27th Annual IFP Gotham Awards - Show

Actor Dustin Hoffman accepts the tribute award at the 27th annual Independent Film Project's Gotham Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Evan Agostini

HBO host John Oliver hammered Dustin Hoffman about allegations 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 1985 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 noted, adding sarcastically, “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 at the 92nd Street on behalf of the Tribeca Institute, with stars Hoffman, Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and director Barry Levinson on the stage. Approximately halfway through the hour-long talk, Oliver brought up the issue to Hoffman, saying he found the actor’s statements about the matter wanting. Nearly the entire rest of the discussion was then dominated by Oliver, Hoffman and the subject of sexual harassment.

Hoffman had offered a conditional apology at the time of the allegation, and on Monday he underscored an “if” included in that statement, noting several times that 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.

“I still don’t know who this woman is,” Hoffman said. “I never met her; if I met her it was in concert with other people.”

Oliver dismissed that as insufficient, then cited Hoffman’s response at the time of the allegation that the actor’s behavior on set was “not reflective of” who he really is.

“It’s ‘not reflective of who I am’ — it’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver said. “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. It feels like a cop-out to say ‘it wasn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”

Hoffman accused Oliver of “putting me on display” and said he felt blindsided because neither Oliver nor Tribeca organizers had told him the moderator would raise the subject.

Several times, however, Oliver in fact 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” while unquestionably believing accusers.

“Do you believe this stuff you read?” Hoffman asked.

“Yes,” Oliver replied. “Because there’s no point in [an accuser] lying.”

“Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years,” Hoffman said.

“Oh Dustin,” Oliver said disapprovingly, putting his head in his hand.