Rush’s King Lear co-star dismisses ‘gutter’ Telegraph, as director denies ‘creepy’ reference

The actress who played one of Geoffrey Rush’s fictional daughters in King Lear has clashed with the barrister of The Daily Telegraph in tetchy exchanges during which she rejected any notion that Rush had acted inappropriately.

Australian film producer Robyn Kershaw, left, actress Helen Buday, centre, and Rush’s wife Jane Menelaus leave court after the fourth day of the defamation trial at Sydney Federal Court

On the fourth afternoon of the defamation action brought by Rush against the Telegraph, Helen Buday, who played Goneril in the Sydney Theatre Company production of the Shakespeare play, interrupted Tom Blackburn SC on several occasions as he asked questions.

She also twice burst into song and was reluctant to leave the witness stand at the end of a drama-filled day.

Buday, who lives in France and flew to Australia to give evidence, described the Telegraph stories as “appalling” and in the “gutter”.

She told the court she would have written to the newspaper but said she hoped such “smouldering trash” would go away.

Earlier, King Lear director Neil Armfield told the court that he suspected it would have been “impossible” for Rush not to have accidentally touched the breast of Eryn Jean Norvill in the way he was asked to handle the actress on stage.

But he said he saw nothing “gratuitous” in Rush’s actions as he grieved over the body of Cordelia, played by Norvill.

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”.

Buday, who gave a theatrical performance throughout, said she did not see any “groping gestures” made by Rush – such as cupped hands as if “fondling her breasts” – or hear jokes allegedly made about Norvill’s body.

Asked by Rush’s counsel Bruce McClintock SC whether Norvill appeared “distressed”, 56-year-old Buday said: “Not distressed but I saw her a bit frustrated and confused in rehearsal”.

She said Norvill was “grappling with the role” and “drowning”.

During a combative cross examination, Buday, who starred alongside Mel Gibson in Mad Max in 1979, agreed with assertions put to her by Blackburn that it was the role of senior performers to set a good example and be “good role models” for younger, aspiring actors.

The barrister then showed Buday the text which Rush sent to Norvill in June 2016 in which he said he was thinking of her “more than is socially appropriate”.

The text was accompanied by an emoji with its tongue out.

Blackburn suggested it was “not an example of responsible mentoring” by actor aged 65 at the time to an actor “not yet 30”.

The cast of King Lear during the scene at the centre of the Geoffrey Rush defamation trial

After laughing and performing an impression of the emoji, Buday, a long-time friend of Rush, said: “I don’t agree at all.”

Asked if she thought the text was funny, Buday said she was laughing at Blackburn’s proposition.

“It’s goofy,” she said of the text. ‘This is not an example of bad mentoring, it’s a wonderful example of good mentoring.”

“Do you not think it’s inappropriate for Mr Rush… be saying to this young aspiring actress that I was thinking of you more than is socially appropriate?” Blackburn asked.

Buday replied: “I am astounded that you find it in any way inappropriate. You are seeing this through a prism….that is just not there.”

“You think this is funny?” asked Blackburn again.

“I think it strange, odd, that you could read something sinister into this,” the actress said. “It’s preposterous. I find it a delightful text.

“It’s charming.”

Turning to allegations that Rush had called Norvill “scrumptious” – a reference which saw Buday break out into a rendition of Truly Scrumptious from the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Blackburn asked if she had heard Rush describe Norvill in such a way.

“No,” she said.

Asked if he had used the word “yummy”, Buday said: “Not that I heard.”

Act 5 Scene 3 from Neil Armfield’s Sydney Theatre Group production of King Lear

On the fourth day of the trial, renowned director Armfield was asked if he saw Rush brush the side of Norvill’s breast with his hand.

The director suggested the way Rush was asked to hold the actress meant it would have been hard not to inadvertently touch her.

“To ask someone to pick up a torso and hold it against his head… I suspect it would have been impossible to do without his hand touching her breast,” Armfield told the court.

But he said there was “certainly no gratuitous action.”

As the play’s director, he was “watching like a hawk”, he added.

Questioned by Blackburn, Armfield denied he ever told Rush that his hand movements were “creepy and unclear” as he grieved over the body of Cordelia

“You were concerned there was something developing in the way Mr Rush made contact with Miss Norvill in that final scene,” Blackburn put to Armfield. “Motions he was using were unclear.”

“No, no, not at all,” Armfield replied.

“And creepy,” added Blackburn

“Not at all,” the witness said.

Blackburn also put it to the director that he had instructed Rush to be more “paternal” in the way he handled Norvill during the Act 5 Scene 3 “death scene” when Cordelia’s motionless body lay on the stage.

“I don’t remember that,” he said.

Earlier, Armfield was asked by Rush’s counsel Bruce McClintock if he saw Rush make “groping gestures” towards Norvill.

“No, certainly not,” the director replied.

He also rejected that he saw the actor stick his tongue out and lick his lips in the direction of Norvill or make remarks about her body.

If he had witnessed anything “I would have said what are you doing? Stop”, Armfield said.

He added that Rush and Norvill appeared to be getting on “wonderfully” during the production.

“It felt like a deep friendship,” Armfield said.

The court also heard from friends and colleague of Rush, including Australian film producer Robyn Kershaw who said Rush and his wife Helen Menelaus were “laden with grief” after the first Telegraph story appeared.

They were asking themselves “over and over and over and over” again what the allegation could have entailed, she said.

Kershaw, who became emotional as she gave evidence, told the court Rush had been “in a dark place” since November last year and “doesn’t talk about work” as he once did.

She said Rush and Menelaus stayed at her house in LA when they attended an awards ceremony in January.

Rush, she said, was “was hiding behind a pillar like a child” at LA Airport so fearful was he of the paparazzi.

Another friend, indigenous education researcher Margaret O’Brien told the court the impact of events on Rush have been immense.

She said Rush had told her that he feared the “audience would not be with me” if he performed.

“It’s like we watched a light go out,” she said.

The case continues.


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