Things got tense at a recent 20th-anniversary screening of Wag The Dog, as panel moderator John Oliver raked Dustin Hoffman over the coals for his alleged groping of writer Anna Graham Winter in 1985.
As The Washington Post reports, Oliver and Hoffman were supposed to discuss Barry Levinson’s 1997 black comedy that starred Hoffman, but the Last Week Tonight host quickly told the actor that there was no way of avoiding Winter’s allegations. “It’s hanging in the air,” Oliver said, and Hoffman quickly grew defensive. The actor, who Winter has accused of groping her on the set of the Death Of A Salesman TV movie when she was just 17 years old, told Oliver he was making “an incredible assumption” about him.
“You’ve made the case better than anyone else can. I’m guilty,” Hoffman snarked. This was after the two discussed the apology Hoffman made after the Winter story broke, which the actor now wanted to make clear should have included the subjunctive “if.” He claimed to not remember meeting Winter and said he still “[doesn’t know who she is].” Oliver was happy to pick apart Hoffman’s statement from last month, saying that the actor’s attempts to distance himself from what happened—claiming that the alleged groping “is not reflective of who I am”—“pisses him off.”
“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,” Oliver said. “It feels like a cop-out to say ‘it wasn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?” Hoffman said the host was “putting [him] on display” and indicated he was taken aback that the Tribeca Film panel had turned into a discussion of the allegation against him. When he snidely asked Oliver if he “[believes] the stuff [he reads],” Oliver said, “Yes, because there’s no point in [an accuser] lying.”
Wag The Dog producer Jane Rosenthal intervened on Hoffman’s behalf and tried to explain away what transpired by chalking it up to the ethics of a bygone era: “You also have the way men and women worked together [in the past]; you are in a situation where ‘that was then, this is now.’” She also wondered “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?” (By talking about it even when it makes us uncomfortable, we presume, but that’s just us.)
“This isn’t fun for me,” Oliver said. “[But] there’s an elephant in the room because, [with] this particular incident, a conversation has not been had.” He pointed out that Rosenthal and Hoffman’s film “dealt with sexual misconduct by a powerful man,” which just prompted Rosenthal to argue that the movie “wasn’t produced by Weinstein or Miramax… Kevin Spacey wasn’t starring in it. Let’s look at real sexual criminal predators.” Speaking for all of us, Oliver replied, “That’s a low bar.”