A 20th-anniversary event for Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog on Manhattan’s Upper East Side turned contentious Monday night when host and moderator John Oliver confronted star Dustin Hoffman about the sexual harassment claims that have been made against the 80-year-old actor in recent months.
“This is something we’re going to have to talk about because… it’s hanging in the air,” Oliver told Hoffman (via The Washington Post), to which the actor replied, “It’s hanging in the air? From a few things you’ve read you’ve made an incredible assumption about me… You’ve made the case better than anyone else can. I’m guilty.”
Actress Anna Graham Hunter wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter in which she alleged Hoffman groped her and made inappropriate remarks to her while she interned on the 1985 Death of a Salesman TV film. A second woman, Genius producer Wendy Riss Gatsiounis, then told Variety that the actor propositioned her during a meeting in 1991.
Hoffman released a statement to THR following Hunter’s column that read, “I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”
Oliver’s exchange with Hoffman became more heated when the Last Week Tonight personality addressed his official apology. “You’ve made one statement in print. Does that feel like enough to you?” he asked.
“First of all, it didn’t happen, the way she reported,” Hoffman said. Specifically, with regards to Hunter’s claims, he added, “I still don’t know who this woman is. I never met her. If I met her, it was in concert with other people.”
Of Hoffman’s apology, Oliver added that he took umbrage with the actor’s claim the alleged incident is “not reflective of who I am.”
“It’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver said. “It is reflective of who you were. If it happened and you’ve given no evidence to show it didn’t happen. Then there was a period of time for a while when you were creeping around women. It feels like a cop-out to say, ‘well, this isn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
In response, Hoffman replied, “It’s difficult to answer that question. You weren’t there.”
“I’m glad,” Oliver said.
Hoffman continued, “We were doing this [acting on a set]. And to break it up — actors, people on crews know these things — you do these things. You say things. So suddenly, one of the things was, you come to work on Monday, “Did you have sex Friday?” You break it up. Everyone was saying it to each other. It’s a family. It becomes a family in which I said a stupid thing but I said it in the midst of the crew and they said their stupid things. But they were sexual in terms of the humor of it. That’s 40 years ago.”
Oliver said he didn’t “love that response either.”
“What response do you want? What would you have done?” asked Hoffman.
“It’s not for me to say. It feels like dismissals or recontextualizing it is not addressing it. It doesn’t feel self-reflective in the way the incident demands,” Oliver said, adding, “I get no pleasure from having this conversation but you and I are not the victims here.”
Later in the conversation, Oliver read a quote about Hoffman that Hunter said she wrote in 1985: “No one is 100 percent good or bad. Dustin’s a pig, but I like him a lot.”
“Do you believe this stuff that you’re reading?” Hoffman asked.
“I believe what she wrote, yes,” Oliver replied. Asked why, Oliver said, “Because there’s no point in her lying.”
“Well, there is a point in her not bringing this up for 40 years,” Hoffman shot back.
“Oh, Dustin. Christ,” Oliver said. Watch parts of their interaction below.
According to the Washington Post, there were attempts by both Oliver and Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal, who was seated on the panel’s dais alongside Hoffman, Wag the Dog costar Robert De Niro, and director Barry Levinson, to move on from the situation, but nearly half of the hourlong conversation was dominated by this discussion. “This isn’t fun for me,” Oliver noted. “[But] there’s an elephant in the room because, this particular incident, a conversation has not been had.”
Later on, after audience members reportedly shouted remarks like, “Move on. Let it go,” and “Thank you for believing women,” Oliver added, “I can’t leave certain things unaddressed. The easy way is not to bring anything up. Unfortunately, that leaves me at home later at night hating myself. ‘Why the f— didn’t I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.’”
“Am I the powerful man?” Hoffman asked before questioning why Oliver wouldn’t hear his side. “Keep a kind of open mind if you can, John.”
“I’m trying,” Oliver said.
“Well, I’m trying harder than you are,” Hoffman said.