During Jeffrey Tambor’s mea culpa interview with The Hollywood Reporter that ran earlier this month, the first time the actor had spoken out about being fired from Transparent in the wake of sexual harassment claims, the Emmy winner made a revelation about his behavior on the set of another TV show.
He brings up a “blowup” he had with Jessica Walter on the set of Arrested Development, an outburst which he said he later “profusely apologized” for. Walter’s press representative told THR that she did not wish to speak about Tambor, with whom she filmed a new season of Arrested Development, out Tuesday on Netflix, as the allegations against Tambor were revealed.
Well, she’s speaking about it now. And that she managed to, you’ll soon see, is remarkable.
Walter and Tambor sat down with most of the actors portraying the Bluth family—Jason Bateman, Tony Hale, David Cross, and Alia Shawkat—for a long conversation with The New York Times’ Sopan Deb, during which the “elephant in the room” of the allegations against Tambor on the set of Transparent as well as his behavior on Arrested Development were discussed.
For the first time, and only because Tambor had brought the incident up first in his THR interview, Walter speaks about their encounter. In “almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set and its hard to deal with, but I’m over it now.” She gets emotional while talking about it, saying through tears, “I have to let go of being angry at him.”
It reads as a nice moment.
But when you look closer at the exchange, in which her co-stars interject with their own opinions, and especially when you listen to the audio embedded in the piece online by the Times, what is most striking is the sheer number of times Walter is forced to clarify and reiterate that nobody has ever spoken to her as inexcusably as Tambor has, because their male co-stars keep interrupting to downplay his behavior.
The exchange begins with Tambor being given the platform to continue his apology tour, in which he refutes any accusation of sexual misconduct but readily admits he has issues with anger and petulant behavior that he is working through.
Bateman readily comes to his defense on that latter point, saying in “the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, ‘difficult.’” Shawkat immediately interjects with a tone that, if you listen to the recording, sternly suggests she’s not buying the bull. “But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable,” she says. “And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.”
It’s at this point that Walter makes her emotional statement, one that treats Tambor with grace without downplaying the trauma of his behavior, and, with humility, forgives him.
“Let me just say one thing that I just realized in this conversation,” she says. “I have to let go of being angry at him. He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go. [Turns to Tambor.] And I have to give you a chance to, you know, for us to be friends again.”
But she doesn’t stop there. She also takes the opportunity to refute Bateman’s dismissal of Tambor’s behavior as the hazards of the business. “Jason says this happens all the time,” she says. “In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on set.”
No, it’s not normal. Yes, every person in any industry deserves dignity and respect. No, your excuses are not valid. Yes, I forgive.
You would think a statement as definitive and powerful as that, delivered by the party involved, should’ve been the last world. That it ends up not even being close to that is absolutely baffling.
Tony Hale returns to Bateman’s point, that “we’ve all had moments.”
No, Walter says again. “Not like that. That was bad.”
Bateman repeats his ‘this is Hollywood, what do you expect???’ talking point. “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,” he says.
Cross suggests that outbursts don’t happen spontaneously, that they build up—an odd innuendo suggesting that Walter was somehow asking for it. Bateman awkwardly says as much, too, literally replying, “Not to say that you know, you [Walter] had it coming. But this is not in a vacuum—families come together and certain dynamics collide and clash every once in a while. And there’s all kinds of things that go into the stew so it’s a little narrow to single that one particular thing that is getting attention from our show.”
Not so fast, Walter counters, having to (absurdly) speak up for herself again. It was Tambor who brought the incident up on his own accord in The Hollywood Reporter.
Deb finally wrangles the question back to the person the answer belongs to, rather than those who had been speaking on her behalf. “It seems like Jason is saying that this is part of the process,” Deb says. “But that’s not what you’re saying, Jessica.”
“That’s correct,” she replies.
The fortitude and courage of their convictions that Walter—and Shawkat, too—exhibit during this tense exchange is remarkable. It’s as remarkable as the reality of what is happening here: Jessica Walter is brought to actual tears by the recollection of how she was poorly treated by Jeffrey Tambor, and a roomful of male colleagues quickly and passionately hurry to the defense of... Tambor. Men excusing men for their bad behavior, and silencing the woman in the process.
Again, should you think any of that is out of context, the audio clip makes it clear.
This is not to act as judge and jury on any of the accusations against Tambor or to speak authoritatively about what happened on either TV set. This entire exchange reveals the intensity and complexity of on-set relationships, going back 15 years on the Arrested Development set and decades longer for veteran actors Walter and Tambor. Everything said by each party is rooted in a personal place and from each person’s own truth. That is valid.
But the way in which Jessica Walter is simply talked over and discounted, and the resolve with which she won’t let it happen, is an eye-opening look into the unconsciously established (and, of course, gendered) reality not only of the industry, but of these conversations we as a culture are trying to have.