Five months after it was announced she would testify at Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial, the actress Annabella Sciorra delivered an excruciatingly detailed account of her allegations that Weinstein raped her at her apartment more than two decades ago. “I said ‘no, no’ but there was not much I could do at that point. My body shut down,” Sciorra testified on Thursday in New York. “I was just shaking like a seizure—I don’t know how else to describe it.”
Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, apparently expected to hear as much. Before the trial even began, the defense lawyer had already laid out her plan of attack in an interview with CNN. Sciorra “has spent an entire life acting for a living,” Rotunno said in early January, in an attempt to undermine the actress’s credibility. “She will be an excellent witness on the stand.”
That reasoning, of course, is questionable at best; if the court can’t believe actors because they’re paid to act, why bother listening to politicians or publicists who often profit from bending the truth? (And it should be noted that in his heyday, Weinstein himself was renowned for spinning the narrative and hype around his company’s movies.) But it was the technique Rotunno used in cross-examining Sciorra on Thursday nonetheless. “In your movies you are a professional actress?,” Rotunno began. Sciorra said yes. “As part of that job, you pretend to be someone you aren’t, is that fair to say?,” Rotunno replied. Sciorra said she did not agree, though she conceded actors are employed “to convince an audience that you are whoever that character in that role is” when pressed.
From there, Rotunno repeatedly attempted to poke holes in Sciorra’s testimony. She asked Sciorra why she didn’t ask who was at her door before she opened it, and why she didn’t call the police when Weinstein advanced. As for why she didn’t flee from her apartment, “he was too big,” Sciorra said.
In response to Rotunno’s question as to why she didn’t attempt to reach for the phone when Weinstein advanced, she replied: “It happened very fast. Very fast. He just walked in. I didn’t know what was going on and then as he started coming toward me, I realized he was unbuttoning his shirt and then I started to back up to go into the bathroom.”
From there, Rotunno increasingly voiced her skepticism. She asked why Sciorra didn’t complain to her doorman after he let Weinstein up to her floor, to which the actress responded that she “was devastated.” “Well, I’m sure you were but I’m asking questions,” Rotunno said.
In Sciorra’s testimony, the actress said that she didn’t call the police because she was “confused.” “He was someone I knew,” Sciorra said. “I felt at the time that rape happened in a back alleyway in a dark place.” During cross-examination, Sciorra repeated that she did not call the police at Rotunno’s behest. “At the time, I didn’t understand that was rape,” Sciorra said. At that point, Rotunno dropped all pretenses in possessing any of her own acting ability: “You were 33 years old at the time,” she said, bluntly implying that that was far too old not to know the nuances of rape.
The trial, which is expected to last six to eight weeks, will enter its third day on Friday. More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment or abuse, though only four women are expected to testify after Sciorra. They include the two women who filed the charges being tried against Weinstein, one of whom is a former production assistant. The other is an actress, as Rotunno is no doubt well aware.