In the wake of Kevin Graham-Caso’s suicide last October, his friends pored over his old emails, looking for answers. Klodiana Alia found one from 2009, when Graham-Caso was working as an assistant to producer Scott Rudin. At the time, Graham-Caso was looking for another job, and Rudin had gotten wind of it.
“He flipped out,” Graham-Caso wrote, “told me to lose his number and that I was dead to him and an enemy of his company and that he hopes I fail in life.”
In another email, he wrote: “I think the time at Rudin permanently fucked my nerves. I never used to get this worked up over stuff.”
Graham-Caso’s story is now at the center of a reckoning over the way assistants are treated in Hollywood. On Sunday night, his twin brother, David Graham-Caso, posted a two-minute video accusing Rudin of inflicting intense emotional abuse that led him to suffer anxiety and depression. He said that his brother later got into another abusive relationship, which culminated in his death.
Rudin had earlier said that he would be “stepping back” from his Broadway work, following a story in the Hollywood Reporter that documented abuse and repeated incidents of violence toward his assistants. David Graham-Caso called on distributors and talent to cut ties with Rudin, and said he should be held accountable.
In interviews, Kevin Graham-Caso’s friends confirmed to Variety that his brief tenure as Rudin’s assistant — less than a year — did long-lasting damage to his psyche.
“It was a really devastating experience,” said friend Colleen Williams. “He had such big dreams that were just dashed.”
Scott Cavazos remembered meeting him shortly after he moved to New York, when they were in their mid-20s.
“He was a super nice guy, really confident, really funny,” Cavazos said. “He lit up a room.”
Graham-Caso was excited to land the job at Scott Rudin Productions, working for the producer of “No Country for Old Men” and “The Truman Show.” He had, of course, heard that Rudin could be hard to work for. Stories about his temper and the staff turnover his demands inspired were legion and part of any profile of the producer. But he also knew that having Rudin’s name on his resume could help launch his career.
“I don’t think he knew the extent of how bad it’s going to be,” Cavazos said.
He began working long hours, and had to be ready to answer the phone at all times. He would come home exhausted, his friends said, and collapse on the couch.
“I remember him walking around like a zombie, with dark circles under his eyes,” said Joe Chacon, another friend.
For the first couple of months, Graham-Caso felt like he was succeeding in the job, and was proud of himself for enduring it. But he would also tell stories about Rudin’s wild behavior in the office. He told friends that Rudin had once thrown a stapler at him, and he had to duck out of the way.
“It was almost like a joke,” Alia said. “We were trying to keep it light. It would just be so crazy.”
Graham-Caso’s worst story — one that would be repeated for years after — came when Rudin forcibly removed him from his car while driving. According to David Graham-Caso, Rudin was angry that a calendar appointment was not syncing on his phone, and yelled “Fuck you, get the fuck out of my car.” Cavazos said that he then had to walk two or three miles back to his apartment.
“I remember seeing him that day,” Chacon said. “He was defeated. He was humiliated.”
Cavazos said he asked him once if he could quit. “He said you can’t,” Cavazos said. “If you quit, basically you’re blacklisted.”
There were constant firings, always over trivial matters, friends said. Once, Rudin became so angry that he fired the entire office, Alia said. Most of the time, Rudin would relent and invite the staffers back. Graham-Caso was fired several times, Cavazos said.
“Sometimes it was for five minutes, sometimes for a day or two,” he said. “There were two or three times he thought it was the final firing.”
His friends also noticed he was suffering from health problems. He lost weight and hair, and threw up regularly. He also developed kidney stones, Cavazos said.
A couple months after what he thought was the last firing, Rudin sent him a casual email, asking him if he could come back to cover the phones. Graham-Caso emailed Alia, asking what he should do. He ended up going back to the job.
“He was so terrified of that man, to tell him no,” she said. “Scott would repeatedly tell him, ‘you are nothing.'”
Graham-Caso was an aspiring screenwriter. Friends say the excitement he felt about the film industry never fully returned after his experience with Rudin.
“That’s when he started having doubts about being a writer and having a career in film,” Chacon said. “It got to the point he was always questioning himself. He was being triggered daily to be subservient.”
After leaving Rudin for the final time in 2009, Graham-Caso went to Los Angeles, and worked for Imagine Entertainment, and then for producer Jody Hill and actor Josh Brolin.
“He had that kind of beaten-down aura about him,” Cavazos said. “Even when it seemed like things were going in a certain direction, I didn’t see him excited the way he was.”
Alia saw him in New York in 2011, and he told her he was taking medication for post-traumatic stress. In hindsight, she said she regrets how they tried to make light of the situation, and didn’t really confront it.
“We knew he was having a really hard time,” she said.
In 2017, Graham-Caso went on an extended trip to Europe, devoting himself to writing a travel blog. He ended up meeting a woman and moving with her to Germany.
Since his suicide, Alia said she and other friends have been reexamining everything — including the old emails.
“It’s been an awful experience,” she said. “There was an email chain, and the running joke was that Kevin is chained to Rudin’s radiator. That was a running joke.”
Chacon now works in mental health services, and has also been reevaluating things through that lens.
“We knew he was suffering from depression, anxiety and PTSD,” he said. “And it’s like, ‘Of course. You were abused daily.’ I see how this affected him, how this abuse had collateral effects in his life.”
Liz Alper is co-creator of #PayUpHollywood, an organization that came together to advocate for assistants and support staff. She said that Graham-Caso’s story echoes in the experiences of others. In a survey, several assistants spoke of having suicidal ideations due to their jobs.
“We’re trapping support staff in abusive situations that they have no escape from and that they have no allies in fighting,” Alper said.
Alper also worked as an assistant, and remembers coworkers swapping stories of workplace abuse.
“It wasn’t just a rite of passage,” she said. “It was a pissing contest — talking about who suffered more. There was this idea that if you could take the most abuse, you were the one most destined for success… It’s something we’ve been told so we will accept the shitty conditions and the dehumanizing positions and responsibilities we’re given without complaining.”
If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.