Paul Haggis took the stand on Thursday for a second day in his civil trial, denying the rape charges leveled against him. He testified that he and Haleigh Breest, a former events publicist who is suing him for sexual assault, were flirting and seemed to be “having a really good time” after a movie premiere in 2013.
Breest claims the Oscar-winning filmmaker forced her to perform oral sex on him and then raped her in his Soho apartment after an event hosted by the Cinema Society, where she worked as a freelance publicist. He told jurors in a lower Manhattan courtroom that Breest “never gave me any indication it was anything other than consensual” until she filed a lawsuit years later in 2017.
In his hours-long testimony, Haggis, whose credits include “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash” and “Casino Royale,” presented a different picture of the events that took place on that night. He alleged Breest appeared to be very interested in him and voluntarily performed oral sex on him after stating she is “very good at this.”
“None was non-consensual,” he told jurors.
Haggis and Breest clashed over several other details surrounding the encounter a decade ago. Breest testified last month that Haggis pressured her to go to his apartment for a drink following an entertainment industry event. Breest, who was 26 years old at the time, recalled feeling “absolutely paralyzed and terrified” as the then 59-year-old Haggis kissed her against her will and took her into a bedroom, where he allegedly forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her.
He denied that he “violently raped” Breest and maintained he “had no memory” of engaging in sexual intercourse with her that night. Haggis did, however, admit to jurors that Breest was giving off “mixed signals” at his apartment. After he kissed her, he remembers Breest saying, “No, I shouldn’t.”
“It was a little shy,” he said on Thursday of Breest’s demeanor. “This is an old reference, so nobody is going to get it, but [she was acting] like Betty Boop.”
He elaborated that he didn’t understand what Breest meant when she said she “shouldn’t” become intimate with Haggis. “Is she religious? Did she have strict moral upbringing?” he remembers wondering. “I was getting such mixed signals. She would say [‘I shouldn’t’], and then she would kiss me passionately.”
During his testimony, he also denied accusations of four additional women, all of whom prefer to remain anonymous, who testified during the trial that Haggis sexually assaulted them. Attorneys for Breest are using the testimonies of these women to demonstrate that Haggis’ alleged rape of Breest is part of a pattern of behavior. They also hope to illustrate a portrait of a Hollywood power player who used his “storytelling skills and fame to prey on, manipulate and attack vulnerable young women in the film industry.”
Haggis became increasingly vehement and started to cry on Thursday as he denied a claim by one of the Jane Doe accusers, who testified last week that Haggis made “very degrading” comments about his ex-partner, Deborah Rennard, over breakfast at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015. Rennard and Haggis divorced in 2016 but remain close friends. She testified on her ex-husband’s behalf on Wednesday and sat in court, along with Haggis’ four children, during his two-day deposition.
“[Jane Doe] said I called [Deborah] a bitch. I never call women that,” he tearfully told jurors. “That’s vile.”
Again, a significant portion of his testimony focused on the Church of Scientology, of which Haggis was a member for decades. He and his attorneys have tried to suggest Breest’s rape charge came in retaliation over Haggis’ decision to leave and loudly criticize the controversial religion in 2009. Attorneys for the plaintiff and defense each seemingly agreed last week there’s “no evidence” to suggest Breest has ties to Scientology. Her attorneys have chalked up the argument to a conspiracy theory.
Haggis says he is “not surprised” there’s no tangible evidence that Breest is associated with Scientology.
“These people don’t leave their fingerprints,” he testified in reference to the scare tactics of Scientology members. “They leave their footprints all over it, but not their fingerprints.”
Haggis told the jurors he felt “scared” and “humiliated” by accusations leveled against him by Breest and the other women who came forward.
“I don’t know why women, or anyone, would lie about things like this… make up or twist the truth,” he said. “My children have had to read all of these false allegations and lies.”
He continued his testimony, alleging he “doesn’t know why” women would make up false stories about their encounters with him.
“I don’t think they’re all lying. I think they’ve convinced themselves it’s true,” he said through tears. “I just know it’s not true.”
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