NEW YORK - HBO host John Oliver hammered Dustin Hoffman on an allegation of sexual harassment and the actor fired back with a ferocious defense as a seemingly benign screening became an explosive conversation about Hollywood sexual misconduct on Monday night.
"This is something we're going to have to talk about because . . . it's hanging in the air," Oliver said to Hoffman at the discussion, an anniversary screening of the film "Wag the Dog." He was alluding to an allegation made by Anna Graham Hunter last month that Hoffman groped her and made inappropriate comments when she was a 17-year-old intern on the set of the 1986 TV movie "Death Of A Salesman."
"It's hanging in the air?" Hoffman said. "From a few things you've read you've made an incredible assumption about me," he said, adding, "You've made the case better than anyone else can. 'I'm guilty.'"
The "Last Week Tonight" personality was moderating a 20th-anniversary screening panel for Tribeca Institute, with stars Hoffman, Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and director Barry Levinson, when Oliver brought up the issue to Hoffman, saying he found Hoffman's statements about the matter wanting.
Hoffman had offered a conditional apology at the time of the allegation, and on Monday he underscored an "if" included in that statement, saying he didn't really believe he had done anything wrong. He said he had not engaged in groping, didn't recall meeting Graham Hunter and that all his comments on set were simply how members of "a family" talked to one another.
Oliver dismissed that as insufficient, then cited Hoffman's response at the time of the allegation that his behavior on set was "not reflective of" who Hoffman is.
"It's that kind of statement that pisses me off," Oliver said. "It's 'not reflective of who I am.' But it is reflective of who you were."
Several times Oliver sought to move on and talk about the film but Hoffman returned to the subject of harassment, growing testy as he said Oliver was not keeping an "open mind" and was "unquestionably believing accusers." Oliver responded that he was unsatisfied by the actor's statements and felt he was trivializing his accuser's concerns.
The back-and-forth centered on the Graham Hunter allegations and not a second claim, by the writer Wendy Riss Gatsiounis, that Hoffman had propositioned her inappropriately in a pitch meeting in 1991.
The exchange marked a rarity in the post-Harvey Weinstein era, which has seen accused harassers generally offer short statements, if they replied at all, about the allegations made against them; very few have engaged in long public conversations about it, and almost none have sounded as defiant as Hoffman did Monday night.
The conversation grew increasingly angry.
"You weren't there," Hoffman said to Oliver about the "Salesman" set.
"And I'm [glad] I wasn't," the host replied.