Geoffrey Rush quizzed over ‘panting’ emoji as actor rejects ‘pervert’ allegations

The Daily Telegraph’s legal team has probed Geoffrey Rush over a text he sent to actress Eryn Jean Norvill in which he said he thought of her “more than is socially appropriate”, accompanied by an emoji with a tongue hanging out.

Act 5 Scene 3 of King Lear: Lear (Rush) grieves over the dead body of his daughter Cordelia (Norvill)

Cross examining the actor, Tom Blackburn SC, suggested Rush was “testing the water” with the message demonstrating he was “attracted” to Norvill.

The text was sent in June 2016, six months after Norvill appeared alongside Rush in King Lear where he is alleged to have engaged in “inappropriate behaviour”.

The King’s Speech star rejected suggestions he was making advances to Norvill by sending the text.

He dismissed the sentence in which he tells Norvill “I was thinking of you (as I do more than is socially appropriate)” as a “throwaway line, a joke, modestly in the style of Groucho Marx. It was whimsy.”

Rush is suing the Telegraph and its journalist Jonathon Moran over stories late last year which said he engaged in “inappropriate behaviour” while appearing in a production of King Lear on a Sydney stage.

Rush claims the stories portrayed him as a “pervert” and a “sexual predator”.

Blackburn began his cross examination by focusing on the text, suggesting to Rush the emoji was “panting”.

“It was the looniest emoji I could find,” Rush replied, adding he would have used a Groucho Marx or Fozzy Bear emoji had they been available.

Rush’s text to Eryn Jean Norvill

It was a “very flip excuse” for not getting in touch sooner with Norvill, and intended to show he had not forgotten her, Rush said.

Put to him that he “habitually” thought of Norvill “more than is socially appropriate”, Rush replied: “Not at all”.

He rejected he was “testing the water”, telling Blackburn “that is in your mind, not in mine and hopefully not in the recipient’s mind.”

The barrister turned to rumours heard by Rush’s wife in March 2017 that a complaint had been made about her husband.

Rush said he was “puzzled”, and that his wife knew no further details.

“I didn’t give it much credence,” he said, adding that gossip was “inevitable” through the “bush telegraph”.

Rush has told the court he learned a complaint had been made on November 10 after his agent received an email from Rosemary Neill, a reporter from The Australian.

With no further information divulged to him – Rush said “the doors were firmly shut” by the Sydney Theatre Company – “we could only speculate” about the nature of the complaint and who made it.

But Blackburn, reading from an email written by Damian Trewhella, the chief executive of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA), suggested Rush did suspect who the complainant was and the nature of the complaint.

The email, sent to the AACTA board, summarised a conversation Trewhella said he had with Rush about disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein the day the Australian newspaper first approached Rush.

Trewhella said Rush had told him said he was being “baited on some issues…..which in his view was bullshit and a symptom of current climate”.

Rush, Trewhella continued, told him it may have related to a “difficult scene” during King Lear where he carried his dead daughter.

“There was allegedly some discomfort,” the email read, even though Rush “thought the carry position was right for all”.

Questioned by Blackburn, Rush said the email was relaying the “broad gist” of a conversation but said he was purely speculating as Norvill was the only person he came into physical contact with when he carried her onto the stage.

He said, for example, he would not have called it a “difficult” scene, describing it in court as more the “Everest” moment in the production.

Later, Rush denied suggestions put to him by Blackburn that, during rehearsals for King Lear in late 2015, he had frequently made groping gestures towards Norvill, had stuck his tongue out and licked his lips “in an exaggerated way” and traced an hourglass shape with his hands.

Had he done those things, Rush said other actors in the play “would have come up to me and said you are acting like a galah”.

Earlier, Rush had told the court the experience of the last 11 months had made him want to “give up this profession” such was the depth of “hurt and embarrassment”.

He said he had not worked since the allegations surfaced with only “residual earnings from films that date back five or ten years”.

In addition, an invitation to narrate a production about the Great Barrier Reef was rescinded.

Rush insisted he had “no inkling” that he made Norvill feel uncomfortable or acted in any way that may have prompted complaints about his behaviour.

During his second day in the stand of his defamation hearing against The Daily Telegraph’s publisher Nationwide News, the actor flatly rejected all suggestions of sexual impropriety.

He was asked by his counsel Bruce McClintock SC whether he had committed a sexual assault on stage during the production of King Lear, had behaved in a “scandalously inappropriate” way or made “lewd gestures”, including groping actions with his hands.

He denied all suggestions.

McClintock also asked Rush whether it was true or false to say he was a “pervert” or a “sexual predator”.

“False,” Rush answered to both questions.

He described his relationship with Norvill as “whimsical”, with the two exchanging emails where they attempted to out-do each other with puns on their names.

He had signed the June text to Norvill from “Gregarious Raunch”.

“I had no inkling,” Rush said when asked about Norvill’s concerns. “My antenna is pretty good…..I never detected that I was making her, as I hear I was, feel uncomfortable or I was ruffling feathers. No one said ‘I think you are getting on Eryn Jean’s nerves.'”

Some allegations surround scenes in King Lear where Rush, in the lead role, carries his dead daughter Cordelia – played by Norvill – onto the stage before laying her down and leaning over her body.

Rush became tearful when he explained how he pictured his own daughter’s death while grieving for Cordelia in a bid to perfect the role.

“Eight times a week – it’s a big ask and it is not a scene you want to fake,” he said. “I always imagined my own real-life daughter and that she had been hit by a bus near where we lived in Camberwell,” Rush told the court.

“Every night I would reinvent that scene…I needed that trigger.”

The court heard there were conversations with director Neil Armfield about how the lifeless body of Cordelia should be handled on stage as Lear grieved over her body.

Rush said his impulse in such an intense scene would be to “caress her shoulder and down the sides of her arm and feel the emptiness of this vessel”.

Armfield, Rush said, wanted her to be picked up “like she was two-years-old again”.

The 67-year-old performer said in the days after the allegations first surfaced, he was told by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) that he would have to resign as president of the body or be asked to leave.

The ultimatum followed a “massive fight” within AACTA involving Channel Seven and Foxtel which left “blood on the walls”.

A few days later, Rush said he received a letter signed by seven board members, the chief executive and chair offering their “deepest apologies” for the situation.

The case continues.


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