Who is Paul Haggis? What to know about the ‘Crash’ director


Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning filmmaker who directed “Crash,” has been living under a cloud since a woman sued him in civil court in 2017, alleging he raped her years ago after they met at an industry party in New York City.

Then on Sunday, things got worse for the writer-director. He was arrested and detained in southern Italy pending a hearing after another woman accused him of sexually assaulting her over the course of two or three days in a bed and breakfast in the area. Through his attorney in Italy, Haggis has maintained his innocence.

On Wednesday, an Italian court ordered him to remain under house arrest in that country while the case is investigated.

The 69-year-old Canadian started his prolific career in Hollywood after moving to Los Angeles in the 1970s. For the first couple of years he came up with story lines on animated programs such as “Plastic Man” and “The Ri¢hie Ri¢h/Scooby-Doo Show.” He and his first wife also got involved with Scientology.

He moved to writing for live-action TV on series including “Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Facts of Life,” “L.A. Law” and the original “Walker, Texas Ranger.” He won shared Primetime Emmy Awards in 1988 for writing in a drama series and drama series for “thirtysomething.”

Then, in 2004, he wrote screenplays for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” and became the first writer to see films based on his scripts win best picture Oscars in back-to-back years. He produced and directed “Crash,” taking home two Oscars of his own in 2006.

Here’s a look at Haggis’ life after his shift to motion-picture work began to pay off.

First Oscar nomination (January 2005)

Haggis is nominated for an Academy Award in the adapted screenplay category for writing director Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.” In March 2005, he loses to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the writers of “Sideways,” but “Million Dollar Baby” wins four Oscars, including best picture.

The Oscar wins (March 2006)

After Paul Haggis, right, and “Crash” co-producer Cathy Schulman won Oscars, presenter Jack Nicholson kisses Haggis on the cheek.

(Kevok Djansezian / Associated Press)

“Crash,” which was co-written, produced and directed by Haggis, wins an Oscar for original screenplay as well as the coveted best picture award. Haggis — who shares the screenplay Oscar with Bobby Moresco — is also nominated for director, but he loses to Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”).

The L.A. Times calls the best-picture victory “one of the biggest upsets in recent Academy Award history,” as opinions on the quality of “Crash” are mixed.

Another Academy Award nod (January 2007)

Haggis and writer Iris Yamashita are nominated for the original screenplay Oscar for their work on the Eastwood film “Letters From Iwo Jima.” In March, the trophy goes to Michael Arndt for “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Scientology split goes public (October 2009)

News breaks that Haggis resigned from Scientology in August in a rather spectacular letter to the organization’s then-spokesman, Tommy Davis. In it, Haggis, a Scientologist for more than three decades, calls out the church for not condemning its San Diego branch’s support for California’s Prop. 8 against gay marriage. He also chastises Davis for publicly stating that Scientology has no policy of disconnection between members and those who leave the church, despite Haggis’ then-wife having recently gone through the process with her own parents after they left the church.

“[A]fter writing this letter, I am fully aware that some of my friends may choose to no longer associate with me, or in some cases work with me. I will always take their calls, as I always took yours,” Haggis writes.

“However, I have finally come to the conclusion that I can no longer be a part of this group. Frankly, I had to look no further than your refusal to denounce the church’s anti-gay stance, and the indefensible actions, and inactions, of those who condone this behavior within the organization. I am only ashamed that I waited this many months to act.”

The divorce filing (May 2012)

Haggis and Deborah Rennard, husband and wife since 1997, file for divorce in New York two years after amicably separating. The writer-director has “become a regular fixture on the New York party circuit and has been spotted with younger ladies on his arm,” Page Six reports. Rennard is Haggis’ second wife and the mother of Haggis’ son. Previously, from 1977 to 1994, he was married to Diane Christine Gettas, who is the mother of his three daughters.

