If you’d like a case study in the ways men can paper over women’s legitimate grievances in the name of a false sense of consensus and agreement, you could do worse than studying the interview the cast of Arrested Development just gave to the New York Times. The show returns to Netflix for a fifth season on May 29, and the ensemble—minus Michael Cera and Portia de Rossi—sat down for what, in other times, might have been a routine publicity opportunity. But when the allegations that Arrested Development star Jeffrey Tambor sexually harassed people while working on Transparent came up—allegations Tambor has denied—the interview veered into contentious territory, as cast members Jason Bateman, Tony Hale, Will Arnett, and David Cross downplayed an incident between Tambor and their fellow cast member Jessica Walter.
The allegations against Tambor first went public in November of 2017, the same month the fifth season of Arrested Development finished shooting. Although Tambor was fired from Transparent after Amazon Studios investigated the situation, Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz decided, after talking to Tambor, the show’s cast and crew, and executives at Netflix and 20th Century Fox Television, that in the absence of any sexual harassment complaints about Tambor’s behavior while working on Arrested Development, he’d remain on the show. Hurwitz explained his decision to EW:
Am I going to cut Jeffrey out of the show, based on allegations that he disputes, that Amazon hasn’t shared, and that we have never experienced any complaints about? No, of course I am not going to. … I’m going to support Jeffrey.
Hurwitz acknowledged the actor could be difficult to work with, characterizing him as “a grump,” but said he’d never seen any evidence of sexual misconduct. Tambor, in a Hollywood Reporter interview from earlier this month, mentioned a specific fight he’d had with Jessica Walter as an example of the kind of bad behavior that, while regrettable, didn’t rise to the level of the things he’d been accused of on Transparent. Judging from the New York Times interview, it seems like Walter took it a little more seriously than he did, since the topic reduced her to tears.
It’s important to remember that the actors talking to the Times were there to promote the next season of their television show, not speaking at a roundtable on appropriate workplace behavior. So there might be a “not in front of the media!” factor to the way the show’s male cast members talked over Walter, minimized what had happened between her and Tambor, tried to present a unified front to the public, and very deliberately ignored what she was saying. Look at the way Bateman tries to steer the conversation back to soundbite-friendly waters when the topic first comes up:
From the Hollywood Reporter interview, you talked about how you yelled at directors, assistant directors, the Transparent creator Jill Soloway. You even said at one point you lashed out at—
WALTER: Jessica Walter.
BATEMAN: Which we’ve all done, by the way.
WALTER: Oh! You’ve never yelled at me!
BATEMAN: Not to belittle what happened.
WALTER: You’ve never yelled at me like that.
BATEMAN: But this is a family and families, you know, have love, laughter, arguments—again, not to belittle it, but a lot of stuff happens in 15 years. I know nothing about Transparent but I do know a lot about Arrested Development. And I can say that no matter what anybody in this room has ever done—and we’ve all done a lot, with each other, for each other, against each other—I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I have zero complaints.
After Will Arnett makes a joke about keying Jason Bateman’s car and David Cross says that it’s important to note that Tambor says he’s learned from his mistakes, it took Jessica Walter to ask interviewer Sopan Deb what the original question was. It turned out to be exactly the sort of direct, simple question that is very difficult to parry with jokes about keying cars:
If someone approached you and said, “O.K., here’s an actor that admits he routinely yells at directors, at assistant directors, at co-workers, assistants,” would you hire that person?
Tambor gave a direct answer—that he would hire such a person if he felt they’d “reckoned with” their behavior, which he thought he had. But Bateman, Cross, and Tony Hale unleashed a blizzard of equivocation, attempting to explain why behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated from a toddler is an essential part of Hollywood. Here’s Bateman:
Again, not to belittle it or excuse it or anything, but in the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, “difficult.” And when you’re in a privileged position to hire people, or have an influence in who does get hired, you make phone calls. And you say, “Hey, so I’ve heard X about person Y, tell me about that.” And what you learn is context. And you learn about character and you learn about work habits, work ethics, and you start to understand. Because it’s a very amorphous process, this sort of [expletive] that we do, you know, making up fake life. It’s a weird thing, and it is a breeding ground for atypical behavior and certain people have certain processes. … What we do for a living is not normal, and therefore the process is not normal sometimes, and to expect it to be normal is to not understand what happens on set.
“We’ve all had moments,” Tony Hale added, while David Cross argued that Tambor’s outburst “didn’t just come out of the blue.” You can see, in real time, the three actors forming a consensus about what happened—and, worse, framing Tambor’s behavior as something only a Hollywood novice would find objectionable. Walter, no Hollywood novice, seems eager to forgive Tambor—“I have to give you a chance to, you know, for us to be friends again,” she tells him—but insists through tears that the rest of the cast is downplaying something serious:
Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set.
Walter also alludes to the fact that the way other cast members are talking about it makes it more difficult for her to move past it, since they’re not acknowledging what happened. That pattern—male cast members saying “This happens all the time and is no big deal plus there’s context you’re missing and we’re a family” while Jessica Walter protests—repeats so often that Deb ends up asking Walter to confirm that there’s a disagreement here to begin with. (“I agree with everybody,” says Cross at one point.) But it’s Alia Shawkat, the youngest person at the table, who offers the clearest response to this age-old line of argument. After Bateman launches into his second long, reasonable explanation of why behavior like Tambor’s is commonplace in the arts, Shawkat cuts through the bullshit, telling him, “That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.” That seems like a good starting place for a conversation.