Filmmaker Haggis says he never forced himself on publicist

Nov 3, 2022, 1:39 AM | Updated: 2:54 pm
Screenwriter and film director Paul Haggis arrives at court for a sexual assault civil lawsuit, Wed...

Screenwriter and film director Paul Haggis arrives at court for a sexual assault civil lawsuit, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

(AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

NEW YORK (AP) — Disputing allegations in a rape lawsuit, Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis testified Thursday that his accuser sometimes seemed “conflicted” during their initial kisses but then started taking initiative.

Taking the witness stand for a second day in a civil trial, Haggis portrayed the woman, Haleigh Breest, as a willing partner in their lone sexual interaction.

Breest, 36, testified earlier in the civil trial that she repeatedly and clearly told Haggis, 69, that she wasn’t interested in sex with him. She said the “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby” screenwriter forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her as she implored him to stop.

In Haggis’ telling, Breest — a publicist who worked at movie premieres — flirted with him at a January 2013 screening afterparty before accompanying him to his Manhattan apartment for a drink. He agrees that she told him upfront that she wouldn’t spend the night, but he said it seemed a “playful” remark.

Once they arrived, he made a pass within minutes.

In hours of testimony, Haggis acknowledged that Breest was sometimes reluctant about what he said were five different episodes of kissing.

He said he told her at one point: “If you want to do something, do it. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.”

“She seemed conflicted in some way,” Haggis said.

But with each kiss, he said, Breest seemed to gain confidence and reassured him by initiating the kissing when he expressed the ambivalence he was started to feel.

By the time they reached a guest bedroom, Breest seemed “confident” as they began kissing and eventually poured onto a guestroom bed, Haggis said. He recalled that she “giggled” as their physical activity became more heated and they shed some clothing.

He said that eventually, she moved him in position to receive oral sex, saying: “I’m good at this.”

“The way she said it was kind of adorable,” Haggis said.

He said he had “no knowledge” and “no memory” of vaginally penetrating her.

“I didn’t know if it occurred or not,” he said.

He said he fell asleep and eventually went to his bedroom while she was sleeping. When he discovered in the morning that she was gone, he was disappointed she hadn’t left a note with her phone number, he said.

In Breest’s account, she didn’t reciprocate Haggis’ two attempts to kiss her, once while pinning her against a refrigerator, but didn’t leave because she didn’t want to offend a frequent premiere guest. She testified that he later pushed her on a bed, pulled her clothes off, aggressively demanded oral sex and — after she took a shower — raped her.

Haggis emailed her the next day about photos from the prior night’s premiere. He said he hoped the reply would include her number. It didn’t.

When they met at another event 10 days later, she was smiling and friendly, Haggis recalled, adding that their encounter was “a little awkward,” as sometimes happens after an initial sexual experience with someone.

He said he decided two days later that she was “too emotionally immature” and stopped responding to her emails.

Afterward, Haggis said, Breest would be “noticeably absent” from her usual red-carpet post whenever he brought a girlfriend to events where she worked. But he said she was friendly and behaved normally when he didn’t have a woman on his arm during the 4 1/2 years between their sexual encounter and the filing of her lawsuit.

He said he never told anyone about his night with Breest. When his lawyer asked him how often he thought about it, he responded: “Honest to God, never.”

Haggis was also asked why he opposed providing DNA in connection with the lawsuit.

He said his only concern was that it would fall into the hands of Scientologists because he had a “growing suspicion” that they had a role in the lawsuit. His defense has suggested the case is payback for Haggis’ public criticism of the Church of Scientology, which he left in 2009.

The church and Breest’s lawyers have called that argument a bogus conspiracy theory.

Haggis’ lawyers have agreed that Breest has no ties to Scientology. No witnesses have testified that they have specific proof linking the church to her lawyers or to four women other than Breest who testified that Haggis also sexually assaulted them.

Haggis denied the other women’s allegations in emotional testimony, adding that he felt “humiliated” while testifying about the accusations as his adult daughters watched from the courtroom audience. At one point, he asked for a brief break, heading out of court with one daughter’s arm around him.

“I’m scared,” he later told the jury, “because I don’t know why women, why anyone, would lie about things like this.”

Cross examination that began Thursday was to continue Friday. One early score for Breest’s lawyers came when Haggis was confronted with the fact that DNA helped show that seminal fluid found on the interior crotch area of the tights that Breest kept from the night with Haggis belonged to him.

Haggis testified that he had no memory of ejaculating that night.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Breest has done.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

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Filmmaker Haggis says he never forced himself on publicist