Asia Argento Asks for 'X Factor' Job Back in Italian TV Interview

Asia Argento screengrab - H 2018
Screenshot courtesy of "Non e l'Arena"

The Italian actress and director told her version of the Jimmy Bennett story, claiming she was the one assaulted and traumatized by the 2013 hotel meeting.

Asia Argento appeared on La7’s Non e l’Arena (It’s Not the Arena), hosted by journalist Massimo Giletti, on Sunday night. Her accuser Jimmy Bennett appeared on the exact same program last week to tell his version of the story accusing Argento of rape, but the director and actress refuted all of his claims, saying she was the one who was assaulted by him.

“I would like to go back to X Factor, to do my job, because my children are proud of me, Italy wants me and I have not done anything that I'm accused of,” Argento said on the Italian program.

Giletti supported her request with a direct appeal to Sky Italia’s CEO Andrea Zappia, saying it was an “absolute mistake” to remove her from her position.

Argento was dropped by Sky Italia and Fremantle Media for her role as a judge on X Factor after allegations became public that she had paid off Bennett for a sexual assault in California in 2013 when he was 17 and she was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.

As Argento had already filmed the auditions for 40,000 people on the show, Sky Italia decided to air the first episodes showing her as a judge, so as not to penalize the 12 people who had already been narrowed down for the X Factor finals.

Argento, who has already become a popular face of the show, has had much support in Italy for her to return to the show, from a fan petition on social media to fellow judge Fedez announcing she should be allowed to return. Both Non e l’Arena and X Factor are produced by Fremantle Media.

“The thing that hurt me most was being called 'pedophile.' I have children,” she said of the recent events, “and that is a stigma that I do not wish for anyone.”

Last week, Bennett was met with doubt by Giletti and the live audience on his accusations of Argento raping him. “It made me angry, but it made me especially sorry, because his eyes were glassy and there was no expression on his face,” said Argento in reaction to his interview. “I saw him as a child who then failed to pursue his career, a lost soul.”

Argento denied Bennett’s description of the alleged attack point by point. Saying she saw him “like a lost son,” Argento said that they had arranged to meet in Los Angeles and he had asked her to practice lines with him for a script, “like in the old days.”

But when he came to her hotel, he didn't bring any script, she said. “I did not know he was underage, I thought he was 18 because he had also told me this. It is not true that there was a chaperone,” said Argento.

Argento said she also didn’t recognize him at first. “That's why I took his face, so that's true,” she said. “He had a glazed look, like so many boys who after 13 no longer work, have problems with their parents. He even denounced them. It made me sad.” 

Filled with pity, Argento claimed, “I told him, ‘OK, Jimmy, maybe we can do a movie together, I can find a part for you.’ He lit up and we hugged at that moment. Then he began to kiss me and touch me in a way that was not that of a child with his mother, but that of a boy with crazy hormones.

"I laugh, but it's also a traumatic thing. Seeing this boy who had always been like a child behave like this with me completely froze me,” she continued. “He literally jumped on me; he put me sideways across the bed. He did what he had to do. He didn't use a condom. It lasted for two minutes. He had an orgasm. I was cold, unable to move. Shocked, I asked him afterwards why he had done this, and he told me that I had been his sexual fantasy since he was 12 years old."

On the reported payoff, Argento brought text messages with her former partner Anthony Bourdain where he said it was better to pay him off, even though she didn’t want to “because they were lies.” She also brought proof of being treated for trauma by a therapist in July 2013, just a few months after meeting with Bennett.

Argento compared the assault to being raped by Harvey Weinstein and said her biggest regret was failing to defend herself. “I had not even defended myself in the meeting with Weinstein,” she said. “I think it's because of some childhood trauma.”

Argento also spoke of her former friend Rose McGowan and McGowan’s partner, Rain Dove, who released text messages from their private conversation following the allegations.

“Rain Dove makes me sick, makes me throw up, is an unscrupulous, really bad person,” said Argento. “These two women have sold those messages in a selective manner, saying that I had received Bennett's nude photos since he was 12, but it was not true. For that people started calling me 'pedophile.'" McGowan later recanted her version of the events in a public apology to Argento on Twitter.

Argento compared Dove and McGowan to Bennett, believing that they used her and saying they “are all people hungry for money that do not have any scruples. And I have proof of everything I say."

Argento also discussed Bourdain’s recent suicide while holding back tears. “I felt desperation, a sense of guilt for not having seen his pain. He had never shown it to me,” she said. “It was Bourdain who protected me. I was the depressed one. He told me that we would be happy. He gave me the best two years of my life, and nobody can take them away from me."

When Giletti asked if Argento thought Bourdain's suicide was linked to her having an affair, she responded, "I cannot believe that someone like him, so wise, profound and intelligent, has taken his life over a relationship with someone else."

Argento also spoke out about being one of the first women to denounce Weinstein in Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker piece.

She denied Farrow's account of her story, which stated that she continued to have a consensual relationship with Weinstein after he assaulted her for five years. Because of this particular sentence, Argento was attacked relentlessly in Italian media, painted as an opportunist, a "prostitute," questioned about whether she was even living with Weinstein. “I never slept with him, I never had a 5 year relationship with him, as Farrow simplified in one paragraph," she said. “This makes you understand how journalism can ruin your life.” 

Speaking of photos where she appears smiling with Weinstein, Argento said, “At every premiere for my films, in Toronto, in Cannes, in Venice, he always showed up with a photographer and this is what he did with all his victims. Why do we see pictures of all of them with him? Because he was well aware of what he did and knowing that those actresses would have been there, he went there on purpose with his paparazzo He was sharp."

She described one episode at the Toronto Film Festival where he found out her hotel room and "he knocked continuously on the door, he was a real stalker. He really scared me, this ogre," she said.  "He offered me furs, jewels, even a house. jewelry, a fur coat, an apartment. I always said no."

Years later when her film Scarlett Diva came out, where she anonymously referenced the rape, she said he came back into her life. "He said 'I need to apologize to you. I'm sorry for what I've done. I want to show you that I'm your friend," she said. "And I believed him."

On naming Weinstein directly, Argento said, "I knew that I would be a kamikaze, but it was necessary because what my colleagues did was not the political rebellion that was needed,” she said, referencing Italy’s faltering #MeToo movement Dissenso Comune, which issued a blanket letter in February against sexual harassment. 

“I thought I would not work anymore. But I had heard so many women from October to May telling me about sexual abuse. I was upset,” Argento said. She added that an actress had called her to sign onto the letter. “But it was a letter from Santa Claus,” she said. “We cannot change the system without naming names.”

Following the initial publication of this story The New Yorker issued the following statement:

“In response to a question about the reaction to her story in Italy, Asia Argento expressed that she felt her story was simplified and condensed, not that Ronan Farrow lied. Our reporting was painstakingly checked with Ms. Argento, and we stand by it and by the care and sensitivity with which we told this complex story.”

3:09, Oct. 12: Updated to include a statement from The New Yorker.