John Oliver slams Dustin Hoffman over sexual harassment allegations in tense interview
With the myriad of allegations of sexual harassment and assault following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we have gotten pretty used to the cycle. First, a victim comes forward with some testimony, then some more find the bravery in camaraderie to add their silenced experiences to the narrative, at which point the accused tends to dismiss the allegations as false in a public statement. One thing we don't tend to see are these people being directly challenged.
One of the many Hollywood industry veterans who faced accusations of sexual misconduct in recent months was actor Dustin Hoffman. The Hollywood Reporter ran an article by a woman who claimed he had sexually harassed her on the set of Death of a Salesman in 1985, when she was only 17 years old.
She explained that she was a high school senior at the time, interning as a production assistant on the set of the TV movie. She alleges he repeatedly sexually harassed her, detailing how he asked him for foot massages, flirted, "grabbed [her] ass", and made many inappropriate comments throughout the production. On top of this is the accusation by The Graduate co-star Katherine Ross, who claimed he had groped her on set, and another writer who said that he had sexually harassed her.
Earlier this week, at a 20th anniversary screening of Hoffman's film Wag The Dog, a panel was held afterward with Hoffman, Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and director Barry Levinson on stage. The interviewer was John Oliver, best known for his show Last Week Tonight. It was around halfway through this interview that things became incredibly tense, as the comedian and presenter decided to bring up the aforementioned allegations against Hoffman.
"This is something we're going to have to talk about because... it's hanging in the air," Oliver said to the actor.
"It's hanging in the air?" Hoffman said. "From a few things you'd read, you've made an incredible assumption about me," he went on, adding sarcastically: "you've made the case better than anyone else can. I'm guilty."
After the initial allegation came out, Hoffman offered an apology, but within the statement noted several times that he didn't believe he had done anything wrong, and doubted that it had happened at all. He said he had not met the woman in question and all his comments on set were simply how members of a family would speak to one another.
Oliver then cited Hoffman's official statement, in which he said the behavior he exhibited on set was "not reflective" of who he really is, saying that this response was a "cop-out". Hoffman felt that Oliver was putting him on display, and while Oliver did make attempts to move the conversation back to the film in question, the rest of the panel was dominated by the topic.
When Hoffman asked Oliver if he believed everything he read, he simply replied "there's no point in [an accuser] lying", no doubt referring to the inevitable ridicule and abuse women face from the public and their own industry after making allegations.
He then pointed out that this was relevant considering the film, Wag The Dog, deals with sexual misconduct by a powerful man, and that he cannot stay silent on the issue. “I can’t leave certain things unaddressed," the host said.
"The easy way is not to bring anything up. Unfortunately, that leaves me at home later at night hating myself. ‘Why the … didn’t I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.’”
In a confusing defense, Rosenthal said of the movie Wag The Dog: “It wasn’t produced by Weinstein or Miramax…Kevin Spacey wasn’t starring in it. Let’s look at real sexual criminal predators.”
Oliver tersely responded: “That’s a low bar.”
In light of these allegations, Hoffman cited his film Tootsie, in which he plays an actor who impersonates a woman, as evidence of his respect for women. As the argument continued, the audience got involved. One woman shouted at Oliver to "let it go", but was soon drowned out by others on Oliver's side, including one who yelled, "Thank you for believing women,” to loud cheers.
While it doesn't seem to have changed Hoffman's stance at all, this does mark an important moment where those who have been accused by women of sexual misconduct are being directly confronted over it, rather than communicating solely through lawyers and official press statements.