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When it came time to make her new Netflix film Senior Year, Rebel Wilson made sure to bring "the hilariousness and the heart," as she says — but also a lot of respect.
"Because there's a lot of young cast in the film, I wanted to make sure there's a lot of respect for everybody," she says of the set. As she shares firsthand in this week's PEOPLE, that's not always been the case.
Several years ago, the 42-year-old actress was harassed by a male costar whom she has not named. "He called me into a room and pulled down his pants," she says. Then in front of his friends, he asked her to perform a lewd act.
"It was awful and disgusting," she says. "And all the behavior afterwards — this was all before #MeToo — where they kind of tried to destroy me and my career. If it had happened after #MeToo, then I could have just blasted them." As a trained lawyer (Wilson also has a law degree from University of New South Wales), she did what she could.
"Because I'm a lawyer, I documented it," she says, "I called my rep. I got certain things in writing about what happened."
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"Definitely amongst industry circles, I made sure people knew what happened," she adds. It's still something she grapples with. "Why did I stay in that situation … with that awful guy?" she asks. "I should have left. It wasn't worth it. But at the same time, I was like, 'Oh well, do the right thing, be a professional and finish the movie.' Now I would never do that."
"I thought even complaining to my agency was a big step. And to complain to the studio. I found out I was like the fourth person to complain about the guy. Such gross behavior, but a lot of women have had it way worse."
"If it happened again, I would probably stand up for myself even more just because of the bravery of the other women that have stood up and now allowed me an opportunity," she says.
For her, it's all about making positive change: from body positivity to her health transformation to making new films, like Senior Year (one of Netflix's top 10 releases this past weekend).
"I want to have strong girl-power and female empowerment themes in the movies that I make," she says. "I want to entertain people and I want people to walk away with something positive." And, as she says of Senior Year, "We made it with love, and we shot it in Atlanta and there's so many new, fresh faces in the film who I'm very proud of as a producer. As the mama of the film in a way, I'm very, very proud of them and all the hard work that everybody did."
For more on Rebel Wilson, pick up a copy of this week's PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.