Dustin Hoffman and John Oliver tangled publicly Monday night at a panel discussion where Oliver, the comedian and host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, questioned Hoffman, the actor, about a statement that Hoffman released after he was accused of sexual misconduct on the set of a 1985 TV-movie production of Death of a Salesman.
The panel, moderated by Oliver, was held at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan by the Tribeca Film Institute to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film satire Wag the Dog, which starred Hoffman.
According to a report in The Washington Post, Oliver said that he was going to discuss the changing climate in the entertainment industry, where many powerful figures have faced precipitous consequences as accounts of their sexual misdeeds have been brought to light.
In particular, Oliver said he would ask Hoffman about the account of Anna Graham Hunter, who wrote in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter that Hoffman had groped her and used sexually explicit language in front of her during the making of Death of a Salesman.
At that time, Hunter was a 17-year-old high school senior working as a production assistant on the TV film.
Oliver said the matter was “something we’re going to have to talk about” because “it’s hanging in the air”.
Hoffman replied incredulously: “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.”
In further exchanges from the panel discussion that were recorded on video by the Washington Post, Oliver and Hoffman clashed over a statement that Hoffman released after Hunter’s essay was published. Hoffman said in that statement: “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.”
Homing in on the language of the statement, Oliver said to Hoffman: “I’m not the moral arbiter of anything. It’s just that, ‘it’s not reflective of who I am’ ? it’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off.”
Oliver continued, “Because it is reflective of who you were, if it happened, and you’ve given no evidence to show that it didn’t happen, then there was a period in time, for a while, when you were creepier around women. So it feels like a cop-out to say, well, this isn’t me. Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
Hoffman answered: “It’s difficult to answer that question. You weren’t there.” He added, “You made a judgment. A very quick judgment.”
Later in the conversation, Oliver cited a portion of Hunter’s essay in which she quoted from a 1985 diary where she wrote: “No one is 100 percent good or bad. Dustin’s a pig, but I like him a lot.”
Hoffman asked Oliver, “Do you believe this stuff that you read?” Oliver responded, “I believe what she wrote, yes.”
Hoffman asked, “Why?” Oliver said, “Because there’s no point in her lying.”
Hoffman said, “Well, there is a point in her not bringing this up for 40 years.”
At this point, a visibly disappointed Oliver held his head in his hands. “Oh, Dustin,” he replied.
Representatives for Hoffman and the Tribeca Film Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Representatives at HBO said Oliver declined to comment further.
– The New York Times News Service