Geoffrey Rush’s lawyer told a court on Monday the Australian actor was “a national living treasure” who had no scandal attached to his name before a Sydney newspaper last year published allegations of inappropriate behaviour toward a female co-star.
The Oscar-winning actor faced a large media pack as he entered Sydney’s Federal Court, where a judge is hearing his defamation trial against the Daily Telegraph and its journalist Jonathon Moran.
Lawyer Bruce McClintock said Rush had a stellar reputation before the newspaper’s 2017 articles.
Court documents say actress Eryn Jean Norvill complained to the Sydney Theatre Company that Rush had touched her inappropriately during a production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016. He has denied the allegations.
The newspaper intends to use Norvill’s sworn statement in its defence against the defamation suit, and both Rush and Norvill are expected to testify.
As the judge-only trial began, Rush sat with his wife Jane Menelaus in the courtroom as McClintock gave his opening address to Justice Michael Wigney.
McClintock said Rush had had an “extraordinary career” and was one of Australia’s most famous actors.
“As well as giving pleasure to millions, his reputation was stellar, it could not have been higher. No scandal attached to his name,” McClintock said.
“On the 30th of November, Your Honour, that was all changed because a gossip columnist in the Telegraph decided to write an article about my client.”
The Telegraph’s 2017 articles referred to an allegation Rush behaved inappropriately toward Norvill during the King Lear production.
A defence document alleged Rush made lewd gestures in her direction, simulated fondling and groping her breasts, and regularly made comments or jokes about her involving sexual innuendo.
He also was accused of touching Norvill’s lower back under her shirt when they were backstage, and tracing his hand down her torso and across the side of her breast during a scene in which he was carrying her.
McClintock told the hearing Rush denied the accusations, and would testify he did none of the alleged acts.
The lawyer said the cumulative effect of the two Telegraph articles, and an advertising poster highlighting them, was to “smash and destroy my client’s reputation.”
He accused Moran of including “straight-out, bald-faced” lies in his reporting. Defence barrister Tom Blackburn later said this was nothing more than a submission.
“It’s not based on any evidence because no evidence has been heard,” Blackburn said.
Rush, 67, won the best actor Oscar in 1996 for his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott in Shine and was nominated for roles in Shakespeare In Love, Quills, and The Kings Speech. He’s also famed for his portrayal of Captain Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
He received the nation’s highest civilian honour in 2014, the Companion of the Order of Australia for service to the arts.