It was the red-carpet interview that attracted the most notice at the Me Too Oscars Sunday night: Ryan Seacrest chatting with Taraji P. Henson. She stroked his chin and cooed, "The universe has a way of taking care of good people, you know what I mean?"
Huh? Afterwards Twitter lit up with "She shaded him!" tweets.
Not so, Henson clarified early Monday. She was trying to buck him up, she told People.
Here's the background: Seacrest, longtime co-host of the E! network's red-carpet coverage (plus, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and host of American Idol), has been accused of repulsive sexual misconduct by his ex-stylist dating back as much as a dozen years. He strongly denies it, says he's been cleared by the network, and claims the stylist tried to extort him for millions to keep quiet.
E! declined to bench Seacrest before the Oscars. Anonymous publicists then spread the word to tabloid gossips that A-listers would avoid Seacrest on the carpet. As it turned out, many did, but not all.
Henson was one of the ones who stopped to talk, mostly about the success of Mary J. Blige, nominated for two Oscars for her song and her role in Mudbound. That's when the exchange about the universe happened.
Seacrest did not react much on camera but when Henson moved on to the next interviewer, ABC’s Wendi McLendon-Covey, she said: “I’m great now that I’m in your company.”
That was enough to send Twitter into a schadenfreude swoon, or at least those tweeters determined to take down Seacrest.
"So Taraji P. Henson just put a curse on Ryan Seacrest & read him his rights. #TimesUp #MeToo #Oscars," wrote poster Chris Strider.
Later, Henson said her remarks were misconstrued and she's "absolutely" a supporter of Seacrest.
“I did it to keep his chin up. It’s an awkward position to be in. He’s been cleared but anyone can say anything,” she told People.
Henson's rep did not immediately return an email from USA TODAY seeking confirmation.
Before midnight, Seacrest gave a shoutout to Henson, just about the only such carpet-related encomium he tweeted Sunday night.
"Nothing but love for my friend @TherealTaraji. Thanks for hanging out with us on the #ERedCarpet!" he said.
So it seems Henson is in Seacrest's corner, along with Kelly Ripa and his girlfriend, Shayna Taylor.
Others thought she should walk away with a statue for her remark.
"And the award for best shade goes to Taraji P Henson," one member of the Twitterverse wrote.
Others joked Henson "absolutely put a curse" on Seacrest.
Henson's rep did not immediately respond to USA TODAY's request for comment.