The Hypocrite of Hollywood
I’ve told that story so many times, I don’t know if it’s true or not.
But what does it matter so long as Paul Haggis “looks the part” when telling it all over again. He assumes a tough-guy demeanor, jamming his thumbs into the belt loops of his Levis. He waxes about himself to The New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright. He leans against the wall, one leg up on the bricks, striking a pose. Sure it’s corny. But so was “Rex Weller” on “Family Law.”
I was a bad kid. I didn’t kill anybody. Not that I didn’t try.
And so begins the apocryphal autobiography of Paul Haggis, the doughy 58-year-old who’s so arrogant, he actually thought The New Yorker “profile” was actually about him.
But then again, he thinks everything is about him. The story of Haggis by Haggis is one in constant revision, wherein he casts himself as good guy, bad guy and comic relief. That’s the world in which he lives and where the line between truth and fiction is blurred like a character in search of a screenplay.
Interior of a writer’s home office in an upscale but unassuming Santa Monica neighborhood.
He sits alone at his desk, the room illuminated only by the screen of his laptop. He gently strokes his bald pate and then puts the finishing touches on an email.
Close up on the computer screen as the arrow mouses over the “send” button. Click. And it is done…
What subsequently arrives in the email account of the Scientology spokesperson is Haggis’s resignation from the Church of Scientology. That he had not been active in the Church for more than three full decades raises the question: How do you “resign” from something you were never a member of to begin with?
It all centered on an empty controversy Haggis invented surrounding California’s Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage referendum put to voters in 2008. In a series of posturing emails earlier sent to a Scientology spokesperson, he insisted the Church take a public stance on the issue, or else…
Of course, Haggis well knew the Church never engages in any kind of election activities. Moreover, it’s inclusive and does not discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation.
Nonetheless, Haggis plays his part for all it’s worth.
Interior of a dark parking garage, a la All The President’s Men. It’s after hours and only a few cars remain.
Headlights stream across the concrete wall as a car drives down the ramp. A two-seat Tesla silently makes its way to the darkest corner. The headlights switch off and Haggis steps out of the car.
Kingpin, is that you? What do you want? I’m still pretending I don’t know you and telling everyone you’re a whack job.
Kingpin steps out of the shadows and nods. He’s better known as Mark “Marty” Rathbun, a former external affairs officer, removed from authority within the Church almost a decade ago for gross malfeasance and violent behavior and has since made a pitiful career of peddling lies about the Church.
Somebody sent me a copy of your resignation email.… I was wondering if I can post it on my blog.
You don’t need my permission. You’re a journalist.
Well, I’m hardly a journalist. I worked a couple of years ago for a supermarket giveaway to supplement my income as a ballpark beer salesman…
Haggis grabs Kingpin manfully by the lapels…
This is my story and if I say you’re a journalist, you’re a journalist!
Haggis next plays the part of the “surprised apostate,” shocked that his email has leaked to the “media.” It’s not a very convincing performance.
Nonetheless, the Internet fringe is soon all abuzz with what Haggis himself described as his “treasonous act.”
Enter New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright, who apparently has never met a religion he didn’t disdain—trashing Mormons in the pages of The New Yorker and castigating a wide range of religions in a string of essays and stories. He latches on to Haggis as the means by which to attack Scientology. Wright’s missile is a story disguised as a “profile” of the filmmaker and his phony epiphany. Ever the opportunist, Haggis embraces Wright.
The logline of this follow-up flick reads: Paul Haggis, man of integrity and all-around good guy who takes a stand for his principles.
Of course, that synopsis conveniently leaves out any messy contradictions such as:
If Haggis feels so strongly about the gay rights issue, why isn’t he also standing up for the cause by refusing to accept the awards he is receiving from Catholic groups? Why isn’t he shipping back his “Catholics in Media Award” from Catholics in Media Associates? And why isn’t he buying postage to send the World Catholic Association “SIGNIS Award” back to Rome?
And why isn’t he resigning—on principle—from the Catholic organizations he works with in protest of the Vatican’s references to homosexuality as “intrinsic moral evil” and the Pope’s references to gay marriage as “insidious and dangerous”?
Yet Wright and The New Yorker never bothered to ask Haggis why he continues to accept these awards from a church that is by its doctrine categorically opposed to gay marriage.
Interior of a Hollywood party.
