A few years ago, Gracie Cox moved back to her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. She’d spent 17 years in New York City, working her way up the ladder as a costume designer on films and television shows. You’ve probably seen her work—Gossip Girl, Orange Is the New Black, The Good Wife, Girls. Cox had grown weary of the incredible demands Hollywood places on its below-the-line crew members. So now, in lieu of dressing A-list stars in fabulous frocks, her days are filled with children.
“I work as a therapist treating children’s mental health,” she says. “All of my clients are from under-resourced communities of color, so the work is very different. A lot of my clients are trauma survivors, so I feel my own experience has helped me inform the work I’m doing now. And I’m happy to be doing it.”
That experience still haunts Cox. This is not the first time she’s shared it. Cox has told her story for years. She’s confided in friends, colleagues, her therapist. In late 2017, just after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, she spoke to reporters for BuzzFeed. She even tried hiring Gloria Allred, the famed women’s rights attorney. But thus far, what she says happened to her that night has not been made public. One reason is that the man who she says attacked her—Kevin Connolly, of Entourage fame—“may not seem like the most powerful guy but his reach is very far, and the people he knows have a lot of power.” (Connolly contends that it was a “consensual encounter.”)
Cox didn’t originally intend on entering the world of entertainment. After studying fashion and textile design at FIT, she was working at a tiny shop in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, sewing together handbags, when she befriended a costume designer who generously offered to let her intern on a film she was dressing. That was in 2002.
She soon caught the eye of Amy Westcott, a rising East Coast costume designer responsible for Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale.
“In early 2005, I started to work on this film that was directed by Kevin Connolly. The designer, Amy Westcott, had already worked with him on Entourage. I was the assistant costume designer on this film, called The Gardener of Eden,” Cox says. “I’d been in the industry for a few years at this point—so not a very long time.”
The indie, Connolly’s feature directorial debut, centers on a twentysomething slacker (Lukas Haas) in New Jersey who, after accidentally catching a serial rapist in the act, transforms into a crime-fighting vigilante. The Gardener of Eden was a family affair of sorts for Connolly, given that it starred his longtime pal Haas and was produced by his best friend, Leonardo DiCaprio, through his production company Appian Way.
Things soon became awkward between Cox and Connolly, who she says appeared to take an interest in her.
“I was around the set every day. Kevin was friendly and mildly flirtatious but I just laughed it off and didn’t take it too seriously,” says Cox. “I wasn’t interested but he was the director, so I was cordial. There was nothing that made me fearful though, it just made me a little uncomfortable, because he was my boss. So not acknowledging the smiles or comments didn’t feel like an option.”
She says Connolly would do small things, like take pauses from filming to publicly acknowledge her on set, or make complimentary comments in passing. It felt odd being singled out in such a manner, she explains, since she was a mere assistant costume designer—and one of two, no less.
“I was pretty surprised by all of it. He was dating Nicky Hilton and I’m this sort of shy woman who wears vintage clothes,” she offers. “I don’t know.”
The Daily Beast spoke with four of Cox’s friends for this story, two of whom remember her complaining to them at the time about Connolly’s on-set behavior.
“She had previously told me that he had been flirting with her a bit at work and it made her uncomfortable, because he often did it when people weren’t around, and then other times would act like he didn’t know who she was,” remembers Kristen Gallagher, a longtime friend of Cox’s who works as a creative writing professor at LaGuardia Community College. (Connolly claims the flirtation was “mutual.”)
The wrap party for The Gardener of Eden was held at the downtown Manhattan lounge Butter in December of 2005 (it’s since been shuttered).
“My department had gone out to dinner prior to the party, compliments of [Westcott]. We were at the party and I don’t think I’d been there for more than an hour or so when Kevin [Connolly] approached me and asked if I’d go with him for a smoke,” recalls Cox, who was 29 at the time. (Connolly alleges he “was not smoking during this time period.”)
By that point in the evening, she says she was a bit tipsy. “I didn’t smoke but didn’t want to seem rude. This was the first social setting I’d been in with him, other than being on set. He led me down a hall to what I guess was the VIP lounge area. As soon as we were alone in that area, he started to kiss me. I didn’t know how to respond—but before I could even think about what to do about it, he pulled me into one of these little side [booths], and pulled down my pants, and turned me around, and within no time was inside of me. I was just in shock.”
