Paul Haggis | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Paul Haggis

Paul Edward Haggis, writer, director, producer (born 10 Mar 1953 in London, Ontario). Paul Haggis created the popular TV series Due South (1994–99), which earned him six Gemini Awards including two for Best Dramatic Series. He then made history in 2006 as the first screenwriter of back-to-back Best Picture Oscar winners — Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Crash (2005). He also won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscars for the latter and helped rejuvenate the James Bond franchise with his screenplays for Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008). In 2018, he began defending himself in a civil suit against allegations of sexual assault. He was found liable and ordered to pay US$10 million in damages in November 2022.

Early Years

Paul Haggis’s father, Ted, served in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War. He also competed as a sprinter in the 1948 Olympic Summer Games before running his own construction company. Paul’s mother, Mary, was a telephone operator. She raised Paul and his sisters Catholic, but stopped bringing them to church when Haggis was 13 after she confronted their priest about driving a Cadillac and he justified it as God’s wish.

Haggis struggled during adolescence, attending both boarding and progressive schools before dropping out altogether. He moved to London, England, at age 19 to pursue work as a fashion photographer for a year. He studied cinematography at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, but did not graduate. However, he helped his father manage the Gallery Theatre in an old church, where he did some carpentry and adapted a production of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Early Television Career

In 1975, Haggis moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career writing for television. It took more than three years to sell his first script (for The Love Boat). He persisted with the support of his family and was eventually hired by legendary producer Norman Lear, who gave Haggis his first writing job on Diff'rent Strokes in 1983. A succession of series followed, including The Facts of Life, One Day at a Time, Who's the Boss?, The Tracey Ullman Show, thirtysomething (for which Haggis won two Primetime Emmy Awards), L.A. Law and EZ Streets. He also created the hit Chuck Norris show Walker: Texas Ranger, the crime drama Michael Hayes, and the legal drama Family Law.

Due South (1994–99)

Haggis returned to Canada to produce the pilot and write for the first two seasons of the popular series Due South (1994–96). It starred Paul Gross as a straightlaced RCMP constable on assignment in Chicago. Due South was the first Canadian series to air during American primetime despite its unabashed Canadian character. The series earned Haggis six Gemini Awards, including two for Best Dramatic Series and two for Best Writing in a Dramatic Series.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

In 2000, Haggis moved on to writing, directing and producing movies. After discovering an unpublished collection of short stories by F.X. Toole called Rope Burns, Haggis secured the film rights and wrote the script for Million Dollar Baby on spec. He submitted it to Clint Eastwood's production company and, to his surprise, Eastwood chose to direct and star in it. Million Dollar Baby was the sleeper hit of 2004. It earned Haggis an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and grossed more than $200 million worldwide.

Crash (2005)

Million Dollar Baby’s Oscar triumph in February 2005 built on the momentum that began for Haggis when Crash, his first feature as a director, debuted to much acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September 2004. Crash drew on Haggis’s experience of being carjacked in 1991 to depict racial tensions in Los Angeles, with complex overlapping storylines taking place in a hectic 24-hour period. The ensemble cast included Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser and Matt Dillon. Haggis originally pitched it as a TV series and took five years to make it as an independent film after it was rejected by all the studios. He mortgaged his house and waived his fee to help finance the film, and refused to hire a replacement after he had a heart attack during production.

Crash became a modest hit, grossing eight times its budget in its first two months of release. It also drew a passionate following that included Oprah Winfrey, who praised the film’s depiction of race relations in America. It was named one of the year’s best films by many critics and critic’s associations and won a BAFTA for Original Screenplay and an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Lionsgate, the film’s distributor, mounted an aggressive Oscar campaign, mailing DVD screeners to all 120,000 Screen Actors Guild members. Crash scored one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history when it won Best Picture over the heavy favourite, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Haggis also won an Oscar for Crash’s screenplay and was nominated for Best Director.

Controversy followed with speculation that homophobia fuelled Crash’s win over Brokeback Mountain’s queer romance. Roger Ebert, who named Crash the best film of 2005, reflected on the “Crash-lash,” writing, “One of the mysteries of the 2006 Oscar season is the virulence with which lovers of Brokeback Mountain savaged Crash… It is not a ‘safe harbour’… It is a movie of raw confrontation about the complexity of our motives, about how racism works not only top down but sideways, and how in different situations we are all capable of behaving shamefully.” Haggis himself admitted surprise and said rival nominee Capote was his favourite. “I’m very glad to have those Oscars,” Haggis said in a 2013 interview. “I knew it was the social experiment that I wanted, so I think it’s a really good social experiment. Is it a great film? I don’t know.”

