Over 30 years ago, Brooke Shields was sexually assaulted by a powerful Hollywood executive. But she never said a word. “No one is going to believe me,” she thought at the time. “People weren’t believing those stories back then. I thought I would never work again.”
It’s a story she shares as part of the upcoming two-part documentary, Brooke Shields: Pretty Baby, premiering April 3 on Hulu. It’s a deep dive into her one-of-a-kind life, the young girl whose sexualized roles in such films as Pretty Baby (where she played a child prostitute) and The Blue Lagoon made her a subject of fascination, outrage and pop-culture phenomenon.
It’s also a story about the beauty of telling one’s truth.
“Doing the documentary, you see it all together, and it’s a miracle that I survived,” says the 57-year-old actress in this week’s PEOPLE.
“It’s taken me a long time to process it,” says Shields, of the assault that occurred in her 20s. “I’m more angry now than I was able to be then. If you’re afraid, you’re rightfully so. They are scary situations. They don’t have to be violent to be scary.”
At the time, she was a recent Princeton University graduate and unable to find much work, the “lowest point of my career,” she recalls.
After dinner with a Hollywood executive (“I thought I was getting a movie, a job”), he invited her to make a call for a cab from his hotel room. There, he assaulted her. “I didn’t fight,” as she recounts in the documentary. “I just froze.”
RELATED: Brooke Shields Says New Documentary Is ‘So Much Bigger’ Than Her Experience with Sexual Assault
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Afterward, she blamed herself. “I kept saying, ‘I shouldn’t have done that. Why did I go up with him? I shouldn’t have had that drink at dinner.’ ”
“It was really easy to disassociate because by then it was old hat,” she recalls. “And because it was a fight-or-flight type of choice. Fight was not an option, so you just leave your body. ‘You’re not there. It didn’t happen.’ ”
Shields had learned to compartmentalize early on as a way to deal with the intensity of the attention. “I’d always had a sense of disassociation from my body. From my sexuality,” she says. “I was mostly a cover girl, so it’s all here,” Shields adds, indicating from her neck up, “And it was just easier to shut myself off. I was good at it.”
She told only one person, her close friend and one-time security consultant Gavin de Becker. “Brooke lived so long in the judgment of others, by the millions, so it was heartbreaking to see her judge herself,” he says. “It has also been inspiring to see her integrate the truth as she has.”
Now, she’s sharing her experience “with the hopes of helping people not feel alone,” she says. “Everybody processes their own trauma on a different timeline. I want to be an advocate for women to be able to speak their truth.”
Long married to comedy writer and director Chris Henchy, 58, with whom she has two daughters, Rowan, 19, and Grier, 16, her latest passion is the online community and wellness platform she launched in 2021, Beginning Is Now, which could also be her motto. “The goal is to ignite a spark in women over 40 to revel in what we’ve done,” she says, “and enjoy his next beautiful chapter.”
As her friend de Becker sees it, Brooke “more than survived, she thrived, and became this wise, beautiful spirit who helped so many people through her honesty and courage.”
“I saw someone who gradually gained agency over her own life,” says the documentary’s director, Lana Wilson. “Brooke was open, game for anything, fearless. The only concern she voiced at that first meeting was that this wouldn’t be deep enough.”
“Nothing scares her,” adds Wood. “If something is intimidating or challenging or risky, that means she’s going to want to do it even more.”
In the end, it’s also a testament to perseverance. Says Brooke with a smile, “I always kept going, like a bull in a china shop.… I will not be defeated.”
For more on Brooke Shields, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere on Friday.