NEW YORK – Filmmaker Paul Haggis told jurors on Wednesday that he believed he had a consensual encounter with a woman who later accused him of rape and portrayed himself as a “flirt” who acted on what he felt was mutual attraction held.
Publicist Haleigh Breest claims he forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her in 2013 when she repeatedly told him no.
When Haggis took the stand as a defendant in the civil rape trial, he said she “never gave me any indication that it was anything other than consensual” until he heard from her attorneys in 2017. She sued soon after.
“I haven’t been able to clear my name for five years, and now I will,” Haggis told jurors.
Breest previously gave the jury a detailed account of the alleged assault.
“I said stop! stop! stop!'” she testified. She is seeking unspecified damages; there are no criminal charges in the case.
Haggis’ testimony, which is set to continue on Thursday, has not yet addressed all of Breest’s allegations, including the moment she said he pushed her onto a bed, stripped her of her clothes and forced oral sex. Nor did he detail his account of the point at which she claims he raped her.
But earlier that evening, when she claims Haggis startled her with kisses that she didn’t return and quickly pulled away, he said she initially greeted him with an ambiguous “Ooh!” Then, as he made another pass, “she kissed me back,” he testified.
Haggis agreed with some parts of his accuser’s account of how she ended up alone with him in his downtown Manhattan loft: he offered her a ride home from a movie premiere and invited her to his apartment for a drink . She responded by suggesting a bar instead. When he said he preferred the apartment, she agreed but told him she wouldn’t be staying the night.
But where Breest said she made it clear she wasn’t interested in a physical connection, Haggis said he got a different signal.
When they got to his house, “she was having a really good time, it seemed to me,” and they were both “flirty,” smiling, and “very engaging” as they chatted over a glass of wine, he said.
Breest’s attorneys haven’t yet had a chance to cross-examine Haggis, who is known for writing the best Oscar winners of the early 2000s, Million Dollar Baby and Crash. Breest was a publicist who worked in black light at premieres, which he sometimes attended.
The 69-year-old filmmaker said he thought Breest, 36, was flirting with him at screenings and the occasional email about events and show business. He said he found her “adorable”.
When she greeted him with a hug on the night in question, he took it as “an escalation in our relationship,” he said.
Breest said she only showed professional kindness to Haggis, who is older than her father.
Haggis has not yet told the jury his version of interactions with four other women who testified that he sexually abused them on separate occasions between 1996 and 2015. One said he raped her.
In a statement that went from self-deprecating humor to a few tears as he recalled a failed marriage, Haggis said he’s “always been a huge flirt” and admitted to “having a number of affairs” while he Rennard was married to his second wife, actress Deborah, from 1997 until they separated in 2010 and divorced six years later.
Hours of testimony from Haggis focused on his decades-long membership and high-profile split in 2009 from the Church of Scientology, a system of beliefs, teachings and rituals focused on spiritual growth. It was founded by science fiction and fantasy author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s.
Haggis’ lawyers have floated the notion that the church somehow generated the lawsuit to take down a famous dissenter, although they have agreed there is no evidence Breest has any ties to the religion. Also, no witnesses have said they know of any connection between Scientology and Breest’s attorneys or between the faith and Haggis’ other accusers.
But one of Haggis’ attorneys, Priya Chaudhry, has said that “the circumstantial evidence of Scientology involvement will be strong here.”
Ex-Scientologists, including one of his daughters, have reported what they portrayed as efforts by the church to gather harmful information about him or his family after he left the organization, calling it “a cult” in a 2011 New Yorker article “.
The church said in a statement early in the trial that this “has nothing to do with either the allegations against Haggis or the attorneys behind the case.” Breest’s attorneys say the same thing.
The Associated Press generally does not identify individuals who claim to have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Breest did.
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