the crucial thing - is to prevent similar behaviour from happening to others."

Heynatz said it was vital that young actresses, who have "stars in their eyes", realised that they did not have to put up with unacceptable behaviour.

Before Christmas, the women went to the union, lawyers and police. While they were not identified, their lawyers outlined their allegations to GFO and asked that as a matter of urgency, as McLachlan's reprisal of the role was opening in Adelaide on New Year's Eve, that they investigate their concerns.

GFO's lawyers responded by saying: "Your clients, by instructing your firm to send a letter alleging serious unlawful conduct (without any evidence to support such allegations), may have made defamatory statements regarding GFO, members of its management and also Mr McLachlan. Our client reserves all its rights in respect of that issue."

GFO, the country's leading producer of musical theatre, declined to comment to Fairfax Media but maintained in its legal letters that it always provided a safe work place, "free of bullying or unlawful harassment".

Do you know more? Contactkmcclymont@fairfaxmedia.com.au