DAY IN COURT
Geoffrey Rush Claims Defamation Over #MeToo Claims That ‘Smashed And Destroyed’ His Reputation
The Oscar-winning actor says claims he used a pivotal scene in a performance of ‘King Lear’ to touch an actress inappropriately defamed him.
It is one of the most celebrated moments of tragedy in the English theatrical canon; a grief-stricken and howling King Lear stumbles on stage, bearing aloft the dead body of his daughter Cordelia, after an order to stay her execution does not reach the hangman in time.
Now, however, the rendering of this iconic moment by the actor Geoffrey Rush in a performance of the Shakespeare play in Sydney, Australia, is the centerpiece of a blockbuster trial after an Australian newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, accused the Oscar-winning actor of using the scene to inappropriately touch the actress playing Cordelia, Eryn Jean Norvill.
Rush is suing the publication for defamation, in what is being seen as one of the first public tests of an allegation inspired by the #MeToo movement.
Adding an extra layer of complexity in this incidence, however, is the fact that the actress was not quoted or named by the newspaper in its reports. She did not make a formal complaint and did not speak to the reporter who wrote the story.
Norvill did, however, reportedly express concerns about Rush to her superiors.
According to reports by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), court documents said she alleged Rush "traced across" the side of her right breast during a preview performance in 2015, touched her lower back under her shirt, made groping gestures near her torso, and made comments about her body that contained sexual innuendo.
Rush is also accused of touching Norvill's lower back under her shirt while they were backstage, simulating fondling and groping her breasts and making comments or jokes about her involving sexual innuendo.
The Sydney Theatre Company said she never made a formal complaint and she requested the allegation be dealt with confidentially—without notifying Rush.
Her name did not become public until defense documents were revealed during a pre-trial hearing in February 2018.
At the opening of the trial today, Rush's lawyer told the court the news article had "smashed and destroyed" Rush's reputation.
He said Norvill made an "off the record" complaint to the STC, but The Daily Telegraph "very much put (it) on the record."
Rush, who says the allegations have left him virtually housebound and on anxiety medication, denied each of the allegations when they were put to him in court on Tuesday.
Rush, who won an Oscar for his role in Shine, dabbed away tears after telling a Sydney court he imagined his own daughter had died to help him channel the right emotions for the scene, according to reports of the case by Australian media.
“For this scene, I was imaging that it was my own real-life daughter and that she'd been hit by a bus on the street near where we live... and I knew she was gone,” he said.
“Every night I would reinvent that scene in my mind.”
He said, “I never detected that I... was making her uncomfortable or that I was ruffling feathers.”
Rush was cross-examined on Tuesday afternoon by Nationwide News lawyer Tom Blackburn SC, who presented text messages Rush sent to Norvill in June 2016.
In one of the texts, Rush said: "Thinking of you as I do more than is socially appropriate."
It included an emoji face with its tongue hanging out.
Rush did not receive a response to the text.
He denied it was a way of saying he was ‘very attracted to her.’ He said the remark was a "joke" in the style of Groucho Marx.
Rush also denied touching Norvill's breasts, making groping gestures while growling and making "lewd comments about her body" during the production.
Rush described his relationship with Norvill during the production as "whimsical."
"We really only encountered each other at after-work suppers and would exchange the odd text," he said.
He said by bringing the matter to court, he had hoped to bring some "balance to the scales," for the story, which made worldwide news.
"I do feel as if my identity, my sense of self, my career has been under such pejorative media coverage," he said.
"Everything that has happened is reported as fact."
The Daily Telegraph (not to be confused with the English publication of the same name) say they stand by the story.
"The Daily Telegraph accurately reported the Sydney Theatre Company received a complaint alleging that Mr Geoffrey Rush had engaged in inappropriate behavior," editor Christopher Dore has said previously, "We will defend our position in court."