John Oliver is not afraid to stand up to a powerful Hollywood player—even in a room of well-heeled socialites at a pricey event on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Late Monday night, while hosting a Q&A at the 92nd Street Y prior to a 20th-anniversary screening of the Barry Levinson war satire Wag the Dog, the comedian grilled screen legend Dustin Hoffman about the sexual-misconduct allegations against him—including from Anna Graham Hunter, who claimed that Hoffman groped and sexually harassed her on the set of the 1985 TV movie Death of a Salesman when she was a 17-year-old intern, and TV producer Wendy Riss Gatsiounis, who told Variety that Hoffman sexually propositioned her during a pitch meeting.
“This is something we’re going to have to talk about because… it’s hanging in the air,” Oliver told Hoffman during the onstage Q&A, where he was joined by co-star Robert De Niro, Levinson, and the Tribeca Institute’s Jane Rosenthal, according to The Washington Post.
“It’s hanging in the air?” Hoffman replied. “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.”
At the time of Hunter’s allegation, Hoffman issued the following 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.”
Oliver brought up that “apology” during the Q&A, telling Hoffman, “You’ve made one statement in print. Does that feel like enough to you?”
“First of all, it didn’t happen, the way she reported,” Hoffman replied.
The Last Week Tonight host then addressed the “It is not reflective of who I am” portion of Hoffman’s public statement, saying, “It’s that part of the response to this stuff that pisses me off. 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?”
“You weren’t there,” Hoffman fired back, to which Oliver responded, “I’m glad.”
“You’ve put me on display here,” argued Hoffman. “You have indicted me… That’s not innocent until proven guilty.”
According to reports, Oliver then read from Hunter’s guest column in The Hollywood Reporter, which led to the following tense exchange between comedian and actor:
“Do you believe this stuff you read?” Hoffman asked.
“Yes,” said Oliver. “Because there’s no point in [Hunter] lying.”
“Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years,” Hoffman replied.
“Oh Dustin,” Oliver shot back.
Those aforementioned Upper East Siders in the audience grew uneasy as the interrogation went on, with one person shouting “Move on!” while another woman reportedly screamed, “Thank you for believing women!”
Oliver explained that he brought up the sexual-abuse allegations because “we’re about to watch a movie where sexual harassment is an under-plot and there’s an elephant in the room because this conversation is not being had.”
Rosenthal then attempted to shift the conversation, replying, “It wasn’t produced by Weinstein Co. or Miramax, so you don’t have a really big conversation. Kevin Spacey wasn’t starring in it. Let’s look at real sexual criminal predators.”
“That’s a low bar,” said Oliver.
The comic further expanded on his rationale for bringing up the allegations thusly: “I can’t leave certain things unaddressed. 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.”
“Am I the powerful man?” asked Hoffman, incredulously.