‘I have watched him be destroyed’ wife of Geoffrey Rush tells defamation trial

The wife of Geoffrey Rush has told a court how allegations against her husband, and subsequent stories in the Daily Telegraph, have shattered their lives and left him no longer wishing to do the job he loves.

Geoffrey Rush and wife Jane Menelaus leave court at the end of the third day of his defamation action the Daily Telegraph

Jane Menelaus fought back tears as she gave evidence on the third afternoon of Rush’s defamation action against Nationwide News, the publisher of the Telegraph.

She told the court her husband was a changed man since the newspaper carried allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” during Sydney Theatre Company’s production of King Lear in 2015/16.

He “wept” on seeing the Telegraph’s “King Leer” front page last November, she said.

“I saw a man so altered and changed. His eyes sunk into his head. He retreated very much from the world,” Menelaus said in often emotional testimony.

“It will take us a very long time to get over this. Our approach to the people and the world has changed.”

Menelaus, who described her husband as the “kindest, gentlest person”, told the hearing they have spent the last 11 months going “round and round asking why someone would hate him so much?”

“He said why must they hate me so much so say these things about me?”

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.

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

Menelaus, herself an actor, struggled to retain her composure as she spoke of the affects of the allegations, describing the days since the Telegraph’s story as “appalling”.

“It’s been like groundhog day except it’s got worse and worse,” she said.

The actor’s wife of 30 years said it had been a “total and utterly unbelievable shock” and recounted how her husband “wept” as he viewed the Telegraph’s ‘King Leer’ front page on November 30 last year.

The use of an image showing Rush in King Lear character – a photo he had previously “loved” – was “very hurtful”, she said.

“It was tragic to see his response. He loved that photo very much,” she said. “To have it….make him look sick or weird was very hurtful.

“He cried. He said they have destroyed everything I have done with the role, and wept. He put his arm around me and wept.”

Asked about the poster promoting the story, which carried the banner “Theatre Company Confirms Inappropriate Behaviour”, she said Rush had wondered how they could confirm something “that I don’t know about myself'”.

“He said what he had worked for for 40 years had been taken in an instant,” Menelaus said.

The court heard that Rush’s name had also appeared in a newspaper story which listed people accused by the #MeToo movement.

Menelaus said he “threw it to the other side of the room”.

“It can’t get any worse,” she said. “You can’t kick him anymore. He doesn’t wish to act again. But you can’t divorce Geoffrey from his work. He is a strange creature, he is his work.

“I have watched him be destroyed.”

Menelaus said her husband feared their grown up children, both in their 20s, “didn’t love him as much” following publication of the stories, and thought they may have believed the claims and were “pulling away from me”.

She said their son and daughter had been affected and were seeking help outside the family.

Their daughter has returned home from London and deferred her third year at design school in the UK, the court heard.

Earlier, Rush admitted that he may have used the words “scrumptious” and “yummy” to describe actress Eryn Jean Norvill during rehearsals for King Lear in late 2015.

Daily Telegraph barrister Tom Blackburn quizzed Geoffrey Rush about Act 5 Scene 3 of King Lear, where the veteran actor is alleged to have touched actress Eryn Jean Norvill

But the actor said it was purely his “chirpy” nature and a way of preparing for the day ahead.

While not recalling specific occasions, he said he “might have” used the word “scrumptious” and “possibly” used the word “yummy”.

“‘Yummy’ has a spirit it to it,” Rush said.

Asked by The Daily Telegraph’s barrister Tom Blackburn if he said to Norvill “You’re looking scrumptious today”, Rush replied: “I don’t recall, but I might have”.

“I was always chirpy….and approached rehearsals with energy.”

He rejected suggestions by Blackburn that he used the words in combination with hand gestures or “grunting or growling” noises directed towards the actress.

Rush also denied that he was asked to stop making remarks or gestures by other members of the cast.

On the third day of Rush’s testimony at Sydney Federal Court, Blackburn asked the actor about his hand movements during the scene where he is grieving over the body of his fictional dead daughter Cordelia, played by Norvill.

He put it to Rush that his fingers touched the side of her breast.

Rush, who described the scene as “tactile”, denied there was no deliberate touching.

“Did a thumb accidentally touch the lower part of her chest? Possibly,” he said. “There was not a deliberate attempt to run my hand across her breast at any moment.”

At one point during the cross examination Justice Wigney cut in and directly asked Rush whether he had deliberately “groped” Norvill.

“I did not do that at all,” he replied.

He told the court he “caressed down but it wasn’t at breast level”, and said he wanted to feel the “silhouette” of the “lifeless vessel”.

Rush, 67, also rejected propositions put to him by Blackburn that he put his hand on Norvill’s lower back as they waited off stage and, on another occasion, put his hand under her shirt and, for about 20 seconds, traced his hand along the top of her jeans.

Rush also denied Blackburn’s suggestions that he squeezed her hand or played with her fingers as they waited off stage.

On one occasion, as they waited to come on stage, Blackburn said Norville told Rush “‘Please stop that’, and you did”.

“I have no recollection of that at all,” replied Rush.

Blackburn told the court that, at one point during the production of King Lear, director Neil Armfield told Rush that he needed to become more “paternal” and that the touching during the previous night’s performance “had become creepy and unclear”.

Rush rejected the suggestion, arguing Armfield would “never say anything as critical as that” in front of other cast members.

He conceded, however, that he may have told him to limit the touching to the face or arms.

Earlier in the cross examination, Blackburn said Norvill had said “Daad, stop that” to Rush during rehearsals, suggesting it was in relation to his gestures and comments made to Norvill.

The court heard that “daad” was used by Norvill in reference to Rush’s role as King Lear, in which Norvill played his daughter Cordelia.

Rush acknowledged that she may have it but told the court it was said in the way of a whiny teenager.

“It was playful admonishment,” he said.

She was not angry or upset, and the remark not in response to any words or gestures he had made, Rush told the court.

He said he could not recall the specific context in which she would say that, but, as an example, suggested it could have been if he had interrupted her when she was deep in thought going through her lines.

Rush added that, like any workplace, there was “banter”.

Blackburn also cast doubt over claims made in pre-trial hearings by Rush’s legal team that he was “housebound” because of the allegations made against him.

The barrister highlighted trips Rush had made to LA for an awards ceremony, the Adelaide Festival, Umbria in Italy and London.

Blackburn suggested the restaurant meals, theatre visits and gatherings with friends during the London and Adelaide trips, were hardly consistent “with a hermit-like existence”.

“It was a hermit-like existence generally,” Rush replied.

He said the LA trip was for 72 hours and taken on the advice of his agent, while the Umbria trip was “for solace”.

London, he added, which he visited immediately after Italy, was an eight-day trip to see his daughter.

Over the past 11 months since the Telegraph stories, the number of days spent travelling was a “minor percentage”, Rush said.

The case continues.


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