Typecast Much? Mad Men’s Paul Johansson Shows Buzzfeed How Sexism Is Done In Hollywood
“I’m sweating like a rapist."
Whether we’re watching heroes, villains, or ordinary folks trying to get through the day on television, we like to think what we’re watching is a demonstration of acting prowess. But what if the person portraying a great TV villain actually is that heinous in real life? Well, Mad Men‘s Paul Johansson, who played Ferg Donnelly on the show recently concluded, long-running series, may be a sad example of that very thing.
Buzzfeed writer, Susan Cheng, recently did a fun gif post with Johansson, and was thrilled to do so at first as she – like many women in my age bracket – really enjoyed watching One Tree Hill, where he played “the ultimate father-from-hell,” Dan Scott for nine years. However, in a piece she published yesterday, she described how that day with Johansson actually went, and demonstrated that there’s a reason why he’s so often cast to play sexist assholes.
According to Cheng:
“Why are you so tan?” Johansson asked one of my colleagues.
“I was outside playing tennis all weekend,” she answered.
“I play tennis,” he said. “I’m not very good though.”
“I could probably beat you,” she replied.
“This is what we refer to as flirting where I am from,” he responded blithely. “I’ll find your weak spot.”
“I don’t have any,” she responded.
“My serve is pretty strong,” he said. “I’ll serve the ball right down your throat.”
My head snapped up. I was so alarmed, I’d nearly missed his next words, which involved him telling my co-worker that he wanted to take her into his cave (apparently a reference to Canada, where he’s from), where he’d put her on her back.
Sadly, that bit wasn’t captured on camera – but this next bit was, which makes it all the more disturbing that it was said so casually:
Then, in the middle of the shoot — for which we asked Johansson to act out reactions to so-called dicks in the workplace — the actor made another comment, one we did capture on camera. “I’m not shy,” he said to my colleagues and me under the hot fluorescent lights inside the studio. I laughed at his improvisation, which admittedly was pretty funny. Then he said, a little too casually, “I’m sweating like a rapist,” wiping his forehead and the sides of his face, seemingly not paying attention to the camera that was recording those very words.
And lest you think that this is a case of an oblivious actor “just making a joke,” it goes ON in this uncomfortable exchange:
As I led Johansson out of the office, without a recording device as the interview had ended, he gestured at the various partitions throughout the space. “Oh yeah, that’s where we have our meetings and stuff,” I explained.
With his hand on my back for the second time, he asked, “Do you ever take people in there and make out with them?”
I felt my skin crawl but forced a smile. “Well, those are glass windows, so no.”
*Sigh* What’s sad about this is that the women at Buzzfeed didn’t feel safe enough to say anything at the time, because sadly, stuff like this is still par for the course, in media and in pretty much every other industry. Cheng waited three weeks to talk to Johansson’s publicist about it, and what did she get in return? A dismissive letter from Johansson’s lawyer:
I love things like “Even if Mr. Johansson used those words, there is nothing sexual or inappropriate about the statement.” Really? According to whom? To you? To Johansson? What about the person to whom the words were spoken? Does she not get a say in what is “allowed” to offend her?
What neither Johansson nor his lawyer seem to understand is that sending a letter like this just spotlights exactly what’s so offensive and sexist about this whole exchange. Rather than apologizing for causing offense – even if, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he thought he was “just kidding” – he has his lawyer send a letter which is basically the legalese version of Learn how to take a joke. Women’s testimony of their own experience is rarely considered as Being Enough. Because as we all know, women don’t know when we should be offended or what we should find funny or not. Thank GOD there are men around to explain things to us.
Thing is, it isn’t only about gender. It’s about basic human decency. Someone is offended by something you did unintentionally, you apologize for having caused offense, regardless of your intentions. That’s just being a good person. The response from Johansson’s camp in response to this is as bad as the offenses themselves. Maybe next time you put a sexist, douchey foot in your mouth and someone calls you on it, instead of sending an angry letter threatening legal action, if you can’t find it in yourself to apologize, you might want to follow your own advice and keep your lips zipped:
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