James Bond Reboot and Other Successes

Haggis’s hot-streak continued when Clint Eastwood hired him to adapt James Bradley and Ron Powers’s novel Flags of Our Fathers, about the bloody Second World War battle for Iwo Jima Island and the iconic photograph of the victorious raising of the American flag. The result was two films released back-to-back in 2006: Flags of Our Fathers, which told the story from the perspective of the American soldiers who raised the flag, and Letters from Iwo Jima, which featured the Japanese perspective of the battle. Haggis secured a third consecutive Oscar nomination for writing the latter film, which also received a Best Picture nomination.

Also in 2006, Haggis co-wrote the script for the 21st James Bond film, Casino Royale. The dark re-imagining of 007 was regarded by some critics as the best Bond ever. “Daniel Craig became known as ‘the Bond who bleeds’ thanks to tough scripting by Haggis,” wrote Toronto Star film critic Peter Howell. The film grossed nearly $600 million at the worldwide box office and earned Haggis BAFTA nominations for Best British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Haggis continued to showcase a social consciousness with the anti-war drama In the Valley of Elah (2007), which he produced, wrote and directed. The film drew poor reviews but earned Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar nomination for his performance. Haggis also co-wrote the 22nd Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008), but expressed displeasure when his work was re-written. He then wrote and directed the thriller The Next Three Days (2010), starring Russell Crowe, and the multi-narrative ensemble drama Third Person (2013), starring Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde and Adrien Brody. The convoluted film drew negative reviews, with the Guardian calling it “a work of staggering trash,” but Haggis has called it his favourite of his films.

Later Television Career

Haggis returned to television in 2007 with the crime drama The Black Donnellys, inspired by the story of rival London families that ended in murder. In 2015, he directed the acclaimed HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, co-written and produced by The Wire writer David Simon and based on a fight for social housing in Yonkers, New York, in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Show Me a Hero was named one of the best TV series of 2015 by the Guardian and Indiewire, among others, and earned Haggis a nomination from the Director’s Guild of America.

Personal Life

Paul Haggis has three daughters, Alissa, Lauren and Katy, from his marriage to Diane Gettas (1977–97), and a son, James, from his marriage to Deborah Rennard (1997–2009). Haggis often works with members of his family. His surviving sister, Jo Francis, edited In the Valley of Elah, The Next Three Days and Show Me a Hero. Haggis’s workaholic nature strained his relationships with his children, with Lauren telling the New Yorker, “He’s emotionally not there.” His estrangement from Alissa inspired the backstory for Clint Eastwood’s character in Million Dollar Baby. The two later developed a strong working relationship.

Charity Work

Haggis has a reputation for fundraising and philanthropy. He co-founded the charity Artists for Peace and Justice in 2009. The organization provides relief in Haiti by improving education, health care and access to clean water.


Haggis became involved with the Church of Scientology in 1975 and was a prominent member for many years. However, he apostatized in 2009 due to Scientology’s practice of “disconnection,” in which believers sever ties from skeptical friends and family, and due to the organization’s outspoken homophobia. (Two of Haggis’s daughters are gay.)

As Scientology’s highest-profile defector, Haggis’s renunciation inspired a major exposé in the New Yorker that led to Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Haggis also appears in Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning HBO documentary Going Clear (2015), which is based on the book, and has been interviewed widely as an outspoken critic of the church.

Sexual Assault Allegations

On 15 December 2017, amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment that was sparked by sexual assault charges against American film producer Harvey Weinstein, Haggis filed a defamation lawsuit against New York publicist Haleigh Breest. Haggis claimed that she attempted to extort $9 million from him in exchange for remaining silent about a claim of sexual assault. Later that day, Breest filed a civil suit accusing Haggis of forcing her to perform oral sex on him and then raping her at his apartment following a movie premiere on 31 January 2013. At the time, she was 26 and Haggis was 59. Haggis claimed that the oral sex was consensual and that he had “no memory” of sexual intercourse taking place.

