Filmmaker Haggis says he never forced himself on publicist

Giving evidence for a second day in the civil trial, Mr Haggis portrayed the woman, Haleigh Breest, as a willing partner in their sexual interaction
Filmmaker Haggis says he never forced himself on publicist

Larry Neumeister and Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press

Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis told a trial on Thursday that the woman accusing him of rape sometimes seemed “conflicted” during their initial kisses but then started taking the initiative.

Giving evidence for a second day in the civil trial, Mr Haggis portrayed the woman, Haleigh Breest, as a willing partner in their lone sexual interaction.

Ms Breest (36) gave evidence earlier in the civil trial that she repeatedly and clearly told Haggis (69) that she was not 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 told him to stop.

Mr Haggis said Ms 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 would not spend the night, but he said it seemed a “playful” remark.

Paul Haggis
Screenwriter and film director Paul Haggis (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

Once they arrived, he made a pass within minutes.

In hours of testimony, Mr Haggis acknowledged that Ms 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,” Mr Haggis said.

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

By the time they reached a guest bedroom, Ms Breest seemed “confident” as they began kissing and eventually moved on to a guestroom bed, Mr Haggis said.

He said she “giggled” as their physical activity became more heated and they shed some clothing.

Paul Haggis
Paul Haggis hugs his daughter, Lauren (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

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,” Mr 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 had not left a note with her phone number, he said.

In Ms Breest’s account, she did not reciprocate Mr Haggis’ two attempts to kiss her, once while pinning her against a refrigerator, but did not leave because she did not want to offend a frequent premiere guest.

She said that he later pushed her on a bed, pulled her clothes off, aggressively demanded oral sex and, after she took a shower, raped her.

Mr 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 did not.

When they met at another event 10 days later, she was smiling and friendly, Mr 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.

Afterwards, Mr Haggis said, Ms Breest would be “noticeably absent” from her usual red-carpet post whenever he took a girlfriend to events where she worked.

But he said she was friendly and behaved normally when he did not have a woman on his arm during the four and a half years between their sexual encounter and the filing of her lawsuit.

He said he never told anyone about his night with Ms Breest.

When his lawyer asked him how often he thought about it, he responded: “Honest to God, never.”

Mr 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 defence has suggested the case is payback for Mr Haggis’ public criticism of the Church of Scientology, which he left in 2009.

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

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

Mr 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.

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.”

Ms Breest has waived her right to anonymity.


If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800-77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help. 

In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112. 

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