A Vancouver actor and acting coach best known for his role as Happy, one of Snow White's seven dwarfs, on the ABC series Once Upon A Time, says allegations that he sexually harassed students are unfounded and defamatory.
"I am on the cusp of losing my career, my business and potentially my home," Michael Coleman told reporters at a news conference in the offices of a Vancouver public-relations firm on Friday.
He said he has consulted a lawyer and is considering legal action to defend his reputation and called what's been going on a "whisper campaign." He has cancelled an appearance at a Once Upon A Time fan convention in Vancouver, and said while he had been asked to block off time for the seventh and final season of the ABC series, the phone has stopped ringing.
"I'm literally losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on this," Mr. Coleman, 44, told The Globe and Mail in an interview later. He also said he has been unable to continue his charity work.
A woman made an allegation against Mr. Coleman in October at a town hall meeting that the Union of BC Performers/ACTRA held for the organization Women in Film and Television in response to sexual misconduct reports about U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein. The allegation dated back to 2009, before the founding of the school Mr. Coleman co-owns, SchoolCreative Institute of the Arts.
Mr. Coleman said a co-worker who attended the meeting told him about the allegation. He took a leave of absence from the school, where he was artistic director, pending the completion of an investigation. He is selling his stake in the school due to an ownership dispute, he said at the news conference.
Mr. Coleman has been teaching acting for years, and said he has coached about 1,000 students.
He said three allegations surfaced after the town hall.
Mr. Coleman told the news conference on Friday the woman who spoke at the meeting accused him of trying to kiss her during private coaching, and that over a work-related breakfast, he "had taken her hand and placed it on top of my pants in my groin area.
"What had actually happened that morning," he continued, "is I had said something funny, the young woman in question reached over to slap my thigh and hit me in the groin. I looked up, she was in tears and I said, 'What is the matter?' And she said, 'I can't believe I just grabbed your penis.' I assured her that I did not think she intentionally grabbed my penis and I don't think it was anything she did on purpose and I have no ill will towards her."
The woman told The Globe in an interview she has a different recollection.
"He grabbed my hand and tapped his penis with it. He had his pants on, but still he grabbed my hand and tapped his [penis] with it," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because of online online attacks and a campaign to destroy her reputation since she came forward.
The woman also told The Globe Mr. Coleman instructed her to kiss him during a voice coaching session so that she would sound more seductive.
"I kissed him while I said my lines and I was disgusted."
The same woman told The Globe after the news conference that Mr. Coleman tried to kiss her whenever they would say good-bye.
Mr. Coleman rejected these allegations when speaking to The Globe.
"I don't actually have any ill will towards the girl; I don't want to go back and forth; I just want to get my life back."
At the news conference, he denied any suggestion he has kissed anyone he was worked with at the school.
"I've never kissed a student. I've never tried to kiss a student. I'll take it a step further. I've never kissed a staff member, I've never kissed an instructor, I've never tried to kiss a staff member, I've never tried to kiss an instructor," Mr. Coleman said, as his wife, Michelle Pope, stood next to him.
Another actor who trained with Mr. Coleman, Nicki Burke, has told The Globe that Mr. Coleman kissed her after a night of drinks and playing pool. She says he challenged her to a game and that if he won, she would have to kiss him. She kissed him on the cheek awkwardly, she said. But he kissed her later on public transit, she said: "He just laid one on me."
Ms. Burke was not one of the four accusers Mr. Coleman spoke of at the news conference.
He later told The Globe Ms. Burke in fact had kissed him on the SkyTrain. "The way I recall it is she leaned over and kissed me, and said, 'Don't worry, I've kissed a lot of teachers.'"
Ms. Burke also told The Globe that Mr. Coleman often spoke about frequenting a sex club and suggested students could get jobs there as servers. "I remember him saying it was Club Eden."
When asked about this club, Mr. Coleman said he had offered students a chance to audition for a promotional video for a nightclub his friends were opening in New Westminster. According to its website, Club Eden offers "Vancouver's Hottest Hedonistic Parties" – by invitation only. Mr. Coleman told reporters he believed it was a nightclub and that if it was a sex club, he was unaware of that.
He noted no formal claims have been made against him, and said he has been prevented from doing the one thing he knows how to do. When asked at the news conference what he was going to do next, Mr. Coleman said: "Hug my children and kiss my wife and try and figure out what's next."