Actress at centre of Rush allegations tells court she felt ‘threatened, panicked’ and ‘unsafe’

Actress Eryn Jean Norvill has told a court that a series of text messages with Geoffrey Rush in which they played word games with each other’s names did not mean she was “inviting to be sexually harassed” by the actor.

Norvill, appearing in the witness stand for the first time yesterday, said she felt “frightened”, “threatened” and “belittled” during the production of King Lear and told how Rush “deliberately” touched her breast and made “sexual gestures” towards her.

Norvill departing Sydney’s Federal Court yesterday after appearing in the witness stand for the first time

Norvill said the actor also made comments to other performers in the play and said such behaviour became “normalised” during rehearsals.

The 34-year-old, who played Lear’s daughter Cordelia in the play, said it appeared that “no one else seemed to have a problem with it” – including director Neil Armfield.

She described the room as “complicit” and part of a “culture problem”.

Norvill told the court she felt “quashed” and had “no allies”.

Norvill was giving evidence on the seventh day of Rush’s defamation action against the publisher of The Daily Telegraph, Nationwide News.

He claims a series of articles in the Telegraph last November portrayed him as a “pervert” and a “sexual predator”.

During cross examination, Rush’s counsel Bruce McClintock SC, painted a picture of playfulness, affection and familiarity between Rush and Norvill that extended well into the period where he is alleged to have engaged in inappropriate behaviour.

McClintock also disputed Norvill’s claims there was complicity, reiterating previous evidence where she told the court that Armfield had been “angry” and asked Rush to “stop it” when the veteran actor allegedly made gestures.

”How is that Mr Armfield being complicit?, he asked.

Norvill said it “wasn’t a real conversation” with Armfield about “sexually inappropriate behaviour”.

”He didn’t speak to me about it,” Norvill said.

Other members of the cast also failed to take it seriously, Norvill told the court, including Robyn Nevin, who gave evidence last week.

“She is part of a cultural problem because maybe Robyn didn’t see the behaviour as damaging, whereas I believe that it is,” Norvill said.

McClintock focused on text messages between Norvill and Rush where they played word games with their names. Norvill had referred to Rush as ‘Galapagos lusty thrust’ and ‘Jersey cream-filled puff’ and regularly called him ‘Daddy de-Gush’.

McLintock described some of the terms as “sexually flirtatious”.

Norvill responded that both she and Rush were interested in language and poetry and that the texts were “intellectually flirtatious”.

When pushed by McClintock about the sexual connotations, Norvill said: “I am in no way inviting to be sexually harassed.”

McClintock also raised an email Norvill sent in reply to one received from Rush in January, just two days before the end of King Lear and after the alleged inappropriate behaviour had taken place.

Norvill had addressed it to “Dearest Daddy De-Gush” and signed the email xoxo. McClintock said it indicated on-going “affection” and showed nothing untoward had taken place.

The actress told the court she wanted Rush to “think everything was normal” so as not to disrupt the performance. She added it was a “coping mechanism”.

Put to her by McClintock that no one who had been subjected to inappropriate behaviour would send such an email, Norvill insisted they would “because I sent it”.

Questioned on the same email by Telegraph barrister Tom Blackburn, Norvill said: “I guess I was in survival mode and there were only two shows to go. I was very frightened. I didn’t want to risk the performance. I put Geoffrey’s comfortability above my own. I thought I could keep going. I felt trapped by my own silence.”

Any conflict with Rush would have been “catastrophic” for the play, she added, such was the importance of the scene where Lear carries Cordelia on to the stage.

Earlier, Norvill, speaking about the allegations for the first time, told the court that during previews of the show in late November, Rush, who played her father in the play, changed his hand movements as he grieved over her body.

She explained how Rush moved his hand from near her armpit and “stroked down across the right side of my breast and to my hip”.

The touch on her breast lasted “two, three or four seconds”, she said.

Asked by Blackburn what she thought, Norvill replied: “I believe that he had done it deliberately.”

Asked why she thought it was deliberate, she told the court the touch was “slow, light and pressured”.

“It didn’t feel like an accident,” she said. “I probably felt very trapped. I also probably felt frightened and again, confused, trying to make sense of what Geoffrey was doing.”

The court heard from Norvill that the following day, King Lear director Neil Armfield told Rush that his hand movements had become “unclear and creepy” and that he should become more “paternal”.

Armfield has denied he said such things.

Norvill said she did not mention the incident as she was “frightened” and, so close to opening night, it would have been disruptive to the play.

On regular occasions, Norvill said Rush would call her “scrumptious or yummy”, outline the shape of her hips with his hands and make groping gestures “level with my breasts.”

She said she “discovered this his behaviour was inappropriate” and was directed “mostly towards women”.

”I felt compromised and confused,” she said. “I didn’t understand why Geoffrey would….make fun of my body.”

Norvill told the court she spoke to Helen Thompson, who appeared in King Lear, and asked how she coped with Rush’s behaviour.

“Helen just said ignore it and laugh it off and Helen was able to do that,” she said. 

She also told how she spoke to Robyn Nevin in her dressing room and asked how she dealt with sexual harassment and “unwanted advancements”

”She said I can’t help you with that. It’s never happened to to me.”

Norvill said she felt “isolated”.

Earlier, the actress spoke of an incident during rehearsals when, as she played a dead Cordelia, she heard “titters of laughter”.

Rush and members of his legal team leave court yesterday

She told the court she opened her eyes to see Rush kneeling over her making “groping” gestures above her breasts, raising his eyebrows “and bulging his eyes and licking his lips”.

“I felt shocked,” Norvill said. “I guess I was confused. I considered Geoffrey a friend. I felt belittled and embarrassed and I guess shamed.”

On another occasion, towards the end of the play’s run, Norvill described how she and Rush were waiting to come on stage when he put his hand under her shirt, touched her skin and traced his hand along the waistline of her jeans.

He also squeezed her hand and stroked her fingers, she said.

Asked by Blackburn how she felt, Novill replied: “I felt threatened, panicked. I think my panic levels shot up. I felt unsafe and probably sad.”

Asked why she was sad, Novill said: “Because I think Geoffrey’s idea of friendship was different to mine.”

Norvill said she did not address the issue with Rush or other cast members or crew for a “cacophony” of reasons. Among them was that the play was nearing its end and she had “put the health and well-being of the show before my own”.

Norvill also told the court Rush has attended her Christmas party although she said she did not personally invite him.

Questioned why she hadn’t, Norvill said tearfully: “Because I didn’t want him to meet my parents and he wasn’t my friend anymore.”

Norvill also said she felt “bewildered” at a text  Rush sent her in June 2016 in which he said he thought of her “more than is socially appropriate”.

”I believed Geoffrey to be unsafe,” she said.

Norvill had earlier said how “excited” she had been at landing the role of Cordelia in King Lear, with the production featuring some of her “heroes”, including Geoffrey Rush.

The case continues.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.