It’s been three months since Jeffrey Tambor was officially fired from the set of Transparent, following accusations by two staffers that he sexually harassed them. In a curious yet increasingly familiar move for the publication, with men accused of #MeToo-style misconduct, the Hollywood Reporter has given Tambor a lengthy profile in which he is allowed to stare thoughtfully into the distance and perform regret, all without admitting to any actual misdeeds besides being “moody” on set.
Tambor was not, of course, fired for being “moody” or “tactless,” another non-crime he will cop to; his dismissal followed allegations by two co-workers, both trans women, that he’d sexually harassed them on set. The women are Van Barnes, his former assistant, and Trace Lysette, who plays the character Shea. Barnes alleged that Tambor had groped her and made lewd comments, while Lysette has said that, among other things, Tambor put his genitals against her leg and made thrusting motions while filming a scene where he was in pajamas.
The Hollywood Reporter piece, written by Seth Abramovitch and illustrated with a large, blue-toned portrait of Tambor looking pensive, reads like a textbook opening move in the emerging redemption arc for powerful men. Step one: display introspection and remorse and show that you are now Listening To Women. (Disclosure: Abramovitch previously worked for Gawker Media, Jezebel’s former parent company. He was fired in 2012.)
Through Abramovitch’s gentle prose, Tambor attempts to do that: He’s seen at a diner, hands trembling, nervously pledging to talk about everything openly for the first time. He’s seen in his local bookstore, pondering whether to hug its owner and proclaiming that he feels more “present.”
Later that afternoon, after mixing with the locals at a nearby bookstore cafe — he offers one young man, an aspiring actor, some advice about an upcoming audition — Tambor turns back to the matter at hand, pledging the lessons he needed to learn have been learned. “People change,” he insists. “It’s already changed my behavior on set. Just walking in here today, into this cafe, I hadn’t seen the owner in a long time. I mean, do you hug? Do you not hug? When you see fans...” He trails off. “You know what I do feel? More present. Everything’s just clearer to me.”
But what he doesn’t do—what he can’t seem to do—is admit wrongdoing, even as he vaguely accedes that he knew his behavior on set was getting him into trouble. Or, as Abramovitch writes:
Tambor had been preparing himself for ‘a slap on the wrist’ for what he says were his temperamental outbursts on the set. Never did he think his biggest career triumph would end in such unceremonious disgrace.
Instead, the piece gives Tambor room to suggest that maybe his firing was “political,” having something to do with being a cis man playing a trans character. It describes Jill Soloway, the show’s creator, at one point as “frantic and highly emotional,” both gendered, extremely loaded terms. And it allows Tambor to not discuss an apparent on-set inquiry where he, while accompanied by his attorney, was asked about the allegations, and in which he evidently admitted to kissing staffers on the lips:
Tambor was interviewed for nearly 10 hours during the inquiry, in two marathon sessions. “My lawyer was present,” he says, obviously reluctant to get into the details. “They asked me questions, and I responded to the questions. And that’s pretty much what I want to say about that.” Others were interviewed, as well. Staffers were asked whether Tambor had ever kissed them on the lips — which was something he often felt comfortable enough to do in their cozy work environment.
The piece also gives lots of room to anonymous staffers to describe the show’s atmosphere as sexualized (“It’s a really loose set,” says one person described as a “high-ranking producer,” adding, “Everybody behaves in a sensual manner because it’s a show about sex”), apparently to contextualize Tambor’s behavior and perhaps normalize it. And one anonymous staffer is allowed to suggest that Barnes had a reputation for “raunchy” humor (“she’s the dirtiest fucking talker in the world”), which is apparently meant to stand in contrast to her claims that she was uncomfortable with Tambor’s behavior toward her on set.
As for Lysette, Abramovitch’s piece also makes sure to note that she’s a former stripper, that she was “the only male on her high school cheerleading team” before beginning the gender confirmation process, and that she once attempted suicide. None of that is particularly relevant to whether or not Tambor harassed her, although bringing up previous jobs in sex work-adjacent fields and mental health issues is certainly a well-worn tactic to discredit someone making harassment allegations.
Abramovitch also tries to make even extremely bizarre parts of the story explicable: Tambor, a man of considerable wealth, once asked to stay with Barnes and Lysette in a rental house while his was being renovated. In that time, Barnes alleges he watched her sleeping naked.
Tambor, Abramovitch observes, “grows reticent” when asked to address specific allegations, though he does eventually offer this, of Barnes: “What I said was that she was a disgruntled assistant. I think that was generous of me. I dispute her account. I did raise my voice at times, I was moody at times, there were times when I was tactless. But as for the other stuff, absolutely not.”
All of this is in line with the Hollywood Reporter’s developing in-house specialty. The publication previously ran an eyebrow-raising piece about how Louis C.K. can make his comeback, and wrote a profile of Harvey Weinstein that described him as “complex” and “opaque” and made sure to note that his mom was mean to him.
“Complex” is a word that gets trotted out here too, as the deck of the Tambor piece describes it as “one of the most complex cases of the #MeToo era.”
And complex is also a term we could use to describe THR’s position in relationship to #MeToo: the publication is owned by Valence Media, which also produced House of Cards; Kevin Spacey got sympathetic space in a THR editorial that wondered if the allegations against him were part of a “Hollywood witch hunt.”
And just last week, the Daily Beast ran a story revealing that John Amato, president of Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group, got several stories killed about his good friend Charlie Walk, Republic Records’ ex-president. Walk has been accused of serial sexual harassment by at least six women who say the behavior spanned decades. Walk left Republic in March in what was described as a “mutual” parting of ways. (The company reportedly announced that they are investigating the allegations that Amato interfered with the reporting of stories about Walk.)
Amato oversees THR as well as Billboard, Spin, Stereogum, and Vibe. Sources reportedly told the Daily Beast that he hasn’t been involved in overseeing or helping to shape #MeToo stories, including the ones about Tambor. Which raises the possibility that some of THR’s writers are choosing to cover accused abusers and harassers in this curiously soft-focus way because they truly can’t imagine that what they see as so hopelessly “tangled” and complex is, in fact, horribly normal.