Manhattan: It wasn’t sexual assault, Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers argue in his defense, just the casting couch, with benefits for everyone who took a seat.
But that same casting couch M.O. could send Weinstein to prison for the rest of his life, as prosecutors started calling women Wednesday to testify that the fallen Hollywood power broker drew them into his orbit with promises of roles before attacking them.
“You’ll never make it in this business! That’s how this industry works!” Dawn Dunning, the first witness, said Weinstein screamed when she laughed at his proposal that she join him in a threesome with his assistant.
Dunning told the jury she was an aspiring actor in 2004 when Weinstein invited her to a hotel suite in Tribeca for a screen test. While his employees were frantically working in the main room, Dunning testified, she was ushered into an adjacent bedroom where she found the producer sitting on a bed.
He invited her to sit next to him as they discussed the role, she said, then suddenly put his hand up her skirt and below her underwear, inserting his fingers in her.
“I stood up and I was in shock,” Dunning told the jury, her voice quavering. “I wasn’t expecting it to happen. He started talking really fast. He was saying, ‘It’s not a big deal. Do not make a big deal about this.’”
Dunning, 40, fought back tears as she testified, saying she “rationalized” the incident, noting Weinstein’s power in Hollywood.
“I was embarrassed,” she said. “I wanted to pretend like it never happened. I didn’t want to be a victim.”
The three women the prosecution began calling on Wednesday are testifying to show that Weinstein’s modus operandi reflected a pattern of predation. Weinstein, 67, is charged with rape and predatory sexual assault involving two other women, one of whom testified Monday that he “lunged” at her — on a couch, in his Manhattan loft — and then got her into a bedroom where he attacked her.
Weinstein maintains that any sexual encounters were consensual. His lawyers point to emails from accusers, some affectionate in tone even after the alleged attacks, that they hope will convince the jury that the incidents were mutually beneficial.
Dunning testified that she pursued a professional relationship with Weinstein, even after the alleged assault, for practical reasons. Shortly after the attack, she said, she accepted an invitation to meet Weinstein at a cigar bar at the Intercontinental Hotel in midtown Manhattan to sign a contract for three movies he promised to cast her in.
Instead, Weinstein’s assistant took her upstairs to his hotel room, saying he was tied up with a phone call, Dunning said. Ushered into the room, she found him wearing a white hotel bathrobe, which he had left open, she told the court. She saw stacks of paper on a coffee table, which he gestured toward, she said.
“So he kinda cut to the chase and said, ‘Here’s contracts for my next three films. I’ll sign them today if you have a threesome with me and my assistant,’” Dunning said. She said she thought Weinstein was joking but that he became enraged when she laughed.
“He got really angry and started screaming,” Dunning told the court. She said he told her, “You’ll never make it in this business! That’s how this industry works!” She said he cited three famous actors, whom she named for the jury, and told her, “That’s how these actresses got where they are.”
Dunning testified that she looked at Weinstein’s assistant, who she said looked blankly back at her.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Dunning said. “I ran for the door.” She added later, “I could hear him screaming in the hallway as I was leaving.”
Prosecutor Meghan Hast asked Dunning why she continued interacting with Weinstein after the alleged assault at the Tribeca hotel.
“I was trying to get work from him,” she said. “Everyone knew that I was going to a meeting with him and that I had a screen test. It was a big deal for me.”
Dunning said she decided to come forward and meet with prosecutors after seeing articles about Weinstein in 2017.
“Are you getting anything from this?” Hast asked her.
“No,” she said, weeping. “I’m spending money, spending my time. This is like the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the worst and hardest day of my life. I would not wish this on anyone.”
The second witness called Wednesday was Tarale Wulff, a 43-year-old model, who said she met Weinstein while working as a cocktail waitress at a club in SoHo in 2005. Weinstein, a friend of the owner, was at the bar, and the two began talking about her hopes of becoming an actor, Wulff said.
Later that night, Weinstein grabbed Wulff by the arm and dragged her up a stairwell to a secluded space, where he started masturbating, she told the jurors. She said she fled.
A few weeks afterward, she testified, she was called for an audition at his offices. She arrived and was handed a script but then told Weinstein wanted to see her. His driver took her to his Crosby Street loft — the same apartment in which he allegedly assaulted Miriam Haley, one of the two women the Manhattan D.A. has charged him with attacking.
There, Wulff told the jury, he said, “Don’t worry, I had a vasectomy,” and raped her. Wulff said she “went blank” and “clicked off” during the alleged assault.
She said they drove back to his office and he acted as if nothing had happened.
Wulff said she never got the audition, and never spoke to Weinstein again. Prosecutors said the role had already been cast in Los Angeles. She said she never told anyone about what happened and once even hid from Weinstein at a fashion show she was working.
“I just wanted it to go away,” Wulff told the jury. “It’s easiest for me to pretend it didn’t happen and go on with my day.”
On cross-examination, Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno closely questioned Wulff on gaps in her memory, hammering her on whether she told Weinstein she didn’t want to have sex with him.
“Is it true that you think you voiced you told him you didn’t want to have sex?” Rotunno asked.
“I don’t remember,” Wulff said.
Later, New York State Supreme Court Justice James Burke stepped in.
“You think you voiced that you did not want to have sex? Is that statement true?” he asked Wulff.
“That’s not what I said,” she answered. “I said, ‘I can’t.’”
The case is People v. Weinstein, 450293/2018, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).-Bloomberg