ROME—In theory, Jimmy Bennett could not have chosen a better Italian journalist to unload his side of the Asia Argento story. Massimo Gilletti, a sort of Italian Anderson Cooper with a keen news sense and suave sense of style, reached out to Bennett when the news first broke that the Italian #MeToo founder Asia Argento had paid off Bennett after the two had sexual relations when he was just 17. Argento has denied such claims, though the truth has become a murky mess after Rose McGowan’s partner Rain Dove produced text messages Argento apparently sent that confirmed Bennett’s claims.
On Sunday night, Gilletti coaxed Bennett in front of a live studio audience in Rome to essentially burn him at the stake, showing that Italian sexism runs both ways. Italians had skewered Argento for claiming that she had been raped orally by Harvey Weinstein. And they were no kinder to her accuser.
The pivotal moment of the exclusive interview with Bennett, who came to Italy for what he presumably thought would be a fair chance to tell his side of the story, was when Gilletti asked him a simple question. “Was the rapport complete?” Gilletti asked Bennett via simultaneous translation.
Bennett, seemingly shocked at such a question, asked him to repeat it.
“Was the rapport complete?” the host pressed. In essence, did the young man ejaculate?
Bennett, noticeably uncomfortable, finally understood and replied, quite simply, “Well, yes.”
The live audience moaned.
The whole interview lasted more than an hour of Gilletti’s three-hour program “Non e l’Arena” which translates loosely to “Outside The Arena” on Italy’s independent La 7 channel. About halfway through, Bennett realized what was happening. “I was worried about coming in front of an audience and being accused of not being sincere about the violence against me,” he said. “After this, that’s why I chose the silent route. I was right.”
Gilletti, who had apparently promised Bennett a fair platform to tell his story, seemed at times shocked by Bennett’s responses. Sitting beside his attorney Gordon Sattro, who at times seemed to be on the side of the accusatory host, Bennett seemed to sink into his chair as the accusations that a “healthy 17-year-old boy” wouldn’t somehow roll over and take it if a mature woman beckoned. The age of consent for sex in Italy is considerably lower, at 14, but that clearly doesn’t make what Bennett has accused Argento of permissible.
Just what made Bennett, who said he had never been overseas before coming to Italy specifically for this interview, agree to such a public grilling is anyone’s guess. Argento, who provided video testimony for the program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Argento, together with her late boyfriend Anthony Bourdain, reportedly agreed to pay Bennett some $380,000 for his silence in 2018 after he apparently threatened to go public with the story. Argento has since publicly announced via social media that she would no longer honor that agreement.
Argento first met Bennett in 2004 when he was just seven years old and played the role of her son in the film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. In the film Argento played Bennett’s dysfunctional parent who had succumbed to substance abuse that led her to prostitution.
According to Bennett, the two kept in sporadic touch after the 2004 film, but only began flirting in 2013, when Bennett was 17 and Argento was 37. “There was no face time for ten years,” Bennett said, describing how Argento eventually approached him then to “talk about a film” she wanted him to be in. The two were in touch via Twitter and eventually via email when they agreed to meet at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey, California.
Bennett said he showed up prepared to audition for a film. Argento, he said, had other ideas. “Asia started it,” Bennett said. “I had not been too surprised. I was sure we would meet again. She invited me and I was more than happy to come.”
Then, as the time approached, Bennett said he felt uncomfortable. Then, after he says the two had sex, he felt worse. “I remember feeling uncomfortable and strange,” Bennett says about the encounter. “There was always a barrier of culture in how she acted, and maybe I didn’t know what to expect.”
Then, once they were in the hotel room, Bennett said things started to get intense.
“The first thing that happened was her offering me champagne. And she went to play music on a record player that she had and she smoked a cigarette. And she told me about a film she had in mind. She wanted me to be in it,” Bennett said. “It had started when I first got into the room. There was a lot of kissing and her grabbing my face and kind of inspecting me and saying, ‘Oh my son, how I’ve missed you.’ My interpretation was that maybe it was a way of her showing me affection.”
Then, he claims, things got even more intense. “She started kissing me longer and longer and it started to feel to me that it wasn’t just a friendly thing and that she was doing more,” Bennett said. “She was looking to do something else, it was more than just a kiss.”
Then, Bennett says, Argento unbuckled his pants. “It’s hard for me to talk about this in front of strangers and people I don’t know, but I do want to get the benefit of the doubt in telling the truth,” he said. “After the kisses started getting longer and it started with her placing her hands in different ways. Following that was when she pushed me onto the bed and took my pants off and undid my belt.”
At this point in the program, the Italian host was incredulous. “It’s difficult to believe a woman can rape a man, an act of sex that is complete cannot be rape surely,” he said.
At that point Bennett’s lawyer intervened, asking whether the line of questioning was only because Bennett was a man, adding that Argento herself had seen Harvey Weinstein voluntarily after her alleged rape but, yet, had been believed.
The host pressed further, showing the now-viral photo of Argento and Bennett presumably post-coital. “She asked me to take a photo,” Bennett said when asked by Gilletti about the circumstances. “Yes, it was on my phone. Yes, it was after we had sex.”
“I’m sorry, but you don’t seem upset, you don’t seem in this picture to be traumatized,” Gilletti said. “You don’t look here like someone who was afraid.”
Gilletti’s audience broke into applause as Bennett, at that moment, seemed to understand the situation.
“I understand,” he said. “I’m starting to understand what you mean here.”
His lawyer then asked Gilletti if the audience would have applauded if a woman had said she had been raped. “How can they interpret what was going on in his mind,” his attorney said. “Or what was in his heart, just because of his gender?”