Haggis condemns Harvey Weinstein (October 2017)

In an article talking about why he now prefers New York City to Los Angeles, Haggis cites the Weinstein scandal as one of many reasons — including unwillingness to take creative risks — that the industry in L.A. needs an overhaul. While saying that Hollywood is “pretty sexist,” he says he doesn’t think sexual harassment and abuse are the town’s regular modus operandi.

“Although everyone thinks it is vile behaviour, you have got to focus on those who may have colluded and protected [Weinstein],” Haggis tells the Guardian. “For me, they are as guilty as he is and in some cases more so, if I can say that. I mean, he was a predator and a predator is a predator. But what about those who would rather look the other way?”

Haleigh Breest alleges rape; Haggis sues her first (Dec. 15, 2017)

Breest files a lawsuit alleging Haggis raped her at his SoHo apartment in New York in 2013, when she was a 26-year-old publicist. She says in her lawsuit that he offered her a ride home after meeting her at a premiere party for the Steven Soderbergh film “Side Effects,” then insisted that they stop at his place. There, she alleges, the filmmaker forced her to perform oral sex on him, “aggressively inserted” his finger into her vagina and then raped her.

But Haggis, in a lawsuit filed hours before Breest’s complaint was submitted, alleges that she and her attorney attempted to extort $9 million in “hush money” regarding what the director says is a false rape claim. Haggis claims he couldn’t have raped Breest due to his “serious back problem.”

Haggis resigns as Haiti charity chairman (Jan. 4, 2018)

Seven men and women look on thoughtfully as another man points off into the distance

Susan Sarandon, left, Demi Moore, Gerard Butler, Paul Haggis and Ben Stiller visit a camp for refugees in Haiti managed by Sean Penn, far right, in April 2010.

(Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)

Artists for Peace and Justice, a charity to help Haitian youth that Haggis founded in 2009, accepts his resignation as board chair. The news comes out nearly a week later, and members Susan Sarandon and Ben Stiller are named as replacements.

Three additional women come forward (Jan. 5, 2018)

Breest’s lawsuit is updated to included details from three other women who have come forward anonymously, alleging they also faced sexual misconduct by Haggis. One says Haggis attempted to sexually assault her, saying, “I need to be inside you” before she was able to run away. A second says he held down her arms, forcibly kissed her on a street corner, then followed her into a taxi; she says she was later able to escape.

The third woman alleges rape. She says she was a 28-year-old publicist in 1996 when Haggis allegedly called her to his office after hours to review photos. She says he brought her to a back office, began kissing her immediately and then forced himself on her. She alleges that he made her perform oral sex on him, then pushed her to the floor and raped her.

Haggis, through his attorney, denies all three allegations “in whole.”

Rennard defends her ex-husband (Jan. 11, 2018)

A smiling man has his arm around a smiling woman as they arrive at an awards show

Paul Haggis arrives at the 2006 Oscars with his wife Deborah Rennard.

(Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)

Haggis’ second wife, a former actor and a co-producer on his film “In the Valley of Elah,” speaks out in defense of her ex-husband. (They finalized their split in 2016.)

“I know Paul. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt and in my heart that he would never have committed any violent acts against women,” Rennard wrote in a letter published by Deadline. “I know it because I know his character, and I know these allegations go against the core of who he is.”

Leah Remini and Mike Rinder speak out (Jan. 15, 2018)

Remini, who left Scientology in 2013, publishes an open letter defending Haggis against the anonymous accusers, written with ex-Scientologist Mike Rinder, her “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” docuseries co-host. The two imply Scientology is behind the women’s allegations, writing that if an organization has the “name of everyone one might have thought of, flirted with or taken on a date, it takes little imagination to conjure a string of accusers being contacted and suddenly appearing out of the woodwork.”

Defending Haggis as a “gentleman and humanitarian,” they write, “We expect the next ‘revelations’ about Paul Haggis in this campaign to destroy him to be based on information culled from his scientology files in the form of more ‘anonymous’ accusers, hiding behind a lawyer who will never have to disclose who is paying their bill.”

