The Amazing Way A Reporter Confronted A Celebrity Who Sexually Harassed Her

Photo: Gregory Pace/BEImages.
Actor Paul Johansson has played some of the most villainous characters on television. He was Dan Scott on One Tree Hill and John Sears on Beverly Hills, 90210. During the final season of Mad Men, Johansson played Ferg Donnelly, the McCann Erickson executive whose uncomfortable, innuendo-filled comments to Joan made her take a buyout and leave the firm. With his career as one of the "most hated men in television history" in mind, BuzzFeed brought Johansson to the office for one if its signature GIF reaction series. The post, which went live on May 4, was called "13 Ways To React To Dicks At Work, As Told By Paul Johansson." 

That's not the end of the story, though. Last night, one of the GIF post's authors, Susan Cheng, published a second article about Johansson's time at BuzzFeed called "What Hollywood's Acceptance of Sexism Looks Like in Practice." In it, Cheng described various comments and gestures the actor allegedly made during his time at the company's offices that made the interview "very awkward and inappropriate."

Cheng recalled a conversation Johansson had with her colleague before the cameras were rolling. He asked Cheng's co-worker why she was so tan, to which she replied that she'd been outside playing tennis that weekend. The two engaged in a little trash talk, which Johansson pointed out was "flirting where I am from." "My serve is pretty strong,” he told Cheng's colleague. “I’ll serve the ball right down your throat."

"My head snapped up. I was so alarmed," Cheng wrote about her reaction to Johansson's remarks. "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."

According to Cheng, that wasn't the last time the actor would make a comment that crossed the line during the shoot. While he was acting out his reactions to annoying people in the workplace, Johansson allegedly said, "I’m sweating like a rapist." He was being recorded at that point, but Cheng noted that he wasn't paying attention to the camera. 

The comments made her uncomfortable, but she "forced [herself] to laugh before proceeding."

After they finished shooting the GIFs, Cheng led Johansson out of the office. When they passed a conference room, she noted that, "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," Cheng recalled. What she said was, "Well, those are glass windows, so no."

Three weeks after her experience with Paul Johansson, it was still lingering in Susan Cheng's mind. She finally decided to write about it because, "[H]is conduct is common in a Hollywood culture that puts young women in positions where they can be easily manipulated or harassed by older men. What’s worse, that culture also discourages those women from speaking out and continues to reward the men accused of committing such offenses, as recent events have indicated."

Cheng contacted Johansson's publicist to see if she could speak to him about the way he acted. Almost a day later, she received a letter from the actor's lawyer. It claimed that Johansson had "never acted inappropriate towards [me], or any of [my] colleagues at the BuzzFeed offices."

His lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, went on to say that there was nothing "sexual or inappropriate" about the statement Johansson made to Cheng's colleague about serving tennis balls down her throat. Brettler also wrote that Johansson's statements, such as the one about "sweating like a rapist," were "purposely taken out of context." The lawyer added that the actor had never touched Cheng "in an inappropriate or sexual manner."

It's brave of Susan Cheng to come forward about her experience, and her words are extremely powerful. "Catcalling and sexual harassment happens when men see women as slightly less than human — as if we exist purely for someone else’s enjoyment, as if we exist just for someone else to watch us squirm. Yelling back, or writing about it, reclaims that humanity and reminds them that women are human — and more importantly, it reminds me that I am human. I only wish men like Johansson would see that," she wrote before sharing an excerpt of the letter from Johansson's lawyer.

This was, indeed, an eye-opening account of what Hollywood's acceptance of sexism looks like. 

We have reached out to the actor's lawyer and publicist as well as Susan Cheng for comment. (BuzzFeed)
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