Jimmy Bennett Gives First TV Interview After Accusing Asia Argento of Sexual Assault
The former child actor appeared on Italian TV in an effort to tell his side of the story.
Jimmy Bennett, the former child actor actor who has accused Asia Argento of sexual assault, gave his first live television appearance on Italian TV Sunday night in an effort to tell his side of the story.
Bennett and his lawyer Gordon Sattro appeared on the La 7 program Non e l'Arena (It's Not the Arena), hosted by Massimo Giletti, considered one of the country’s top journalists.
According to Bennett, Argento assaulted him in California in 2013, where the age of consent is 18. He was 17 and she was 37 at the time. Argento originally agreed to a $380,000 settlement with Bennett, but she has denied any wrongdoing.
Bennett first met Argento in 2004 when he was 7 years old, playing the role of her son in her film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.
According to the new interview, conducted via simultaneous translation in front of a live audience, he says they stayed friends and kept in touch sporadically over the years. She called him "son" and he called her "mother." They began corresponding on Twitter, and agreed to meet at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey via email.
Bennett said he wasn’t surprised that Argento had contacted him after so much time, saying that she was proposing an Italian film she was making that she wanted him to be in. “I thought that at some point we would meet again. I was definitely excited to see her. She invited me and I was more than happy to come and talk to her,” he said.
“I remember feeling a little strange at how nervous she was,” said Bennett in response to Argento posting on social media before their meeting. “She had sent me photos and letters she was writing while she was waiting in her hotel room. For me, there was always a barrier of culture, and I didn’t know if this was her way of, you know, how she was raised in showing affection. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting.”
Bennett said he arrived at the Ritz-Carlton with a chaperone, who he claims left after Argento made him feel unwelcome. “It all happened very fast” after that, he said.
“The first thing that happened was her offering me champagne. She had already been drinking. And she went to play music on a record player that she had, and she was smoking cigarettes, talking to me, catching up,” he said. “And she was telling me about this film she had in mind for me. She told me she wanted to show me the world because she knew that I had never been out of the States. So she wanted to bring me to Rome.
“It had started when I first got into the room. There was a lot of kissing and a lot of her grabbing my face and looking at me and kind of inspecting me and saying, ‘Oh my son, I’ve missed you so much.’ My interpretation of that was that maybe it was just a way of her showing me affection,” he said, explaining that he interpreted it as a cultural thing, as he had often seen Italian people kiss on the mouth or cheek in greeting.
“She started kissing me longer and longer and it started to feel to me that it wasn’t just a friendly thing,” said Bennett, “and more that she was trying to explore the situation.”
“I felt she was trying to get somewhere else, instead of just the kiss,” he continued.
“It’s hard for me to talk about this in front of strangers and people I don’t know, but I do want to get the benefit of the doubt of telling the truth, and also I don’t want to say anything too inappropriate,” he said. “After the kisses started getting longer and it turned into more her placing her hands on me in different ways. Following that was when she pushed me onto the bed and undid my belt and took my pants off.”
Giletti pressed Bennett: “Was the intercourse complete?”
Bennett, confused, asked, “How do you mean, complete?”
Giletti repeated his question. Bennett, thought for a few moments before replying, “Yeah.”
The host asked him if it was his first time, and he responded that no, he had previous sexual experiences.
Giletti continued pressing Bennett: "The thing that is hard to understand — I say this with great respect — is that when a man confesses he raped a woman, none of us doubt it, as unfortunately sometimes a woman cannot defend herself. On the other hand, the violence of a woman against a man is technically difficult to comprehend. Do you understand what I mean? A man, even if he is the one undergoing the violence, has to have an active role.”
“Yeah. I think that the main narrative, at least from the comments and stuff I’ve received, is that, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you want to have sex with her? What’s wrong with you? You must be a homosexual to not want to have sex with this woman.' And I think that just goes to show that that’s not really what it’s about,” said Bennett. “A woman can be attractive in some way and still abuse a man.”
Giletti pressed again, showing the now-viral photo of Argento and Bennett in bed, allegedly post-coital, saying they both looked tranquil and calm.
Bennett said Argento asked him to take the photo after the sexual act, and he took it on his own phone.
“I’m sorry, but you don’t seem upset, you don’t seem in this picture to be traumatized,” Giletti said, while the audience applauded.
Giletti also asked about a letter Bennett had written on Ritz-Carlton stationery, telling Argento, “I love you with all my heart. So glad we met again.”
Bennett replied that Argento asked him to write her the letter when he arrived at the hotel to remember their meeting.
Giletti seemed doubtful, given the past-tense verbs in the letter, arguing that it would take time to sit down and hand-write a letter. Bennett remained firm that the letter was written prior to the alleged sexual assault. Giletti also pushed on why Bennett asked for $3.5 million, an enormous sum. Sattro replied that the sum was a calculation based on what he had made in years prior to the incident and based on income lost afterward.
Bennett has said that he has resigned from acting and is trying to pursue a career in rock music.
Bennett compared his alleged assault to Argento’s own accusation about Harvey Weinstein, by getting him to a hotel room under false pretenses, in this case the film. Giletti asked how he could compare someone as powerful as Weinstein, who could make or break careers, to someone like Argento, who at that time had only directed two movies.
“It was still a position of, she wanted to put me in a film,” replied Bennett. “Her using that to get me into the hotel room is what I was talking about, the power situation.”
A visibly frustrated Bennett said he did not feel comfortable with the way the interview had gone, saying that he came on to tell his story, and not talk about Argento. Giletti explained that in Italy, Argento is very famous and is an integral part of the story, so it’s not possible to speak of the situation without speaking of her. But the host removed graphics of Argento onscreen at Bennett’s request.
“I was worried about coming in front of an audience and being accused of not being sincere about the violence against me,” said Bennett. “After this, that’s why I chose the silent route. I was right.”
Giletti also asked that since Argento was a symbol of #MeToo, and one of the most vocal opponents of Weinstein, if this entire circumstance could be seen as a favor to Weinstein, or as damaging to the #MeToo movement.
“I don’t think it’s a favor at all. I think out of the amount of women who came forward against Harvey Weinstein, you were able to see his character. But what Asia kept saying from time to time about #MeToo was about people using their power in a negative way,” he said. “I don’t think this is a favor to Harvey Weinstein in any way. This is just one person. And all we’ve done is called out the hypocrisy of what she’s saying.”
Argento has claimed her late partner, Anthony Bourdain, paid the settlement to help Bennett out financially. According to a statement issued by her lawyer Mark Jay Heller, Bennett was paid $250,000 out of the $380,000 and will not receive any more of the money. Heller also claimed that it was Bennett who forced himself on Argento during the alleged sexual encounter.
Responses in Italy in press and on social media were more negative toward Bennett, as many have now come forward to question his credibility and motivations following the interview. Argento fans have also taken to social media to launch a petition to reinstate her as a judge on X Factor Italy after Sky Italia terminated her from the show following the allegations.
Argento tweeted that she dreamt of being reinstated on the show. Fedez, another judge on the show tweeted, "We judges are with you!"
Director Dario Argento, Asia's father, said after the interview that he believes Weinstein directly paid Bennett to take his revenge, which he later recanted saying he has no actual evidence of this.
"I hope the Italian state will keep half, or even one-quarter of the compensation of this little kid, and this money is given to children who are in prison," tweeted Asia's mother, actress Daria Nicolodi, of the reported fee Bennett received for appearing on the show.