In August 1998, after I Know What You Did Last Summer propelled Ryan Phillippe to stardom and plastered his face on teen bedroom walls across the country, a Paper magazine cover story christened Ryan Phillippe “The New Heat.” Months later he’d be engaged to Hollywood’s princess Reese Witherspoon, and the following year, the two would star together in the hugely successful Cruel Intentions, which cemented his spot in the Hollywood power couple (and decade-long tabloid fixture). But that was the ‘90s. In the 20 years that have passed, the once-Hollywood heartthrob has found his career stalled; his name is mostly in the news on anniversaries of movies he made when he was a teenager, or in photos with his children in tabloids inevitably comparing their “spitting image.” But more recently, Phillippe has become renowned for a more menacing notoriety, having been embroiled in a lawsuit stemming from allegations of physical abuse.
On October 15, 2019, Phillippe was set to appear before a jury in a case dating back to 2017, when his ex-girlfriend, then-21-year-old Elsie Hewitt, says she suffered a violent late-night assault at Phillippe’s home that allegedly resulted in multiple injuries. In pleadings filed in the suit, Phillippe denied he assaulted Hewitt and claimed he acted in self defense. No criminal action was brought against Phillippe arising from the incident, according to the LAPD.
Publicly, Phillippe has claimed the allegations “disgust” him, and that he was “raised by women in a household where women’s rights, feminism, and advocacy were very much at the forefront”—a common log-line for men who hope to distance themselves from allegations of abuse. His lawyers have argued that Phillippe is the actual victim—his good name dragged through the mud, and career suffering—while Hewitt was simply a jealous girlfriend.
Phillippe and Hewitt settled the suit, according to an October 10 filing. Before that, the actor had filed multiple motions to preclude evidence from being used against him at trial including: police records pertaining to him; the deposition of his ex-fiancée Paulina Slagter; text messages he sent after the incident; and even the testimony of his ex-wife (who he divorced in 2006) Reese Witherspoon. (Hewitt’s lawyers believe, from court documents, that he was in communication with Witherspoon in the days following the incident, but Phillippe denies this.)
Text messages leaked to the press by Hewitt’s lawyer, Keith Fink, show a different story, as does the the revelation in a leaked interview with the police that Phillippe “paid off” his ex-fiancée after she filed a police report for harassment against him just months before Hewitt claims he threw her down the stairs of his home while screaming, “Get the fuck out of my house, you crazy cunt.”
Before the settlement was announced, press coverage of the lawsuit had picked up, in part because Reese Witherspoon made it onto the opposing side’s witness list and was set to testify. Since Hewitt filed the lawsuit, Witherspoon has gone on to help spearhead the Time’s Up initiative since early 2018. Hewitt’s lawyers would have likely focused on this, as various filings suggest they planned on asking about her relationship with Phillippe, whether he was ever violent with her, and if he confided in her about what happened on the evening of the assault.
But again, this is not the ‘90s—while Phillippe’s star has shrunk, Witherspoon’s has risen to meteoric new heights. She’s now one of Hollywood’s most influential producers and tastemakers, and is currently promoting the The Morning Show—which she says was shaped by the MeToo movement. Since her reputation could have been a target in the court room, even if she is neither married to Phillippe or responsible for him, Reese is likely grateful to be absent of the spectators. But in the convergence of Hollywood star power that was this lawsuit, it’s important to remember Hewitt’s allegations and the assault she claims she experienced at Phillipe’s hands.
Court documents obtained by Jezebel paint a troubling portrait of an imbalanced relationship between Phillippe and Hewitt, who was 21 when they met and is 22 years younger than Phillipe.
According to the suit, their relationship formally began in May 2017 after knowing each other, as Phillippe later put it, “for some time.” Hewitt claims that shortly after they began dating, Phillippe demanded that she spend inordinate amounts of time with him, and obsessively tracked her location via the “Find my Friends” feature on iPhone. Because of this, Hewitt claimed in her suit that she kept many of her belongings at Phillippe’s house, had an entry code to his door, and often slept there. Hewitt’s lawyers also wrote in her suit that, “In addition to telling Hewitt that he missed her, Phillippe often told Hewitt that he ‘needed her.’”
That summer, the actor told Hewitt that he “looked forward to spending the long July 4 weekend” with her, and was “disappointed” when she asked him to attend a July 3 day party in Malibu. (She claims that he initially became enraged when she asked him to attend after learning an ex-boyfriend of hers might be there.) Afterwards, Hewitt and her friend went to Nobu, a popular Malibu hotspot, with Phillippe, a fact agreed on by both parties. It was there, Hewitt said, that the jealous behavior—fervently tracking her location, monitoring her activity, capitalizing on her time—resurfaced. When Phillippe saw Hewitt socializing with various people at the party, some of them men, she said, he stormed out. She claims he became “extremely angry”; in text messages between them, provided to the press by Hewitt’s lawyer, he says that he felt ignored and disrespected. It’s here their stories diverge
Elsie Hewitt claims that she went to Phillippe’s house hours after he had left the party to retrieve her belongings. Upon going upstairs, Phillippe attacked her, punching and kicking her, before “violently” throwing her down his staircase. A friend who was with Hewitt at the time tried to fight Phillippe off, but said that due to his “comparative size and strength,” she was unsuccessful. (Phillippe has denied these accusations.) After leaving Nobu, the actor said he picked up a woman at a different party and brought her back to his house. He says he was surprised to be awakened at 2:30am in the morning by Hewitt and her friend who he says were both drunk. He claims that she attacked him while trying to get into his bedroom. What Hewitt perceived as an assault was, as Phillippe later said, simply “protecting both himself and the girl in his bedroom.” His lawyers also claim that he did not throw her down the stairs—merely, he picked her up, tried to carry her out of the house , but slipped before reaching the stairs and caught her in his arms.
Phillippe, in depositions and court filings, describes how he made up his mind before the incident that Hewitt wasn’t “the right fit for him,” and that he feared his children would see pictures of him with a much younger, “revealingly” dressed woman. In text messages sent July 5 and obtained in September 2017 by Hollywood Life, however, he claims that he was “falling in love with you, Elsie,” and that he was still thinking about her “soft skin and beautiful smile, how you felt laying on me” just days after the assault, adding: “You’re too great as you are, baby. Smart, and funny, and complicated, and damaged, and stunningly beautiful.”
Shortly after Hewitt filed her lawsuit, sources told The Blast that Paulina Slagter, Phillippe’s ex-fiancée, contacted Hewitt, claiming to have spent “tons of money on lawyers ‘to protect herself from Phillippe.’” When asked about this, Phillippe’s lawyer’s told me: “The case has been resolved.” He would not respond to further requests for comment.
Phillippe claimed in a November 2017 case filing that Hewitt was extorting him, and that he asked the court to quash her lawsuit so he could begin taking “appropriate legal action to hold Hewitt accountable for the serious harm” she inflicted on Phillippe. With the case now settled, I can’t foresee that happening.
You can read Hewitt’s lawsuit and Phillippe’s (now moot) trial brief below.