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Arrested Development’s Jessica Walter talks Jeffrey Tambor’s harassment — with Tambor there

“I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set,” Walter told the New York Times.

Jason Bateman Honored With Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame
Jeffrey Tambor (second from left) and Jessica Walter appear with Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz (left) and their co-stars Jason Bateman (center) and Will Arnett (right) at Bateman’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony.
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

In an interview with the New York Times published Wednesday, May 23, Arrested Development star Jessica Walter (who plays Lucille Bluth) spoke publicly, for the first time, about a time fellow Arrested star Jeffrey Tambor (who plays Lucille’s husband, George) berated her on set. Arrested Development returns for a new season May 29 on Netflix.

“He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever,” Walter says to reporter Sopan Deb. “Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize.” (The Times piece includes audio of this section of the interview as well.)

But Walter wasn’t speaking to Deb alone — she was part of a group interview with several other Arrested Development stars, including Jason Bateman (Michael), David Cross (Tobias), Alia Shawkat (Maeby), Tony Hale (Buster), Will Arnett (Gob), and Tambor himself. Thus, when she spoke about this, she was doing so with Tambor just a few feet away.

Tambor first brought the incident into the press in a lengthy profile of him in the Hollywood Reporter, meant to talk about his exit from the series Transparent, on which he played Maura Pfefferman, a role for which he won two Emmys. After being accused of sexual harassment by two women he worked with, Tambor was fired from the series following an investigation conducted by Amazon.

Though Tambor continues to deny the harassment accusations, he has copped, several times, to having a temper and yelling at co-workers on Transparent and other projects, which is how the altercation with Walter first became public knowledge. (There has, so far, been no report of when the incident took place. Arrested’s first three seasons ran from 2003 to 2006, while its fourth season aired in 2013.)

The bulk of Arrested Development season five was filmed before the news about Tambor’s behavior on Transparent became public in late 2017, though the actor’s co-stars who have been asked about Tambor have mostly stood by him. A notable exception is Shawkat, who, with Walter and Portia de Rossi (not present for the Times interview), is one of just three women in the nine-person ensemble cast.

Here’s the key section of the Times report:

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.

SHAWKAT: But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.

WALTER [THROUGH TEARS]: Let me just say one thing that I just realized in this conversation. 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.

TAMBOR: Absolutely.

WALTER: But it’s hard because honestly — 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. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now. I just let it go right here, for The New York Times.

It’s worth noting that for the bulk of the interview (which is worth reading in full, even beyond the discussions around Tambor), the male actors in the room in addition to Tambor strike much the same note as Bateman above — doing their best to place Tambor’s actions in a context and explain that he was just being “difficult” — with only Shawkat (the sole woman other than Walter in the interview) defining the behavior as unacceptable.

Later, Bateman even says that sometimes these situations are “cumulative,” then immediately backtracks from the implications of that statement by saying he’s not talking about Walter, though it’s hard to read his initial statement any other way.

Walter says, multiple times, that she’s still working to forgive Tambor. That, too, fits into a familiar cycle when it comes to these sorts of confrontations, as writers Marin Cogan and Rebecca Traister point out.

Following online backlash to the Times story, some of Walter’s co-stars began apologizing for their part in the interview. Early Thursday morning, Bateman sent a series of tweets apologizing for his behavior during the interview:

Soon after, Tony Hale — who was less vocal in the interview overall, but did back up Bateman’s words by saying “we’ve all had moments” — also tweeted an apology to Walter:

This article was updated on May 24 to include Bateman and Hale’s apologies.

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