EXCLUSIVE: Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz has spoken out for the first time about the on-set argument between Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter, which caused controversy as the fifth season of the show launched on Netflix.
In an interview with Deadline, Hurwitz detailed the incident from his perspective for the first time and expressed his regret for not realizing its severity when it occurred. “I’m guilty of not realizing how deeply upsetting that was for Jessica,” Hurwitz admitted. “I heard about it and saw parts of it in the dailies, although the part I saw didn’t seem that—I don’t know—momentous. But fights and outbursts always start with things that are smaller.”
The incident stemmed, he said, from the differing approaches Tambor and Walter took to a scene. “It was something minor, like he was doing a speech and Jessica wanted to redo something in her speech,” he explained. “She’s a perfectionist, which I have a horrible case of myself, and he’s sort of loose with it, finds his way back if he gets off course within the speech, for instance… And she was resetting and he got upset and was like, ‘Oh, come on! You always do this!’ He continued for a bit and she apologized. ‘I’m sorry, Jeffrey, I’m sorry.’ But he continued and then walked off—the set apparently, but he walked out of frame.”
Walter told Hurwitz at the time that the incident had upset her, he said. Tambor apologized soon after. “Jessica was really gracious about that—and, you know, was professional in that she didn’t let on that it was still upsetting and present for her. She’s a total pro and the set went back to functioning as well as it always has due to her professionalism, and that’s to her immense credit.”
It was only after Walter broke down when discussing the incident in a New York Times interview with the cast, Hurwitz admitted, that he realized how it had affected her. “There was more to it than I realized, and it’s not my place to opine about what I believe was the weight of it,” he said. “I misinterpreted what I understood to have played out, and more importantly the depth of Jessica’s pain about it. I feel so bad about that. I feel bad because I love these people—I feel bad for very personal reasons…I wish I’d known, or made a greater effort to know, the pain that it caused.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Hurwitz also stood by the decision not to dismiss Tambor following his removal from Amazon’s Transparent in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. “Jeffrey refutes those claims, Amazon hasn’t shared details with us, and we’ve never had any sexual harassment allegations of any type on our show—a point that Jessica Walter has made as well,” Hurwitz insisted. “To be clear: In saying this I’m not defending sexual harassment. It is and should be a job-terminating offense. I just don’t have any information on whatever happened there. Nor do I have any evidence of him ever sexually harassing anyone in the 20 years, off and on, that I’ve worked with him.”
Tambor could be “difficult,” Hurwitz said. “He’s not a rager, although clearly there was an outburst to Jessica. But outside of that and in general he is an emotional guy who either likes his performance or he doesn’t like his performance, and he’s outspoken about it all, and that’s going to be a problem when dealing with people. I do think he’ll learn from this, that there’s cause and effect in the world.”
Hurwitz also said that the cast had staged an “intervention” for him this season when his late delivery of scripts and lack of availability on set became a problem. “I was really playing catch-up in our storytelling, and as a result, I just wasn’t on stage with them the way I usually am,” Hurwitz noted. “They were getting script changes without context—scenes that they didn’t have time to prep for. It was hard for them. And no doubt even more aggravating for them then they let on when they shared that with me.”
It was Jason Bateman who approached Hurwitz. “They were very loving about it. I benefited from that immensely…[Jason] said, ‘Leave it to us. We can take the ball a little further. We’re good. You don’t have to do what you did in the first year.’ He was absolutely right. That’s Jason by the way. He’s always this force for harmony. He’s Michael Bluth.”
Hurwitz maintained that, in spite of the reported incident, the cast remained harmonious, up to and including the show’s late May premiere. “These people all really care about each other,” he said. “Jessica and Jeffrey have shared as much. And [the premiere] was really fun and special night.”
The interview with Hurwitz comes from the latest issue of our print publication AwardsLine. Read the full feature here.