John Oliver Cross-Examines Dustin Hoffman About Sexual Assault

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John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, grilled Dustin Hoffman about allegations of sexual harassment against him during a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y on Monday night.

Oliver was acting as a panel moderator on behalf of the Tribeca Film Institute during a discussion following a 20th-anniversary screening of Wag The Dog. The panel consisted of cast and crew members from the 1997 film, including actor Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal, director Barry Levinson, and Hoffman.

According to entertainment journalist Steven Zeitchik’s report in the Washington Post, the former colleagues were almost halfway through the discussion when Oliver confronted Hoffman about his handling of the sexual assault allegations that have been brought against the actor. Last week, Anna Graham Hunter accused the actor of groping her when she was 17-years-old and working as an intern on a film set with Hoffman.

Oliver seems to have decided to bring up the subject of sexual harassment due to its relevance in the context of mounting Hollywood scandals that have been revealed in recent months. “This is something we’re going to have to talk about,” said Oliver, “because it’s hanging in the air.”

Despite having issued a conditional apology, Hoffman’s statement on the matter was, according to Oliver, insufficient. The late-night television show host expressed that he was particularly perturbed by Hoffman’s assertion that his conduct in the past is not reflective of who he is. “It’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off,” said Oliver, who then continued to interrogate the actor.

“It is reflective of who you were. If you’ve given no evidence to show it didn’t [happen] then there was a period of time for a while when you were a creeper around women. It feels like a cop-out to say ‘it wasn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”

At that point, producer Jane Rosenthal attempted to diffuse the situation by remarking that men and women worked differently together in the past. “That was then; this is now,” she said.

“[And] what difference is all this going to make? This conversation doesn’t do any good. We have a platform here. How are we moving [the issue] forward?”

But for Oliver, the moment was opportune in the sense that they had assembled to talk about Wag The Dog, a film about a man who abuses his power to engage in sexual misconduct. Rosenthal, on the other hand, was quick to state that the film “wasn’t produced by Weinstein or Miramax. Kevin Spacey wasn’t starring in it. Let’s look at real sexual criminal predators.”

To which Oliver replied, “that’s a low bar.”

Hoffman returned to the subject of harassment, growing testy as he said Oliver was not keeping an "open mind" while unquestionably believing accusers
Dustin Hoffman at the 55th New York Film Festival.Featured image credit: Jamie McCarthyGetty Images

According to the Post reporter, Oliver had tried to move on from the tenuous subject a few times, despite his initial persistence, but it was an increasingly “testy” Hoffman who kept bringing the discussion back to the sexual assault allegations.

While regaling the audience about his long career, Hoffman brought up his role in the 1982 film Tootsie, when Oliver interrupted with “Oh Jesus.”

“So now I can’t even finish a sentence?” Hoffman asked before continuing to talk about the lessons he learned from portraying a female character in the film.

“I would not have made that movie if I didn’t have an incredible respect for women. The theme of the movie is he became a better man by having been a woman.”

During the heated exchange, Oliver had also referred to further allegations he had read about previously. Katharine Ross, who starred alongside Hoffman in The Graduate, once alleged that he had groped her while filming. In 1991, Hoffman reportedly made an inappropriate advance towards writer Wendy Riss Gatsiounis during a pitch meeting.

Oliver later said that although he did not plan to bring up the allegations, he eventually decided that he had an obligation to do so. “I can’t leave certain things unaddressed,” he said. “The easy way is not to bring anything up. Unfortunately, that leaves me at home later at night hating myself. ‘Why didn’t I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.'”

Meanwhile, Hoffman subsequently accused Oliver of “putting me on display” and expressed frustration at the Tribeca organizers for having given him no warning that a particular line of question could possibly be pursued.