Australian actor Geoffrey Rush felt “numb” after reading an article in The Daily Telegraph accusing him of inappropriate sexual behaviour, telling a courtroom it felt like “someone had poured lead into my head”.
Rush, 67, is suing Newscorp’s Nationwide News, the publisher of The Daily Telegraph newspaper, as well as one of its journalists, Jonathan Moran.
- Rush’s lawyer Brice McClintock SC told the court his client’s reputation “could not have been higher”
- But he said that all changed when The Daily Telegraph ran its story
- Mr McClintock claimed his client’s income had fallen from $1.5 million to $44,000 after the article was published
In November 2017 the newspaper published articles alleging Rush acted inappropriately towards a young actress during the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) production of King Lear in 2015-2016.
That actress was later identified in legal proceedings as Eryn Jean Norvill.
Giving evidence in the Federal Court in Sydney, Rush said he first read the article when his 20-year-old son and wife were in the room.
“I could see how distressed they were,” he said.
“Which created a great deal of hurt for me.
“I felt as though someone had poured lead into my head. I was like, ‘This can’t be happening’. I was numb.”
He said the article had changed his life, resulting in a loss of work, a loss of appetite and an inability to sleep.
“I was weak, I was weakening,” he said.
“I went into an emotional spiral.
“It’s been the worst 11 months on my life. These [articles] were the start and it just got worse.”
“I felt my 47 years as an actor was dismantling.”
Rush, the first witness in the 13-day trial, earlier went through his 50-year career, from learning his craft in Queensland to his life as an A-grade Hollywood actor.
He told the court that before he got into acting he thought he would be “doomed” to teach or work for the ABC.
Rush also discussed he perception of his relationship with Ms Norvill during the play.
“As far as I was concerned [we] had a very sparky, congenial rapport,” he said.
Rush will be cross-examined on Tuesday.
Reputation ‘destroyed’, income reduced
Rush’s lawyer, Bruce McClintock, SC, told the court the news article had “smashed and destroyed” Rush’s reputation.
Mr McClintock said Ms Norvill made an “off the record” complaint to the STC, but The Daily Telegraph “very much put (it) on the record”.
“He [Moran] was obviously very desperate for a story,” he said.
Mr McClintock said his client was a “household name” whose income had dropped significantly.
Mr McClintock told the court Rush earned $1.5 million from July 1 to November 30 last year, but had made only $44,000 since then.
“His reputation was stellar, it could not have been higher,” Mr McClintock said.
“There was no scandal attached to it.
“His reputation was that of a consummate professional, an actor devoted to his craft.
“On November 30 , that was all challenged, because a gossip columnist at The Daily Telegraph decided to write an article about my client.”
Holding up a banner advertisement in the courtroom for the article in question on the day it was published, Mr McClintock read out the headline: “World Exclusive: Geoffrey Rush in scandal claims â€” ‘theatre company confirms inappropriate behaviour’.”
“This destroyed my client’s reputation,” Mr McClintock said, pointing to the banner advertisement.
Rush arrived at court early wearing a blue suit and black tie.
At times the actor looked despondent as the opening statements were read out and his lawyer listed off his long CV.
“He’s had an extraordinary career, one of Australia’s most famous actors … [I’d] say one of [the country’s] two most famous actors, the only one I think of who would compare is Ms [Cate] Blanchett.
“He has won the triple crown. Only 24 people who have ever achieved this … he is in the company of Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, the list continues.”
Mr McClintock told the court the newspaper was looking for a “Weinstein story”.
He said the article implied Rush “was a pervert, involved in inappropriate behaviour [and] engaged in inappropriate behaviour at the Sydney Theatre Company”.
“Care wasn’t shown here,” Mr McClintock said.
“This was a straight-up full-blown attack on my client along what they said he had done.
“The Telegraph knew it was a lie. If that is not malice, then I don’t know what is.”
Discussing more specifics on how the story developed, Mr McClintock said Mr Rush received a call from a journalist at The Australian last year about allegations against him during his time at the Sydney Theatre Company.
That call prompted Rush to call Sydney Theatre Company executive director Patrick McIntyre to ask him about it.
Mr Rush’s lawyer claimed Mr Macintyre said to Rush that he was no longer an employee of the STC and could not help.
The court also heard that Mr Macintyre wanted to maintain the confidentiality of the person who made the complaint.
Mr McClintock said it could be argued both Eryn Jean Norvill and Mr Rush were “victims” because of the “incompetence” of the Sydney Theatre Company and the “malice” of The Telegraph to have a sensational story.