Cox’s voice begins to crack. “There was not really a chance in my mind to object or resist. It just happened really fast. I froze and was in shock. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before in any way, shape or form. I was completely caught off-guard.”
She says Connolly came—he was not wearing a condom—and then did something she’ll “never forget.”
“He took a pillow off of a couch, threw it at me, and told me to ‘clean myself up.’ He then told me that he was going to leave and to wait a few minutes, because he didn’t want anyone to see us together,” she says.
Cox says she quickly gathered herself and attempted to re-enter the party—“because that was the only way to leave,” she explains—catching the eye of Westcott in the hallway.
“Amy saw me and could see that I was distressed,” says Cox. “She had seen [Connolly] walk by too, and she immediately was like, ‘What just happened?’ Her radar went off and she pulled me aside.”
After exchanging a few muddled words, and witnessing her distraught state, “Amy was immediately enraged and protective, and then went after [Connolly]. Then they had an argument in the middle of the party, yelling at each other,” Cox says. “Amy said, ‘Let’s get you home,’ and put me in a cab.”
Westcott confirmed to me that Cox told her what had happened immediately after the incident, and that she confronted Connolly over it. The Daily Beast also reviewed emails between Westcott and Cox, with Westcott writing, “I knew it wasn’t consensual, and went after him.” In another email, she wrote to Cox, “I thought you’re [sic] ability to consent was impaired by alcohol.” (Connolly alleges that Cox “was not extremely inebriated.”)
The Daily Beast spoke with two other Gardener of Eden crew members who were present at Butter that night. They have asked us to withhold their names in fear of retaliation. “I saw Amy [Westcott] get upset with Kevin [Connolly] at the party,” says one crew member. “That’s what I saw. It was a burst, as far as I remember. She was very upset. And it was between the costume designer [Westcott] and Kevin Connolly.” Another crew member in attendance alleges that Cox looked “disheveled” when she emerged from the venue’s back room and remembers seeing Westcott “confront” Connolly soon after. (Connolly says that Westcott was angry at both Cox and him for being “unprofessional”; the crew members who witnessed the altercation and Westcott contradict this claim.)
Four of Cox’s friends confirmed to The Daily Beast that Cox told them within days of the alleged incident that she had been “assaulted” by Connolly, and that Westcott had gotten in Connolly’s face over it at the party.
“It was an assault. She was a deer in the headlights. Also, she told me that he had a girlfriend at the time, Nicky Hilton, and Gracie was thinking, ‘How is this happening? He even has a girlfriend,’” says Bessie Gantt, who grew up with Cox in South Carolina and has been friends with her for over 30 years. “She’s a great person. She’s incapable of lying, and very sincere.” (Hilton did not respond to requests for comment.)
“She told me within days of it happening,” adds Gallagher. “We were hanging out at her place, like usual, and she said ‘something really weird happened.’ I remember her saying that she had been drinking, they were at this party, and he said ‘come with me to this back room, I want to show you something.’ They were alone in this back-room space, and basically, he just flipped her over and shoved it in and didn’t talk or get consent or check in with her or anything. It was really weird. He just lured her back there and did that. He knew what he was doing, she didn’t, and she just kind of froze. And it was at the wrap party and he was the boss, and she’d been drinking. She felt like he’d raped her.”
Cox also told her therapist back then what had happened; The Daily Beast has seen a letter from her therapist dated Dec. 14, 2005, that reads, in part, “[Cox] felt she could not say no because of the director’s power over her employment, but that she did not want to have sex with him and was emotionally upset by the incident.”
Susanna Vapnek, who describes herself as one of Cox’s “best friends in New York,” says that Cox also told her about the episode the very next day.
“She told me that she was at the party and she got a little drunk, and he was talking to her and then was like, ‘Come with me,’ and he took her into some back room and kissed her and then the next thing she knew he had pulled down her pants and penetrated her—and not used a condom,” says Vapnek. “She said the next thing he said to her was, ‘Clean yourself up.’ I remember her saying she was in shock.”
“Gracie definitely saw it as an assault, and I was very clear to her on that as well, telling her that it was an assault,” Vapnek continues. “I told her to go visit a doctor, because he had not used a condom. But her greatest concern was losing her job and being listed as someone who was ‘not cool’ to work with.” (The Daily Beast reviewed the results of an STD test that Cox had administered at the time.)
For her part, Cox says she regrets not getting a rape kit done. But she was scared, and worried about her future.