Accuser denies Scientology involvement (Jan. 17, 2018)

One of the three women making allegations against Haggis says in the Hollywood Reporter that she “fumed” but remained silent after reading his interview condemning Weinstein, then came forward after the Breest lawsuit.

“I have no connection with Scientology or its practitioners. For those people — including actress Leah Remini — who have stated publicly that all of Haggis’ accusers are part of a Scientology conspiracy, shame on you,” she writes.

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Breest (July 2018)

Noting that there is no specific allegation that Breest threatened to go public with her claim if she weren’t paid, a judge dismisses Haggis’ lawsuit against Breest. Haggis attorney Christine Lepera had argued that the woman’s demand had been more than typical pre-litigation talk.

The judge says “it would serve as a chill on the ability of persons who believe another has committed sexual misconduct if they were unable to pursue pre-litigation discussions and settlement demands, even outrageous settlement demands,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Haggis abandons lawsuit against Breest (March 2019)

Though he had filed an appeal after a New York judge dismissed his complaint against Breest the prior year, Haggis now abandons his civil suit. Financial problems may be to blame.

Haggis’ personal attorney, Priya Chaudhry, says in a statement to the L.A. Times, “It is clear a scorched earth campaign is being waged against Mr. Haggis with the intent to utterly ruin him. … To save his remaining resources, Mr. Haggis is not appealing his emotional distress claim — but he still fully disputes the accusations again him.”

Haggis says he’s near bankruptcy (April 2021)

The writer-director asks a New York judge to set a trial date in Breest’s 2017 suit against him “at the earliest practical date,” saying he can’t find much work and is nearly bankrupt after racking up $2 million in legal fees. “The notoriety of this case imprisons Mr. Haggis, and he can only be free to work again when he wins at trial,” his attorney, Seth Zuckerman, says in the motion, according to Variety.

“I have had discussions with producers and financiers, but have been repeatedly told that they cannot work with me until I clear my name …,” Haggis says in a declaration. “Potential employers and film financiers have even expressed that once this lawsuit is over and my name is cleared, they will be willing to hire me again.” Haggis’ request is denied.

Haggis arrested in Italy (June 19, 2022)

Haggis is arrested in Ostuni, Italy, in the province of Brindisi, on charges of sexual assault and aggravated personal injury. The director was in southern Italy to give a master class at a film festival, whose art directors tell the L.A. Times in a statement June 19 that they axed Haggis from the festival lineup and are offering their “full solidarity and support to the woman involved.” The writer-director is ordered to remain at a farmhouse guest residence pending a court hearing, while authorities investigate the allegations.

Haggis allegedly forced the woman — who according to Italian media is a 30-year-old English woman who knew Haggis before going to the film festival — to have sexual intercourse with him over two days at a bed and breakfast and then dropped her off at a nearby airport in a state of confusion.

“I am confident that all allegations will be dismissed against Mr. Haggis,” longtime Haggis attorney Chaudhry says in a statement to Variety. “He is totally innocent and willing to fully cooperate with the authorities so the truth comes out quickly.” Italian law prevents attorneys from discussing the evidence in the case.

A judge’s decision (June 22, 2022)

A man in a suit and tie walks through a metal detector at a courthouse

Paul Haggis arrives at the courthouse in Brindisi, Italy, on Wednesday.

(Salvatore Laporta / Associated Press)

Haggis goes before a judge in Brindisi, Italy, as the case is investigated.

“Paul Haggis answered all questions and explained what happened,” attorney Michele Laforgia tells reporters outside the courthouse, via the Associated Press. “He declared himself, as he had already done right after the detention, completely innocent, in the sense that the sex he had with this woman was totally consensual.”

Laforgia also says investigators “badly interpreted” a hospital emergency room report saying the woman had injuries.

A few hours later, the judge decides that while Haggis isn’t a flight risk, he must remain under house arrest in Italy rather than returning home to the U.S.

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Originally published at www.latimes.com

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