Last night, while leading a Q&A panel before the 20th anniversary screening of political satire film Wag the Dog at the 92nd Street Y, HBO host and comedian John Oliver grilled Dustin Hoffman over recent sexual harassment allegations made against the actor.
During the panel, which consisted of Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal, director Barry Levinson and Hoffman, Oliver brought up the allegations, saying, "This is something we're going to have to talk about, because it's hanging in the air."
The Washington Post obtained footage of the tense exchange, which went on for nearly 30 minutes and at one point saw Hoffman trying to defend himself by saying his making Tootsie proved that he respected women. When Oliver asked the actor about an allegation made by a 17-year-old production assistant working with Hoffman on the 1985 made-for-TV adaptation of Death of a Salesman, the actor responded, "First of all, it didn't happen the way she reported." Deadline reports that Oliver read aloud Hoffman's official statement on the allegations, which said in part, "It is not reflective who I am," and that's when the host really pressed the actor.
"It's that part of the response to this stuff that pisses me off. It is reflective of who you were," the Last Week Tonight host said. "You've given no evidence to show that it didn't happen. There was a period of time 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?"'
Hoffman also tried to argue that the culture of a set, which is "like a family," inspires moments "between takes" that can be misconstrued as harassment. Oliver pushed back on that too, saying that it's time for that muddled "between takes" culture to change. At one point, Hoffman also reminded Oliver that he "[wasn't] there" when the alleged harassment happened, to which Oliver reportedly responded, "I'm happy I wasn't."
You can watch the heated exchange, below:
The event's Upper East Side crowd was apparently vocally divided over the debate, with some decrying that Oliver should "move on!" and others tsk-tsking in disapproval of Hoffman. Oliver reportedly expressed that he was concerned he might've ruined the audience's night and experience of watching the film—which references sexual harassment—but added, "I can't leave certain things unaddressed. That leads to me at home later tonight hating myself, asking, 'Why the f–k didn't I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.'"
Washington Post writer Steven Zeitchik also live-tweeted parts of the conversation, which was notable because it's one of the first times an A-list celebrity like Hoffman has adamantly and publicly defended himself against another influential man over sexual harassment claims made by women:
John Oliver just went after Dustin Hoffman big time on sexual harassment at this Wag The Dog panel. Hoffman grew visibly uncomfortable. "You weren't there," he says to Oliver. "I'm happy I wasn't," Oliver replied. — Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
All hell has now broken loose on this Wag The Dog panel. The subject seemed over after seven minutes but Hoffman brought it up again, saying Oliver is not keeping an "open mind" and is unquestionably believing accusers, and a testy five minutes followed. — Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
And now the _ audience _ is arguing volubly back and forth about whether Hoffman is upstanding and Oliver should be asking the questions. Not sure I've ever seen anything like it at a screening panel. — Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
Oliver cited Hoffman's response to an accuser that his behavior on set was "not reflective" of who Hoffman is. "It's that kind of statement that pisses me off," Oliver said. "It's 'not reflective of who I am.' But it IS reflective of who you were." — Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017