And the Oscar goes to… Harvey Weinstein: #MeToo monster looked every bit a broken man as he shuffled into court, but he’s just as shameless and defiant as ever, writes TOM LEONARD
Shirt collar askew, ill-fitting suit and grey face a picture of misery and forbearance, Harvey Weinstein shuffled into a Manhattan court this week hunched over a walking frame.
Two tennis balls stuck on the rear feet of the frame, presumably for a smoother ride over the marble floor of the court house, added to the shambling and bizarre image.
It was in every sense a theatrical arrival — and nobody knows about theatre better than Weinstein the Showman.
But his legal team said their client was about to undergo surgery for a back injury and that it was they who insisted he use the frame against his objections.
‘Mr Weinstein didn’t want the Press thinking he was seeking sympathy. He’s in pain,’ said Donna Rotunno, one of his lawyers.
Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives to New York Supreme Court in New York, U.S., on December 11
Given the once all-powerful Hollywood mogul’s unmatched skill for promoting his films such as Shakespeare In Love and The King’s Speech, and co-ordinating Oscar campaigns, Weinstein will perhaps forgive cynics for wondering whether he was up to his old tricks just a few weeks away from the start of his trial for serious sex offences.
After all, it was only two months ago that the 67-year-old was spotted in seemingly far finer fettle, drinking mineral water in a Manhattan bar surrounded by a group of friends.
They were there for Actor’s Hour, a regular music and stand-up comedy event for aspiring young actors.
Considering Weinstein stands accused of preying on dozens of young actresses over the years, it seemed a spectacularly ill-judged place for him to pitch up, and he was publicly confronted over his presence by two women. However, they — rather than Weinstein — were the ones asked to leave.
It is two years since more than a dozen women first accused the then undisputed King of Tinsel Town of sexually harassing, assaulting or raping them. (A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett later came forward to say they, too, were among his alleged victims.)
Weinstein (pictured with Georgina Chapman at the 89th Annual Academy Awards in 2017) has denied five charges of rape, sexual assault, and ‘predatory sexual assault’
But Weinstein today is defiant, rather than penitent, as the final reel plays out in a legal drama that will either see him incarcerated for the rest of his life — or pull off a spectacular courtroom victory.
Weinstein, who denies any criminal wrongdoing, has denied five charges of rape, sexual assault, and ‘predatory sexual assault’.
He allegedly raped a woman in a New York hotel room in 2013, and forcibly performed oral sex on a second woman at his Manhattan flat in 2006. Other Weinstein accusers will be allowed to take the stand as witnesses to illustrate a pattern of abusive behaviour.
Given that it was Weinstein’s alleged offences that ignited the #MeToo movement globally, this trial — which starts on January 6 — promises to be the legal sensation of the decade.
Some feminist commentators are describing it as a groundbreaking moment in the battle for gender equality and against predatory men.
‘This moment was years in the making,’ said Tina Tchen, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and now the president of Time’s Up, which campaigns against sexual harassment.
The film producer Harvey (pictured outside New York court) allegedly raped a woman in a New York hotel room in 2013
This week it also emerged that Weinstein and the board of his bankrupt film company had reached a provisional $25 million (£19m) settlement with more than 30 actresses and former Weinstein staff who accuse him of sexual misconduct.
It was hardly the crushing victory and vindication the women had hoped for — as the anger of many at the announcement made clear — and not least because Weinstein will not have to admit wrongdoing, and the money will be paid out by his insurers.
Strategically, it leaves Weinstein free to concentrate on the more serious issue of his criminal trial, and the people in his small circle of contacts nowadays say he thinks of little else.
Repeated surgery on his injured back (sustained in August after crashing his car to avoid a deer) has left him weaker, while a reportedly healthier attitude to food and drink has resulted in a 25lb weight loss.
But he looks shrunken, is said to have high blood pressure and barely sleeps. A source described Weinstein as physically ‘breaking down’.
Emotionally, he’s also taken a battering after his wife, the British designer Georgina Chapman, left him in 2017 after ten years, taking their two children, daughter India, nine, and son Dashiell, six — although he sees them regularly.
However, friends say Weinstein is in other ways exactly the same — just as combative and determined as ever, even if this time his goal now is not to win Oscars, but to stay out of prison.
He reportedly spends most of his time alone in his Manhattan flat, ‘obsessing’ about the trial and his accusers, continually ‘Googling’ what’s written about him — and dreaming of a film career comeback.
‘He feels like he is owed an apology from Hollywood,’ a friend told broadcaster CNN recently. ‘I think there’s a part of him that thinks that he will come out on the other side of this and be welcomed back to some version of his old life.’
That would seem a fantasy for a man who is now an international pariah — although not so remote that some of his more than 80 accusers fear he may try to exact revenge on them.
It appears the egotistical Weinstein believes — or at least has convinced himself — that he’s guilty of no crime and that, if it hadn’t been for the MeToo Movement whipping up outrage about powerful male predators in Hollywood, he would still have a stellar career and a marriage.
He argues that his accusers, who simply had affairs with him, just want to be famous.
Like many fallen titans whose power was based on fear, rather than charm or likeability, Weinstein — a notorious bully in his heyday — has found few rallying to his side. Lonely and isolated, he’s in touch only with a handful of old friends.