Enter Haggis, squiring a Catholic priest from an ultraconservative Passionist order. Haggis gently taps his wine glass with a Tiffany spoon he’s purchased just for such occasions.
Good evening. I know none of you really like me and my reputation amongst my peers is dismal but I want you all to give my priest a check. If you do, I will look like a great humanitarian.
Exterior. Port-au-Prince airport.
Haggis has spent a few dusty days touring his priest around the rubble. He’s ready to get back to that Santa Monica bungalow.
He takes the gangway stairs two at a time to board a plane chartered as part of the Church of Scientology’s relief efforts.
(to a passenger)
Is this seat taken?
Well, I think it’s being saved for a physician or nurse who’s been working around the clock for weeks. Or it may also be for one of the Scientology Volunteer Ministers who left their homes to help the people of Haiti.
Haggis plops down in the seat and buckles up, never mentioning the fact he’s publicly disavowed the Church.
I could really go for a nonfat cappuccino from Caffe Luxxe right about now…
As the plane readies for takeoff, Haggis looks to camera and winks.
Hitching a ride on the Church’s goodwill plane not only really happened, it’s quintessential Haggis. Using Scientology when it meets his egocentric purposes and tossing it aside when it doesn’t has always been part of the Haggis script. It’s a strategy he adopted the moment he arrived in Los Angeles from Canada in the 1970s. The L.A. sun had barely warmed his pasty complexion before he was using connections made at the Church to get a foot in the door of the entertainment industry.
Just to set the record straight, he never rose to Scientology’s “top spiritual level” as he claims. In fact, at the time he sent his “resignation” email, he hadn’t stepped through the doors of a Church in seven years and hadn’t progressed on any Scientology level since 1979. Moreover, as he confessed to Wright, he only read 30 pages of the most fundamental text of the religion, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.
In this installment, Haggis plays the “Family Man.”
The cast includes three daughters and his first wife. It’s 1992. Haggis has achieved some measure of success in Hollywood and so he follows a cliché storyline, filing for divorce.
In turn, the woman who had come to Los Angeles to support his career, raised his children while he pursued his career, finds herself starring in a brutal divorce-court drama that would ultimately run for seven years.
The daughters testify in divorce court that they do not want to live with their father. They say they hardly know him and want to live with the mother who raised them.
Interior courtroom. The Judge addresses Haggis.
Mr. Haggis, are you aware of the fact your daughters don’t want to live with you?
I am, Your Honor.
And are you aware that because of your absenteeism and lack of affection, they don’t even think you love them?
Yep. Kids these days…
When you know all that is true, how can you not let them live with their mother?
Cue music. A thoughtful, overly sappy score.
I know I haven’t been much of a dad. And girls, I know you really don’t like me. I don’t blame you. But the bottom line is, I’m a selfish bastard and I am going to fight for custody. And you’re going to live with me whether you like it or not.
Through legal maneuverings and a grinding two-year custody battle, Haggis prevails and gains custody against the wishes of his daughters.
In another scene from the hypocrite’s family saga, Haggis sends two of his children, then 13 and 15, for psychiatric evaluation with a man who spent 18 years as a professor at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. Haggis does so flying directly in the face of Scientologists’ view that psychiatry is an anathema to spiritual well-being. So much for Haggis, Scientologist.
This episode doesn’t exactly play out according to Haggis’s outline. The girls rebel and demand to be sent to a boarding school in rural Oregon. Haggis capitulates.
But even after graduation, there is no happily ever after.
Middle daughter Lauren, 27, reminisced about her father to The New Yorker’s Wright saying he never came home until late at night and “I didn’t even know why he wanted us. I didn’t really know him.” Indeed, Lauren expressed her disdain for her father.
As Wright wrote:
“Though Haggis is passionate about his work, he can be cool toward those who are closest to him. Lauren…said that he never connected with his children. ‘He’s emotionally not there.”’
As for daughter Alissa, she too suffered a period of estrangement from her uncaring father. For a number of years the two didn’t even speak. Now, Alissa, 33, the oldest of the three siblings, told Wright she and Haggis have a “working relationship” and “see each other for Thanksgiving and some meals.”
Recently, in an apparent effort to make up for the lack of family movies from her childhood, Haggis lovingly cast her as a “murderous drug addict” in his latest film.
Haggis’s youngest daughter, Katy, 26, refused to be interviewed by Wright.
I had a fabulous education, not in what they thought they were teaching me, but I learned how to subvert any system. It required a lot of the characteristics of a criminal mind.
