In a painfully uncomfortable exchange during a panel discussion Monday night, "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver relentlessly questioned actor Dustin Hoffman over allegations of past sexual harassment — an exchange that grew so tense, audience members were gasping in disbelief.
The exchange took place during a panel discussion at the Tribeca Institute's 20th anniversary of Hoffman's film "Wag the Dog" (video below). Oliver led into the increasingly uncomfortable discussion by citing the allegations "hanging in the air" that he said must be addressed.
"This is something we're going to have to talk about because ... it's hanging in the air," said Oliver.
Oliver was referencing accusations by Anna Graham-Hunter that Hoffman sexually harassed her back in 1985 when she was a 17-year-old production assistant on the set of "Death of a Salesman" and by producer Wendy Riss Gatsiounis that Hoffman propositioned her in 1991 when she was in her 20s.
As The Independent and The Washington Post highlight, the audience was shocked — a video recording of the exchange catching the stunned response from the crowd as Oliver continued to hammer the issue and Hoffman attempted to defend himself.
In his initial response to Graham-Hunter's allegations, Hoffman said he felt "terrible" that anything he did "could have put her in an uncomfortable situation," but insisted, "It is not reflective of who I am."
On Monday, Oliver slammed Hoffman's response, particularly his last comment.
"It's that part of the response to this stuff that pisses me off," Oliver stated, audience members gasping. "It is reflective of who you were. You've given no evidence to show that it didn't happen. There was a period of time when you were a creeper 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 countered by stressing that Oliver was not there when the incidents took place, so he did not have the full context to make a judgment.
"You weren't there," said Hoffman, to which Oliver fired back, "I'm happy I wasn't."
When Hoffman asked Oliver if he simply believed all of the allegations against him, Oliver said yes, saying he can't see "a point" in the accusers lying about the incidents.
"Well, there's a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years," said Hoffman.
In a piece published by The Hollywood Reporter on November 1, Graham-Hunter accused Hoffman of sexually harassing her when she was a teenager:
This is a story I've told so often I'm sometimes surprised when someone I know hasn't heard it. It begins, "Dustin Hoffman sexually harassed me when I was 17." Then I give the details: When I was a senior in high school in New York City, interning as a production assistant on the set of the Death of a Salesman TV film, he asked me to give him a foot massage my first day on set; I did. He was openly flirtatious, he grabbed my ass, he talked about sex to me and in front of me. One morning I went to his dressing room to take his breakfast order; he looked at me and grinned, taking his time. Then he said, "I'll have a hard-boiled egg … and a soft-boiled clitoris." His entourage burst out laughing. I left, speechless. Then I went to the bathroom and cried.
On the same day, Variety published the allegations of "Genius" producer Wendy Riss Gatsiounis:
Wendy Riss Gatsiounis was a struggling playwright working a temp job in New York City in 1991 when she got what she hoped would be her big break. Her play “A Darker Purpose” had been given a staged reading at the Public Theater, and she had scheduled a meeting with Dustin Hoffman and “Tootsie” screenwriter Murray Schisgal to discuss adapting it into a feature film for Hoffman to star in. “It was a huge thing,” she told Variety.
But, Riss Gatsiounis said, the two meetings that took place at the Rockefeller Center office of Hoffman’s Punch Productions led to confusion and self-doubt after Hoffman allegedly propositioned her and attempted to persuade her to leave the office and accompany him to a store in a nearby hotel. Riss Gatsiounis was in her 20s; Hoffman was 53.
In a statement that day issued in response to Graham-Hunter's allegation, Hoffman, now 80, apologized for his behavior.
"I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation," he said in a statement. "I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am."
Partial transcript via The Independent.