Most of his contact is with employees, several of whom have decided life is too short and the damage to their reputation too great to work for the demanding Weinstein.
As for his legal representatives, he has so far parted company with four lawyers, and is now down to a four-strong team.
Two of them are women, although a string of other prominent female lawyers reportedly turned Weinstein down. Even publicist Michael Sitrick, New York’s shadowy king of ‘crisis communications’ for various disgraced celebrities, dropped Weinstein last year.
Friends say Weinstein’s ‘biggest regret’ is the break-up of his marriage. He talks to his 43-year-old former wife Georgina only to discuss arrangements for the children.
She insists that she knew nothing of Weinstein’s infidelity and must also contend with the fact that his notoriety has crippled her fashion company, Marchesa.
Since last year Chapman has been living on a converted farm in Bedford Hills, an uber-wealthy suburban hamlet outside New York City where — despite a surplus of famous neighbours including billionaire George Soros, Donald Trump, Glenn Close and Ralph Lauren — she keeps a low profile.
Weinstein reportedly rents a small home nearby so he can be close to their children.
It’s unclear what properties, if any, he owns now — he began selling his various homes about six months before the allegations against him first emerged.
He made almost $56 million (£42m) from selling six properties — including a Manhattan office and homes in Connecticut, the Hamptons and West Hollywood — which his spokesman said he put towards his divorce and legal costs.
His lawyers have urged him to keep a low profile, but a restless Weinstein, who’s been accused of intentionally disabling the electronic ankle bracelet he has to wear to record his movements, has refused to completely retreat from public view.
In recent months, he has been spotted at various New York hotspots, including the glitzy restaurant Cipriani.
It was there in the summer that he attempted to befriend Alysha Marko, a 33-year-old art dealer.
She said he asked her to join him for dinner, and offered to lend her dresses from his wife’s collection. She declined but he called the following day to discuss buying one of her paintings. When she again said no, he turned up at the gallery and picked out a painting but later changed his mind.
So how does he spend his days? Weinstein talks to his lawyers, reads voraciously and gets through up to a dozen books a week, according to his spokesman.
He has ‘intense’ weekly therapy sessions and friends say that he is ‘trying to stay healthy’.
Does Weinstein feel any remorse over his treatment of women? Of course, he can hardly admit to feeling too regretful or he risks undermining his claim that his sexual activities were always consensual.
‘Remorse is the wrong word for it,’ his spokesman told the Mail. ‘He’s had a lot of self-reflection on the type of person he was and the way people reacted to him. He doesn’t like the fact that anybody felt hurt by him.’
That won’t stop his legal team doing their best to discredit his accusers at the trial. They’re expected to argue that the women knew the rules of the game in Hollywood — that sexual favours were traded for career breaks.
Successive Weinstein lawyers have chorused that he may have acted immorally by cheating on his wife, but he committed no crime.
They have amassed a trove of emails — some already made public — showing that some of his accusers remained very friendly with him after their alleged ordeal. (The women counter they were simply terrified of what he might do to destroy their careers).
This approach may well work, prominent U.S. defence lawyer Mark Geragos told me.
He suspects jurors will read the emails and conclude that this is just another instance of the notorious Hollywood casting couch and that ‘sex is the currency of the realm’ in Tinseltown.
Mr Geragos predicts that if this case falls, parallel investigations in London and Los Angeles into allegations against Weinstein will also collapse. ‘Harvey’s not unlike other powerful alpha males I’ve represented,’ said Mr Geragos. ‘They don’t just want to win, they want redemption.’
Might he also want revenge, too?
Katherine Kendall, one of the first actresses to accuse Weinstein, said many of his alleged victims worry the arch-manipulator will come after them if he’s acquitted.
‘People are scared of him for good reason,’ she told me. ‘He absolutely blocked people from having careers, he threatened people verbally and physically,’ she said.
Kendall, who claims Weinstein once chased her naked around his flat and tried to stop her leaving, said: ‘There’s a fear among the women I’ve talked to that he’s going to build a case against everyone, make up lies against people and start planning his comeback.’
An Italian model, who accuses him of sexual assault but who wants to maintain her anonymity, said: ‘He will never give up. Anyone else in his shoes would tread softly, but not him.’
‘He’s a vindictive type and will go after us. To ruin a reputation you could just go on the internet and hire trolls to do it. He’s shown he’s determined enough to do that.’
Should Weinstein win his court battle, friends and his lawyer, Donna Rotunno, say he wants to continue making films and possibly set up a production company in Europe. Sources say he believes — as was the case with director Roman Polanski, who built a successful career in Europe but faces arrest on child rape charges if he ever sets foot in the U.S. again — Europeans would be more tolerant of his alleged behaviour.
However, his spokesman insists Weinstein’s future priority will be to ‘make the world a better place’ — by setting up hospitals and promoting gender equality. He denied the theory Weinstein might move abroad, possibly to Italy, saying: ‘Above all else he’s got his family here and he lives for them.’
Of course Weinstein may find victory in court far easier than winning over public opinion. But, unbelievably, what once seemed inevitable — that Harvey Weinstein would be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of damning and disgusting accusations against him — now looks far from assured.
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