(NEW YORK) — “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra took the witness stand on Thursday at Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial and testified in wrenching detail about the night nearly 30 years ago that she said the disgraced Hollywood producer violently raped her at her apartment.
Sciorra’s testimony is the first and among the most highly anticipated at a pivotal moment in the #MeToo movement as Weinstein faces rape and sexual assault charges in New York.
Throughout direct examination by prosecutors, the veteran actress, who grew up in Brooklyn, avoided using the mega-producer’s name — referring to him consistently as “the defendant” and positioning herself on the witness stand so that she was partially facing the jury as Weinstein sat over her right shoulder at the defense table.
In perhaps the most chilling moment of the morning’s testimony, Sciorra rose and scanned the courtroom after being asked to identify Weinstein. She extended her hand in his direction and described what he was wearing: a black jacket, white shirt and white tie.
Weinstein stared at her and nodded his head as if to say hello. She looked right back at him, but ignored the gesture and returned to her seat, her face set in apparent discomfort.
Six women are expected to testify in the trial, and Weinstein is charged with crimes related to two of them. The rest, including Sciorra, are being called in support of prosecutors’ efforts to demonstrate a pattern of sexual predation.
Actress Ellen Barkin sat in the back row of the gallery throughout Sciorra’s testimony, as did Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who sat in the front row behind his prosecutors.
The actress said she first met Weinstein in at a Los Angeles party in 1990 or 1991, and at the end of the night she said he offered her — and she accepted — a ride home to her hotel. Their first encounter was uneventful, she testified. They talked about movies and he told her to send her any good scripts she might come across.
In an effort to help her friend Warren Light and the Naked Angel Theater Company, she sent a script for “The Night We Never Met,” which had been written for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, to Weinstein. The producer asked for a reading, so they hosted one, with Sciorra reading for Parker’s role as Parker could not make the reading.
Weinstein insisted Sciorra play Parker’s part, the actress said, despite Sciorra’s protestations.
“He said he would not produce the movie if I was not in it with Matthew. And I — you know — felt bad about that because it was specifically written about Sarah Jessica Parker, and I felt bad for my friend Warren Light. So, I agreed to go ahead and be in the movie,” Sciorra testified.
The movie was released in the spring of 1993. During the winter of 1993-94, Sciorra was invited to a dinner in New York with Weinstein, actress Uma Thurman and several other individuals. As she got up to leave the dinner around 9:30 p.m., Weinstein offered her a ride to her nearby Gramercy Park apartment.
“I went upstairs and got ready for bed,” she said. “I washed my face brushed my teeth and I put on a nightgown.”
The white cotton nightgown, she said, was her grandmother’s and “had been given to me by my mother’s cousin in Italy, because I didn’t really have anything of my grandmother’s because she died very young.”
Without warning, there was a knock at the door, Sciorra said. She assumed it was a neighbor or the building doorman, so she opened it. Weinstein pushed himself inside and began walking through the apartment. She testified that it appeared he was looking to see if anyone else was in the apartment.
“Then he started to unbutton his shirt and I then realized he thought we were going to be having sex,” she said.
Sciorra testified that she started backing up, thinking she could make it into her bathroom. With tears running from her eyes in the courthouse, she stood up and clasped her hands above her head to describe the way she claimed Weinstein pinned her down on a bed when she could not reach the bathroom.
“I was punching him, I was kicking him, I was just trying to get him away from me,” Sciorra said, crying, but with her hands “locked” by him, she “couldn’t fight any more.”
At a certain point he stopped, she said, and ejaculated on her leg and nightgown, saying he had “perfect timing.” She claimed he then forcibly performed oral sex on her, saying, “This is for you.”
“I didn’t have very much fight left inside of me at that point. I said, ‘No! No!’ But I mean, there was not much I could do at that point — my body shut down. It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake in a way that was very unusual. I didn’t really even know what was happening. It was like a seizure or something,” Sciorra said.
Afterwards, she said, “The defendant left, he walked out.”
Several weeks later, she said she crossed paths with Weinstein in a restaurant.
