Fighting back against accusations of bad behaviour made by multiple women, embattled actor Morgan Freeman says he likes to give compliments but denies ever sexually assaulting women.
CNN last week broke the story of the revered star’s alleged sexual harassment, building its report around the accounts of 16 people, eight of whom said they had experienced harassment or inappropriate behaviour and the rest confirming they had witnessed such conduct.
“All victims of assault and harassment deserve to be heard. And we need to listen to them,” Freeman said in a statement that represented his second bid to scuttle the scandal.
“But it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humour.”
CNN’s story included one movie production assistant who said Freeman unsuccessfully tried to lift her skirt. Other women talked about unwanted touching on their backs and shoulders.
Mostly, Freeman’s accusers say he would comment about their bodies or clothes or make them uncomfortable by staring.
A male former employee of Freeman’s production company said the 80-year-old actor would behave like a “creepy uncle”.
One of the article’s authors, Chloe Melas, began working on it following a press junket where she said Freeman clasped her hand, looked her up and down and made comments like, “you are ripe”.
“I admit that I am someone who feels a need to try to make women, and men, feel appreciated and at ease around me,” Freeman said.
“As a part of that, I would often try to joke with and compliment women, in what I thought was a light-hearted and humorous way. Clearly I was not always coming across the way I intended.”
The actor said that he did not assault women, create unsafe work environments or offer employment or advancement in exchange for sex.
“I am devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye, by Thursday’s media reports,” Freeman said.
The accusations against Freeman came on the same day that disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was due to surrender to police in New York on charges of sexual misconduct.
In Freeman’s initial response to the CNN report on Thursday (local time), The Shawshank Redemption actor said he apologised to “anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected”.
“Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy,” he said.
Freeman won the 2005 Oscar for best supporting actor for Million Dollar Baby, has been nominated four other times, and is renowned for his prolific voiceover work.
-with ABC and wires