LOS ANGELES • In most things "that are very important, it's really good to just slow down", said Sean Penn urging more balance in the #MeToo debate.
The two-time Oscar winner added that he was "very suspicious" of a campaign that had divided men and women.
Penn, who appeared on NBC's Today show on Monday to promote his television debut on Hulu's The First, said the popular debate was "too black and white" and had been, at times, too quick to pass judgment.
"Well, we don't know what's a fact in many of the cases," the 58-year-old said. "The spirit of much of what has been the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women."
His co-star, Natascha McElhone, said she believed the female characters in The First - a fictional series set in the near future about a fraught first manned mission to Mars - were influenced by the #MeToo movement, but he disagreed.
"I'd like to think that none of it was influenced by what they call the movement of #MeToo," he said, adding that the campaign against sexual harassment had been "largely shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious".
When asked to expand on that idea, Penn said he had doubts about a movement that he described as "really a series of many individual accusers, victims, accusations - some of which are unfounded".
McElhone looked somewhat pained as Penn spoke, but defended him in part, saying: "I think what Sean was maybe alluding to is this sort of bubble of actors or people who are in magazines that have got a lot of attention from this."
Penn's remarks nevertheless generated backlash on Twitter.
Many users referred to allegations that he had physically assaulted Madonna during their marriage - claims that the pop diva later said were false.
Actress Thandie Newton, who stars in HBO's Westworld, said: "How much actual drivel is #SeanPenn attempting to string into anything coherent?"
Comedienne Whitney Cummings posted: "Hey Sean Penn, #MeToo isn't about 'dividing men and women'. This is about any kind of abuse of power. Bye, dude."