Paul Haggis Female Friend Testifies ‘Crash’ Director ‘Shrugged’ After She Rejected His Romantic Advances

Paul Haggis, sexual aggressor, or Paul Haggis, “mensch”? Those are the dueling versions of the Oscar-winning “Crash” filmmaker’s behavior that are being presented in a New York court this month.

On Monday, a female friend of Paul Haggis said he made advances to her, but responded appropriately when she rejected his attempts to become romantic.

Sarah McNally, the owner of the independent bookstore chain McNally Jackson Books, testified during Haggis’s civil rape trial that she “developed a friendship” with the filmmaker after meeting him at a party in 2016 and has since been alone with him dozens of times. She said the director tried to kiss her when she first hung out with him alone, but she stated that she turned her head away because she “just wasn’t attracted to him.” 

“Paul is a calm and resilient person. He shrugged and went, ‘OK,’” McNally recalled. “It was the most easy-going and calm response.” 

That’s a far cry from the portrait of Haggis that was presented by lawyers for Haleigh Breest, a former film publicist who is suing Haggis. She alleges that the filmmaker forced her to perform oral sex on him and then raped her in his Soho apartment in 2013 after a movie premiere.

McNally described a very different experience with Haggis, who was once one of Hollywood’s hottest talents, directing “Crash” to an Oscar best picture win and writing the scripts for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Casino Royale.” McNally said she would get together with Haggis to drink wine and play Backgammon. But it was the way that McNally described Haggis brushing off her rejection that was so strikingly different than the stories shared by Breest and the four Jane Doe’s during this trial and pointed to why she was called to the stand on behalf of the defense.

In contrast, Jane Doe No. 3, a former documentary filmmaker who testified that Haggis assaulted her in 2006, recalled how he swiftly “dropped his friendly demeanor” after dodging an attempted kiss inside his hotel room. Attorneys for Breest have used these testimonies to paint the image that Haggis’ alleged rape of Breest is part of a pattern of abusive and sexually aggressive behavior. Another alleged victim referred to as Jane Doe No. 4 recalled Haggis telling her, “I’m the most manipulative man you’re ever going to meet” before grabbing her and attempting to “open mouth kiss” her without consent. 

McNally claimed she doesn’t know anything about Breest aside from what Haggis told her about the allegations she’s made against him. She said she has no knowledge of what happened between Haggis and the four Jane Doe’s.

“I know many of Paul’s female friends, but I don’t know any of the women who testified,” she said.

Deborah Rennard, Haggis’ ex-wife, emailed McNally a month after Breest’s lawsuit was filed and asked her to give a statement.

Though she admitted at the time “I haven’t known Paul long, nor do I know him well,” she wrote in January 2018 that “Paul Haggis is the menschiest of mensches, endlessly generous, kind, supportive, clever, and funny. The accusations against him surprised me because one of his most prevailing character traits is an instinctive devotion to making everyone around him feel happy and at ease. In the absence of due process, and in the presence of a vindictive Church of Scientology, I find these accusations very difficult to believe.”

Her mention of Scientology speaks to an earlier line of defense by Haggis’s team, which initially raised the prospect that the controversial religion had orchestrated the accusations in retaliation. Haggis had been a Scientologist for 35 years. He left in 2009 over its support of a California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, and became an ardent critic of the Church of Scientology. Last week, however, Judge Sabrina Kraus said the Oscar winner’s lawyers and Breest legal team reached an agreement that there is “no evidence” supporting the allegation that Breest is connected to the Church of Scientology. 

McNally agreed that people are complex, but whether people show different sides of themselves in different situations, she said “it depends on the person.” She was also asked to describe what a mensch is in her own words. 

“A mensch is somebody who keeps good spirits in face of anything,” she said. “And I believe that even more now than when I wrote this four and a half years ago.”

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