Wiping tears from her face as she watched her Big Little Lies co-star Nicole Kidman give a moving speech about domestic violence, Reese Witherspoon was visibly overcome with emotion. She later described her night at the 69th Emmy Awards in LA (where the HBO series took home five trophies) as
‘a dream’. But a mere 24 hours later, she found herself embroiled in a nightmare.
The following day, it was reported that Reese’s ex-husband, actor Ryan Phillippe, 43, had been accused of physically attacking his then-girlfriend, model Elsie Hewitt, 21, during an altercation at his home on 4 July, and had been served with a $1 million domestic abuse lawsuit.
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According to the shocking online report, Elsie alleged to police at the time that Ryan ‘hit’, ‘kicked’, ‘punched’, and ‘threw [me] down a flight of stairs, causing visible injuries to legs, back, arms, shoulder and face’. Pictures of Elsie – who’d gone to Ryan’s home with a friend to retrieve her belongings – showed cuts and bruises across her body. One eyewitness, who was with the couple
on the night of the alleged altercation, claimed, ‘Ryan picked her up like a baby and tossed her down the stairs.’
Ryan vehemently denies any form of abuse against Elsie and defended himself in a statement on Twitter the following day. A spokesperson for the LAPD also confirmed that the police have closed the criminal investigation against Ryan and are not pressing any charges.
But by then the alarming details in his ex-girlfriend’s civil lawsuit had sent tremors through Hollywood, felt most notably by Reese, 41, with whom he has two children, Deacon Reese Phillippe, 13, and Ava Elizabeth Phillippe, 18.
‘Reese was incredibly disturbed by the details,’ an insider close to the actress – who split from Ryan in 2006 after seven years of marriage – told Grazia.
‘She was aware of the July incident and that the police had dropped all charges against Ryan, but didn’t know about this lawsuit, or that it would be surfacing just a day after the Emmys. She was understandably distressed and upset by it. Close friends say she’s been standing by Ryan’s statement on the matter privately.’
In details that mirror the emotional and physical abuse suffered by Big Little Lies’ character Celeste Wright (played by Kidman) at the hands of her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), London- born Elsie claimed in court documents that Ryan had exhibited jealousy since they first began dating in April. She added that he’d allegedly become ‘unhinged as a result of his drug and alcohol abuse’ throughout their relationship, and during the incident at his home claimed he ‘grabbed [my] upper arm so tightly that his grip left heavy bruises on my arm hours later’.
In his statement, Ryan said he was ‘saddened and disgusted by the false allegations’ claiming that ‘at the time these allegations were initially made,
I fully cooperated with law enforcement and a thorough investigation was conducted.’ He continued in his statement, ‘As a man raised by women
in a household where women’s rights and advocacy were very much at the forefront, I am sickened that my name can be found in any article where domestic violence of any kind is being alleged. Every one
of my accuser’s allegations is false.’
Shortly before posting his statement, Ryan’s ex- fiancée, Paulina Slagter, who he dated from 2011 to 2016, tweeted the cryptic message ‘when there’s smoke...’ before quickly deleting it. TMZ then revealed that Paulina had filed a harassment report against the actor in March last year after he allegedly sent her a series of ‘aggressive’ text messages (none of which contained threats of violence), but she later dropped the charges.
Our insider adds that Reese, who once served as an ambassador for beauty brand Avon’s efforts to help victims of domestic violence, has been torn apart by the allegations, having long been a passionate advocate in raising awareness on the issue.
‘Reese has been vocal about domestic violence in her charity work and most recently producing Big Little Lies. For her to be personally connected to this case has left her feeling utterly distraught
and heartbroken,’ the insider explains. Speaking at a conference for the Global Network of Women’s Shelters in 2012, Reese revealed that she had even educated her children Ava and Deacon (then 12 and eight) on the subject, saying, ‘We talk about domestic violence and what that means. Although the concept is somewhat foreign to them, they’re starting to understand that this happens to families in our country and all throughout the world.’
Reese added that both her children were familiar with the high-profile felony assault by Chris Brown on Rihanna in February 2009, and now insiders
tell Grazia that she has been forced to have similar discussions with her children about their father.
We’re told, ‘Reese is willing to stand by Ryan should she need to testify, and has said that she has never seen him display any violence. But it’s been incredibly painful for her to explain this to their children. She’s been desperately trying to protect them from reading anything online or finding out any unnecessary details.’
However, that hasn’t stopped Reese from becoming increasingly concerned about Ryan’s well-documented party lifestyle, which has been hinted at in
the case. In her lawsuit, Elsie – who was pictured arriving at Gatwick Airport last Wednesday – alleges that Ryan has been ‘repeatedly abusing a panoply of legal and illegal drugs, including without limitation: cocaine, ecstasy, psychedelic mushrooms and steroids’, that have ultimately led to ‘mood swings and bouts of anger’. Ryan denies all the claims.
‘Reese has found herself at a crossroad in her family life with these allegations,’ our insider adds. ‘There is no way she can completely overlook any of this and now the accusations have come to light she’s having to think seriously about her next steps. Right now, she’s praying that Ryan’s innocence will be accepted and they can move forward and get through this as a family. But she’s worried that this could turn ugly for everyone involved.’