Now here’s the story of one interview with The New York Times that went horribly wrong, and how Alia Shawkat was the only one to defend Jessica Walter while she was crying during it. Sound like a clear-cut situation for comedy? Absolutely not, but it happened.
A few days before the Season 5 premiere of Arrested Development on Netflix, the whole cast (sans Portia de Rossi who is getting ready to go save the gorillas, and Michael Cera who has Broadway obligations) sat down for a roundtable interview with NYT. What started off as a lighthearted trip down memory lane with the Bluths quickly turned into a pretty horrible situation: After bringing up harassment allegations against Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter (who plays Tambor’s on-screen wife, Lucille) breaks down in tears recounting her own experience with the actor, in which he forcefully yelled at her on set. Talking about the event brings the legendary actress to tears, and if that’s not bad enough (and it’s pretty bad), not a single one of her fictional television children stepped in to comfort her.
Well, except for Shawkat, but then again Maeby and Gangy always had a different and special relationship.
Arrested Development jokes aside, the fallout following this interview was intense. Twitter erupted into literal flames as the interview — and worse, AUDIO of the interview — began to circulate. While certainly bad interviews have happened in the past, there hasn’t been a bad interview like this before. That’s mostly because Jason Bateman (who has played Walter’s on-screen son on and off for 15 years) actually says the phrase, “not to belittle what happened,” and then mansplains Hollywood and the industry to Walter, all while basically excusing Tambor’s on-set behavior. The other male cast members present — Tony Hale, Will Arnett, David Cross — remain, for the most part, silent. It’s only Shawkat who steps in to try and shut Bateman down, outright saying that this behavior is inexcusable, even for a fictional family member.
The following day, Bateman apologized for his his comments in a series of tweets, as did Hale; Cross had an interview already lined up with Gothamist, which quickly turned into his own small apology tour. While these apologies certainly mean something in the scheme of things, and it’s nice to see that these three grown men are reflecting on their words and actions, it is literally not enough.
The interview boils down to the fact that, yes, Bateman mansplains Walter’s own experience to her, which she lived through, so she knows firsthand what happened. There’s also some gaslighting going on in the interview, which is a term that’s really come to light during Trump’s presidency. Walter tries to explain her side but her male co-stars, instead of listening, try to emphasize that what happened to her isn’t out of the ordinary in their industry; in his own interview, Cross even suggests that Walter herself got verbally abusive on set. Cross then also plays up the fact that he’s the “father of a daughter” and that he had lengthy conversations with his wife (Amber Tamblyn) and Shawkat following the interview.
But…what’s the point of saying this? Why does this matter? Furthermore, why is no one letting Walter speak for herself?
Why is so much time spent explaining harassment to Walter when the conversation could have easily shifted to how she felt, and how everyone has learned from their past actions?
At one point Bateman actually says to Walter, “I didn’t mean to speak for you,” but [narrator voice] he did. Her male co-stars, mostly Bateman, take every opportunity to reduce her experiences to nothing more than a fun party anecdote while she sits idly by. And then Walter apologizes for her own actions in the interview, and goes on to say that she would work with Tambor again in the future.
There is so, so much wrong with all of this and what really twists the knife is that this is Arrested Development. This is not some hard cop show with heavy plot lines, this is not some seven season drama on HBO, this isn’t even a soap opera. This is Arrested Development, a show that frequently puts its characters in banana suits and has a long-running joke about the Blue Man Group. Over the last 15 years we’ve let the Bluths into our lives, and now I’m left wondering if I know any of them at all. It’s a weird reckoning for Arrested Development fans. Sure, drama happens behind-the-scenes on every show. But this kind of drama spilling so nakedly into the public’s eye makes for a strange and uneasy feeling. This is NOT how you treat your on-screen mother of 15 years; this is, bottom line, not how you treat a-n-y-o-n-e.
There’s very much a joke out there about how men don’t know what to do when women cry in front of them, but now I’m starting to worry that men just don’t know what to do with women in any situation, period. During this Hollywood reckoning — very much prompted by the #MeToo movement — it’s become clear that while some things have changed, others remain largely the same. Women are apologizing for their feelings and actions, and men are then apologizing for the fact that they made women apologize in the first place. It’s backwards and twisted and it’s time we start demanding better, not just from the Bluths, but everyone.