“The casual nature, the way that it felt, was like something that he had done before and thinks nothing of it,” she maintains. “He thinks he’s untouchable, and that’s part of the reason why it’s been hard to come forward about it. I was definitely fearful of not being able to work again in TV and film.”
Connolly, through his attorney Marty Singer, denies that he assaulted Cox. He issued a lengthy statement to The Daily Beast that read, in part:
“Kevin strongly supports victims of sexual assault and believes their claims should always be heard. As someone who has worked in this industry for four decades, he has treated people with nothing but respect and has maintained a stellar reputation. Therefore, he was completely shocked to learn of the allegations made by Gracie Cox from a wrap party in 2005. The incident with Ms. Cox was consensual, and he categorically denies any claim that it was assault… Kevin completely understands Amy’s displeasure with the consensual act that transpired between Kevin and Gracie 15 years ago, after production had wrapped and they were no longer working together on the movie. Kevin acknowledges the lack of professionalism on his part, but he adamantly denies that it was anything other than a mutual consensual encounter.”
In addition to an STD test, Vapnek suggested Cox reach out to attorney Gloria Allred for counsel. Cox says she did in 2017, after the Weinstein story broke, but that Allred turned her down because it was past the statute of limitations. (Allred told The Daily Beast, “It is the policy of our law firm that we do not comment on who does or does not contact us.”)
Cox also spoke to a young reporter for BuzzFeed News in the fall of 2017, who briefly looked into her story. The reporter told The Daily Beast that Cox’s story appeared solid but they and Cox agreed it would be better to try to find other Connolly accusers, since this was the early days of #MeToo and multiple accusers seemed to be the industry norm for sexual-assault pieces. The reporter also says the investigation was soon sidelined due to organizational shifts in the reporting team. At the time, BuzzFeed was also looking into numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against another Entourage star, Jeremy Piven.
It’s important to remember that this alleged incident occurred in 2005, at a time when it was almost unheard of to publicly accuse a big-name actor of sexual assault. And not only was Connolly best buds with one of the most powerful people in Hollywood—Leonardo DiCaprio, who was a producer on Gardener of Eden—but Connolly’s star was also on the rise, with a supporting role in 2004’s The Notebook and a leading one on the hit HBO series. (DiCaprio did not respond to requests for comment.)
“In the weeks and months following the assault, I had to endure seeing Kevin’s face on my daily commute, literally larger than life and plastered all over NYC city buses and subway stations,” remembers Cox. “It was the ad campaign for the new season of Entourage. I recall it being especially difficult to have this relentless visual assault on top of an already painful experience; his power and dominance continuing to occupy my mind and my space.”
Her friends found it troubling as well. “I’ve also carried this around. It’s really upsetting when you’re in the position of knowing that this has happened,” says Gallagher. “For a while I used to carry around a Sharpie, and not long after he was in this movie, He’s Just Not That Into You, and his face was always around, so I used to circle his face and write ‘rapist.’ It just felt like too much to have his face around everywhere. It was like, God, this is bullshit.”
On top of everything else, Cox was planning to move to Los Angeles in order to work under Westcott on the upcoming season of Entourage when the wrap party incident happened (The Daily Beast has reviewed emails indicating as much). Two of Cox’s friends also confirmed that she backed out of plans to relocate across the country to L.A. and work on Entourage, which would have been a big career move for her at the time.
“[Connolly] went on to continue doing Entourage. I was going to go work on Entourage, and that was going to be my big chance to move to L.A. and try and work in the industry there. But I obviously had no interest in pursuing that particular opportunity after this happened,” says Cox. “I continued to think about that long after. I’m not sure if I would have been more successful or not. But since that experience, I was able to work on projects like Girls and Orange Is the New Black that made me feel proud.”
In addition to his DiCaprio connection, Connolly has managed to maintain a degree of influence in Hollywood. He’s starred in the Entourage movie (full disclosure: I interviewed him and the cast for it) and the upcoming Chick Fight, opposite Alec Baldwin, and directed the films Dear Eleanor and Gotti, the latter featuring John Travolta and the late Kelly Preston.
Connolly described Dear Eleanor as a “female empowerment movie” in several press interviews surrounding the film’s release, which Cox found “infuriating.”
“I want it to be known that he is dangerous,” she says, “and I want him to not get away with it any longer.”