In the final season of "Mad Men," veteran actor Paul Johansson played a seriously unpleasant and sexist ad executive named Ferg Donnelly who ruined the career of character Joan Harris. At a recent visit to the BuzzFeed studio on Beverly Boulevard, Johansson was almost as demeaning to the young editorial assistant whose job it was to interview him. The difference: She had a notebook, a tape recorder and the personal standards (plus BuzzFeed's backing) to write about it in a post — despite a letter from Johansson's lawyer. Susan Cheng's post, What Hollywood’s Acceptance Of Sexism Looks Like In Practice, went up on the site tonight.
Kate Aurthur, chief correspondent for BuzzFeed News in Los Angeles, gave her props on Facebook. "I'm proud and admiring of my colleague Susan Cheng, not far out of college, who had this experience at our office and wrote about it," Aurthur writes.
Cheng, by the way, says she came to the interview as an admirer of Johansson's from his time as the dad on "One Tree Hill," as well as on "Mad Men." Near the top of the story, Johansson says he's flirting with one of the other female BuzzFeed staffers in the room by talking about how he could beat her in tennis: "I’ll serve the ball right down your throat.”
From Cheng's story:
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.
What did he just say? I mumbled to another colleague, who was standing beside me. None of Johansson’s comments up until that point had been recorded, as the camera hadn’t began rolling. I felt uncomfortable but was focusing on getting the shoot done. Without hesitation, I sat down next to Johansson with my laptop, explaining to him the process of creating reaction GIFs — at which point he slung his arm around my back.
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.
It took me a second to register what I’d just heard. Still, none of us in the room objected or expressed our discomfort. Instead, I forced myself to laugh before proceeding. After all, it was just the culmination of about three comments from Johansson that would’ve been inappropriate in an ad agency in the early 1970s, like the one his misogynistic character works at on Mad Men. But this is hardly 1970. It’s 2015, and we work at BuzzFeed — far from the time or place where I would’ve expected his remarks.
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?”
In the piece, Cheng discusses her later dismay that she didn't end the interview and call Johannson on his behavior at the time. She also describes the process of deciding to write something.
By the way: So I know this post is about Cheng and her decision to stand up to the guy, but while checking Aurthur's Twitter feed I came across this gem. Couldn't let it go un-embedded.
When publicists ask whether I'm the correct contact for covering live music events—and it happens all the time—I laugh so hard!— Kate Aurthur (@KateAurthur) May 18, 2015