Let me preface this report by saying that I did not witness Emile Hirsch allegedly choke a woman.
As you’ve probably heard, the diminutive 29-year-old star of films like Into the Wild and Lone Survivor was charged on Thursday with one count of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor intoxication after reportedly putting a female studio executive in a chokehold and dragging her across a nightclub table. The alleged victim is Daniele Bernfeld, an executive for Paramount subsidiary Insurge Pictures, and the episode occurred during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
According to court documents, on January 25 at the pop-up nightclub Tao, a drunk-looking Hirsch approached Bernfeld and asked why she looked “so tough,” before calling her a “rich kid who should not be at Sundance.” Investigators claim Hirsch then grabbed Bernfeld, but she shoved him off. He then left momentarily and, according to authorities, returned to put Bernfeld in a chokehold, pull her across the table, and then land on top of her on the floor. Bernfeld told local authorities that things then went a bit dark and she may have blacked out, while Hirsch acknowledged to police that he was having an argument with her, but claimed that he wasn't that inebriated and had three to four drinks. Meanwhile, an officer claimed that Hirsch was slurring, reeked of alcohol, and had trouble standing.
Hirsch faces as much as five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, and his court date is scheduled for March 16. He’s since checked into rehab.
I was there at that very party in the early morning hours of January 25 at Tao with a friend. I hesitated to write this until Hirsch was formally charged for the alleged crime, but now that he has been, and considering how heinous the alleged incident was, here it is.
It was an odd evening with a tone-deaf DJ who took it upon himself to transition from AC/DC and INXS to ‘90s hip-hop. There was an open bar in the rear of the caliginous, underground, red-tinted nightclub serving up free vodka drinks with mixers. It was, as it were, your standard Sundance afterparty packed with a bizarre mélange of corporate suits, movie stars, and random pretty things. We spotted Entourage star Adrian Grenier at a table towards the entrance of the club dancing with a gaggle of women looking, in the words of the Sex Pistols, pretty vacant.
After guzzling free vodka drinks all night, at around 2:30 a.m.—less than an hour before the alleged incident took place—we decamped to the bathroom area. Now, since it was a pop-up nightclub, the bathroom area at Tao consisted of about 10 porta-potties outside of the nightclub proper, and adjacent to an underground parking garage. And by that time in the night, there was a long line of patrons waiting to relieve themselves of said free vodka.
So, we did our thing, and then stood by the porta-potties for about 15 minutes while we shared a drunken cigarette. Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson, looking pretty incognito in a hat and facial scruff, rolled up to us and bummed a cig. He was gracious, and came off very nice. Moments later, we spotted Hirsch on line for the porta-potties, wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt with some noticeable spillage on it and watery, red eyes. He was looking pretty worse for wear and restless, bouncing uncontrollably while on line to pee. The officer's account of his state seems entirely accurate; Hirsch was wasted, and his balance seemed way off.
Then, I whispered to my friend: “Speed Racer looks wasted.”
After the porta-potties, we went back inside the club for a brief moment and saw Hirsch at his table with a group of tall friends. He was pounding drinks.