Two days after the New York Times reported that Asia Argento paid $380,000 to a young actor who had accused her of sexual assault when he was just 17, the actress issued a denial that raises almost as many questions as it answers.
“I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article,” she said in a statement on Tuesday after the Times reported on a payment to Jimmy Bennett, a now-22-year-old actor-musician who had accused her of assault in 2013.
“I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false,” wrote Argento, who had directed Bennett and played his mother in the 2004 film “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.” “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”
Argento, who has become a leading figure in the #MeToo movement since accusing disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, also said that her late boyfriend Anthony Bourdain “personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.”
But her response, coming so long after the story was published, has raised a host of new questions.
1. Why didn’t Asia Argento or her representatives issue a denial before the New York Times published its story?
In her article late Sunday, Times reporter Kim Severson noted that the Times had tried to contact Argento and her representatives for more than three days before publication.
“The Times has tried repeatedly since Thursday to get a response to the matter from Ms. Argento and her representatives,” the article read. “She did not reply to messages left on her phone, sent by email and sent to two of her agents, who agreed to forward it to her. Carrie Goldberg, her lawyer who handled the matter, read email messages from The Times, according to two people familiar with the case, but she has not responded. A woman who answered the phone at Ms. Goldberg’s office on Friday said the lawyer would not be available to discuss this article.”
Argento’s representatives didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from TheWrap in the days after the Times published the story — until the statement issued early Tuesday.
Argento’s reps have not responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.
2. How can Argento claim she had no sexual contact with Bennett when the New York Times reported photos of the two of them in bed together with “their unclothed torsos exposed”?
In Argento’s statement, the actress said she “never had any sexual relationship with Bennett” and was only “linked to him during several years by friendship only.”
But the Times report, based on documents sent by lawyers for Argento and Bennett, said the two reunited in 2013 at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey. According to an intent-to-sue letter sent last November, Bennett said that Argento forcibly kissed him, performed oral sex and then “climbed on top of him and the two had intercourse…she then asked him to take a number of photos.”
The Times also reported that the intent-to-sue included “three photos apparently taken by Mr. Bennett that depict him and Ms. Argento in bed, their unclothed torsos exposed. (Only one of the photos taken in bed shows both their faces.)”
3. What exactly was Anthony Bourdain’s actual role in this?
In Tuesday’s statement, Argento said her late boyfriend “personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life” when he “unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money” from Argento.
Bourdain died by suicide in June, making it difficult to determine how direct a role he might have played in either arranging for or underwriting the payment to Bennett; his reps did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment but his lawyer told the Times on Tuesday that Aregento’s statement was false.
4. How did the Times obtain these documents and photos?
The New York Times said it received these documents and photos detailing the monetary settlement “through encrypted email by an unidentified party, include a selfie dated May 9, 2013, of the two lying in bed.”
Additionally, the Times wrote, “three people familiar with the case said the documents were authentic.”
A rep for the Times did not respond to a request for comment on any efforts it took to identify who might have leaked the documents. The paper did issue its own statement following Argento’s release: “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting, which was based on verified documents and multiple sources.”
5. Why didn’t Argento insist that Bennett sign a nondisclosure agreement?
In Argento’s statement, she suggested that Bennett was motivated by “severe economic problems” to make “an exorbitant request of money.”
She also wrote that Bourdain “personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.”
But according to the Times, the agreement between Argento and Bennett didn’t “prevent either party from discussing it.” Which would very much leave open the possibility of further intrusions into Argento’s life should Bennett choose to make his accusations public.
Carrie Goldberg, Argento’s lawyer who handled the matter, said in a letter obtained by the Times that “California law does not allow nondisclosure agreements in civil contracts involving the types of allegations made by Mr. Bennett.”
According to the Times, Goldberg wrote in one letter to Argento that the actress’ team had considered using New York lawyers who could have pursued an NDA but that the client herself “decided against the non-disclosure language because you felt it was inconsistent with the public messages you’ve conveyed about the societal perils of non-disclosure agreements.”
According to Goldberg’s letter, “Bennett could theoretically tell people his claims against you. However, under this agreement, he cannot sue you for them. Nor can he post the photo of the two of you. At the very least, he is not permitted to bother you for more money, disparage you or sue — so long as you comply with your obligations in the agreement.”
TheWrap has reached out to Argento’s representatives for comment.