Geoffrey Rush and Eryn Jean Norvill rehearse for the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of King Lear.
Geoffrey Rush and Eryn Jean Norvill rehearse for the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of King Lear.

Actress told Rush ‘stop doing it’, court hears

OSCAR winner Geoffrey Rush allegedly touched an actress repeatedly in a way that made her uncomfortable and ignored her requests for him to "stop doing it", the Federal Court heard yesterday.

Rush's co-star in the Sydney Theatre Company's 2015-2016 production of King Lear, Eryn Jean Norvill, complained about the Pirates Of The Caribbean star after he allegedly touched her on five occasions during the final week of the play.

 

The court heard the actor followed her into the female toilets at the after-party on the final night of the STC's performance of the Shakespeare classic and stood outside her cubicle until she told him to "F ... off". The incident allegedly left her "visibly upset".

Rush, 66, is suing The Daily Telegraph for its reporting of Ms Norvill's complaint about alleged inappropriate behaviour made to the Sydney Theatre Company in 2016. Rush denies the allegations.

Eryn Jean Norvill made a formal complaint to the STC.
Eryn Jean Norvill made a formal complaint to the STC.

Yesterday the Federal Court lifted a suppression order on the newspaper's defence document, rejecting an application by Rush's lawyer Richard McHugh, SC, to stop the details being made public.

Upon application by Dauid Sibtain, representing Fairfax Media and Channel 9, Justice Michael Wigney said fears that releasing details of the defence case could further damage Rush's reputation were outweighed by the need for open justice.

For the first time the extent of the allegations against Rush can now be revealed.

According to the document, Rush touched the actress "in a manner that made the Complainant feel uncomfortable" during the play's final scene.

As King Lear, Rush had to carry Norvill on to the stage as she simulated the lifeless body of the title character's daughter, Cordelia.

Norvill asked Rush to "stop doing it" but it is alleged that he repeated the touching on another four occasions in the final week of the STC production's run in ­January 2016.

Rush as he appeared in the STC poster for King Lear.
Rush as he appeared in the STC poster for King Lear.

Tom Blackburn, SC, counsel for Nationwide News, publisher of The Daily Telegraph, told the court this touching could amount to "scandalous and inappropriate behaviour".

"The allegation is not that she was touched in a particular place but she was touched in a way that made her uncomfortable. She said stop and he kept doing it," he said.

Mr McHugh said Rush denied the allegations.

"They are necessarily touching as part of what the production requires," he said.

Daily Telegraph podcast for Tuesday, February 20, 2018.

And he said an earlier report which quoted Rush as saying he had a "stage door Johnny crush" on the actress was clearly said in jest.

Mr McHugh had argued that the newspaper's truth defence should be struck out because it lacked sufficient detail.

According to The Daily Telegraph's defence, Rush engaged in further inappropriate behaviour at the party to celebrate the final night of the production at the Walsh Bay Kitchen, next door to the play's venue.

Lawyer for The Daily Telegraph Tom Blackburn leaves the Supreme Court. Picture: Toby Zerna
Lawyer for The Daily Telegraph Tom Blackburn leaves the Supreme Court. Picture: Toby Zerna

During the party for cast and crew Rush "entered the female bathroom located in the foyer of the Rosyln Packer Theatre, knowing (Norvill) was in there, and stood outside a cubicle" that she was in.

He left when she told him to "F ... off".

She was "visibly upset" following the incident.

Mr Blackburn said: "There can be no more compelling reason for publication than it was true."

According to the defence document: "Following the investigation the STC decided that it would never work with the Applicant (Rush) again."

Apart from truth, The Daily Telegraph, is also relying on the defence of qualified privilege in defending the defamation case.

It argued the allegations were "matters of proper and legitimate public interest" in the wake of a string of allegations concerning "sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment in the entertainment industry" which started with the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Rush and Norvill on stage during the production of the Sydney Theatre Company’s King Lear. Picture: Heidrun Lohr
Rush and Norvill on stage during the production of the Sydney Theatre Company’s King Lear. Picture: Heidrun Lohr

The Daily Telegraph argues it had more information about the Rush allegations at the time of publication but did not include them in its ­reports. This included an allegation that Rush had touched Norvill on the genitals.

The defence document stated: "that a complaint had been made to the STC by the complainant (Norvill) in substance that the Applicant (Rush) had touched her genitals during the production of King Lear without her consent."

The Judge reserved his decision on Mr McHugh's application to strike out large parts of The Daily Telegraph's defence including the entirety of its truth defence.

Justice Wigney also reserved his decision on Rush's application to stop the issuing of a subpoena by Nationwide News on the Sydney Theatre Company for documents relating to the alleged complaint.

Mr McHugh argued the request for a subpoena was a "fishing expedition" and an abuse of process.

Mr Rush launched the defamation proceedings in the Federal Court in December 2017, alleging The Daily Telegraph had engaged in "hyperbole, lies and spurious claims" in its report of the complaint from the actress to the STC.

Geoffrey Rush has denied the allegations.
Geoffrey Rush has denied the allegations.
Lawyer Richard McHugh, acting for Geoffrey Rush, leaves the Supreme Court yesterday. Picture: Toby Zerna
Lawyer Richard McHugh, acting for Geoffrey Rush, leaves the Supreme Court yesterday. Picture: Toby Zerna


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