In January 2018, the Associated Press published allegations of sexual assault by Haggis from three other women for incidents that were said to have taken place between 1996 and 2015, including one allegation of rape. The allegations, which were corroborated by friends, associates and one psychologist, were made anonymously and filed in court proceedings made by Breest’s attorneys in New York.

Haggis denied the allegations against him and speculated that the Church of Scientology may have coordinated them as a smear campaign. Actor Leah Remini, a fellow apostate and critic of Scientology, issued a statement defending Haggis and calling the anonymous accusations against him “suspect.” Haggis’s ex-wife, Deborah Rennard, also defended Haggis in an open letter that challenged the veracity of the claims made against him.

All the women who alleged sexual assault by Haggis denied any involvement with the Church of Scientology. One of the women wrote a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter, published on 17 January 2018, in which she explained her decision to remain anonymous and described how she “had to collect documentation and answer detailed questions reliving every aspect of my story. I am not anonymous to the reporters who told my story: They know my name, have seen contemporaneous evidence corroborating the circumstances of my experience and have spoken with people to whom I confided details shortly after the assault.”

Civil Trial

Court proceedings in Breest’s civil suit against Haggis (he did not face criminal charges) began in January 2018 and faced multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, on 19 June 2022, Haggis was arrested in Ostuni, Italy, and charged with sexually assaulting a 28-year-old British woman. Haggis spent 16 days under house arrest at a hotel before the case was dismissed a month later by a panel of three judges.

In November 2022, Breest’s civil suit against Haggis concluded after a three-week trial. The jury in a Manhattan court found Haggis liable for all three counts of rape and sexual abuse. He was ordered to pay Breest US$7.5 million in compensatory damages as well as additional punitive damages, which were later set at US$2.5 million. During the trial, lawyers for both sides agreed that there was “no evidence” that Breest had connections to Scientology.

Aftermath of Civil Trial

Shortly after the sexual assault allegations first surfaced against Haggis in 2018, London city councillor Mo Salih introduced a motion to rename Paul Haggis Park in the south end of Haggis’s hometown. It had been named in his honour in 2011. London City Council voted 10–2 against the motion.

However, in December 2022, following the outcome of the civil suit in New York, London City Council voted unanimously to remove Haggis’s name from the park. Days later, London’s Fanshawe College revoked an honorary diploma that it had awarded Haggis in 2006 and cancelled a scholarship named in his honour.


Gemini Awards

  • Best TV Movie (Due South) (1995)
  • Best Dramatic Series (Due South) (1995)
  • Best Writing in a Dramatic Series (Due South) (1995)
  • Best Dramatic Series (Due South) (1996)
  • Best Writing in a Dramatic Series (Due South) (1996)
  • Chrysler’s Canada’s Choice Award (Due South) (1996)


  • Outstanding Drama Series (thirtysomething), Primetime Emmy Awards (1988)
  • Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (thirtysomething), Primetime Emmy Awards (1988)
  • Best Picture (Crash), Academy Awards (2005)
  • Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Crash), Academy Awards (2005)
  • Best Film (Crash), Austin Film Critics Association (2005)
  • Best Director (Crash), Austin Film Critics Association (2005)
  • Best Screenplay (Crash), Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards (2005)
  • Best Debut Director (Crash), New York Film Critics Online (2005)
  • Breakthrough Filmmaker (Crash), Online Film Critics Society (2005)
  • USC Scripter Award (Million Dollar Baby), USC Scripter Awards (2005)
  • Original Screenplay (Crash), BAFTA Awards (2006)
  • Best First Feature (Crash), Independent Spirit Awards (2006)
  • Best Screenplay (Crash), Broadcast Film Critics Awards (2006)
  • Original Screenplay (Crash), Writers Guild of America Awards (2006)
  • Outstanding Film, Drama (Crash), Black Reel Awards (2006)
  • Best Screenplay (Crash), Chicago Film Critics Association (2006)
  • Screenwriter of the Year (Crash), London Critics Circle Film Awards (2006)
  • SIGNIS Award (In the Valley of Elah), Venice Film Festival (2007)
  • Capri Humanitarian Award, Capri, Hollywood International Film Festival (2010)
  • Ian McClellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement, Writers Guild of America East (2015)
  • Social Impact Award, Montreal International Black Film Festival (2015)