So Haggis sets the stage for this sequel, wherein he casts himself as a sort of James Bond character—minus the looks, savoir-faire, ethical standards—and not out to save anyone but himself.
It begins with a scene weighted with symbolism.
Exterior. A wooden bridge.
Close on Haggis. He whistles to himself as he drives his Tesla midway across and stops.
Medium long shot as he gets out of the car. He takes a can of petrol out of the boot (he calls them “petrol” and “boot” because that’s what the Brit, Bond, would say).
He pours the contents on the wide wooden planks of the bridge.
In slow motion, he lights a match. He drops it to the ground. The gasoline…petrol catches fire and the flames spread across the bridge.
Close up on Haggis, still in slow motion, a tortured scream on his face.
Long shot of the Tesla now engulfed in flames.
It’s all a metaphor not only for the car he lost to armed thugs, but also the bridges he’s burned in Hollywood.
Take, for example, the lucrative deal his production company inked with one Hollywood studio. After pocketing $5 million, Haggis failed to deliver a single script. He even reneged on his promise to polish other studio properties to compensate for the scripts that never materialized. When tales of his seven-figure high jinks hit the grapevine, the Hollywood rumor mill went into high gear and word on the street was Haggis’s Hwy 61 production company was, in actuality, a dead end.
And of course, Haggis had high hopes for his Lionsgate film The Next Three Days with Russell Crowe. But the movie was a box-office bust before the next three hours had come and gone. And the critics didn’t spare the rod. The New Yorker’s own David Denby said it was “a caper without play or wit.”
Other reviews speak for themselves:
- “It’s damn hard to enjoy a thriller when you don’t, won’t, can't believe a word of it.” —Rolling Stone
- “Not much more than a meticulously detailed, very long instructional video.” —New York Times
Then comes the penultimate scene of this marathon. By this time, Haggis has shed his 007 persona and is back to being “the deeply broken person” he confesses to be.
Haggis is now separated from wife number two, with whom he shares a son. Having had to shell out a cool $4 mil for her Manhattan condo, Haggis reportedly finds himself cash poor. And in a town where you’re only as good as your last film, no one is exactly beating a path to his bachelor pad door.
Interior SoHo Club, West Hollywood.
Haggis sits at a table, laptop open, typing.
A 20-something waitress comes to the table.
Can I get you anything?
How about a three-picture deal with a major studio and a conscience?
I meant something off the menu.
You’re in here every day. What are you working on?
It’s a spec script I’ve been writing for over a year. Every time I finish it, I think it’s not good enough and I start rewriting.
You ever hear the one about the young starlet who was so dumb she slept with a writer?
She turns and walks away. Haggis rests his jowls in his palms and stares at his computer screen.
The next scene is a flashback. It takes place in the backyard of Haggis’s Santa Monica home, before he leaked his “resignation” email.
A group of Scientologists, his now former friends, approach him sincerely. He’s sent them his email and they take issue with his mischaracterizations of Scientology and outright lies about the Church.
At the meeting, Haggis first pretends innocence and tells Church members that he has not been in touch with self-admitted suborner of perjury Marty Rathbun, even making disparaging remarks about Rathbun. Haggis adds that he thinks Rathbun’s apostate “Posse” poster boy, virulent anti-Scientologist and character actor Jason Beghe, is “nuts.” But, in fact, at precisely that point in time, Haggis had indeed already cast Beghe in a bit part in his movie. In other words, Haggis lies to the friends he has known, some for better than 20 years.
Finally, there is the denouement, wherein Haggis attempts to tie up all the loose ends of his sordid tale.
He strikes a practice “philosophic” pose—back arched slightly, his crossed arms inadvertently accentuating his paunch. This is the moment he delivers his apologist, mea culpa monologue. The dialogue is unembellished and real. He scripted it to try to explain away his hypocrisy by casting it in a universal light, to attempt to convince himself that everyone is just like him.
Exterior. Haggis lights a cigarette for effect.
I guess we all try to know ourselves somehow, and at the same time we’re all trying to fool ourselves. We’re trying to package ourselves into something that others will like, or others will admire, even when we’re pretending not to.
He tosses the cigarette to the ground, rubbing it out with the toe of his Ferragamo black crocodile moccasin ($2,600 a pop, Neiman Marcus).
…we’re always lying to each other.
No, Paul, we aren’t.
Fade to black…