“I confronted him about what happened in my apartment. I tried to talk to him about what happened. And I told him I woke up and that I had blacked out or fainted, and he said, ‘That’s what all the nice Catholic girls say.’ And then he leaned into me and said, ‘This remains between you and I,'” Sciorra said. “It was very menacing — his eyes were black, and I thought he was going to hit me right there. He was threatening and I was afraid.”
After the alleged attack, Sciorra said she resumed her life “to the best of my ability.” That included a lot of crying, she said, and “what I now know is called dissociative experiences.”
“I spent a lot of time alone, didn’t want to see any people. I didn’t want to talk about what happened. I disappeared,” she said, adding as she choked back tears that she began to drink “a lot” and cut herself also “a lot.”
“I had this wall that was — it was white — and then I began to paint it like a blood red color with tubes of oil paint,” she said. “It was this massive wall. I don’t know what I was thinking. I began to cut myself.”
“I bled from my finger and my hands into this masterpiece, and wherever I would put the blood I would take pieces of gold leaf and mark it,” she said, referring to the spots where she would mingle the blood with the red paint on the wall.
Asked why she did this, she paused, and grew emotional.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I didn’t feel good.”
Defense attorney Donna Rotunno cross-examined Sciorra Thursday afternoon. Under her questioning, Sciorra explained why she didn’t call the police about the alleged attack.
“At the time, I didn’t understand that was rape,” she responded.
Sciorra also said under questioning that she had not asked the doorman why he let Weinstein up without announcing him, determined whether there were cameras in the building, determined whether Weinstein signed in downstairs, or complained to the board about someone being let up to her apartment without notice.
“No,” Sciorra said, staring back at Rotunno. “I was devastated.”
In the course of several hours of often tense cross-examination, Rotunno tried repeatedly to impeach Sciorra’s credibility, with virtually no success.
Each time Rotunno appeared to have laid a rhetorical trap for Sciorra, the actress struck back, turning the tables on the line of questioning and forcing Rotunno to move on.
Sciorra was cross-examined about an incident she’s previously described at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995, where she says Weinstein turned up before dawn at her hotel room door and knocked.
Referring to the alleged attack at her Grammercy Park apartment, Rotunno asked, sarcastically, “You already know you heard a knock at the door and answered it without seeing the other end, didn’t go well correct?”
“Correct,” Sciorra replied.
“And you open the door?”
“Correct,” Sciorra said, explaining that she opened the door to find Weinstein standing in the hallway in nothing but his underwear.
“He’s standing there, and you say you couldn’t get out of the room … Why didn’t you just close the door?”
Sciorra leaned in for emphasis, focused her eyes on Rotunno and said, sharply, “because he was IN my room.”
Sciorra said he ultimately called hotel security, but by the time they arrived, Weinstein was leaving or had just left.
“Did you make any formal complaint to the hotel?”
“No,” Sciorra shot back, holding her gaze on the defense attorney. “He owns the hotel.”
At another point, Sciorra again seemed to catch Rotunno off guard.
Referring to an event where Sciorra and Weinstein ran into each other after the alleged winter 1993-94 rape, Rotunno asked the witness, “When you saw Harvey Weinstein at the Miramax event, did you say to him, ‘You raped me?”
“Yes I did,” Sciorra replied, stopping Rotunno cold for a moment.
In their final bid to impeach Sciorra’s account, the defense played a video clip of Sciorra appearing on “The David Letterman Show,” where Sciorra participated in a comedy sketch in which she claimed her father raised iguanas in the circus.
When the bit ended, Letterman teased Sciorra about the claim she made in the sketch, and she jokingly replied, “I have a bad reputation where I lie.”
On re-direct, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi seemed to mock the defense’s effort with the Letterman clip.
“The tales you were lying about were about your father raising iguanas in the circus?” Illuzzi asked Sciorra.
“Yes,” the actress replied.
“And this is not a circus?” Illuzzi replied.
“No,” Sciorra solemnly replied.
If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault and is seeking resources, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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