Rush touched actress on stage, says King Lear co-star, as expert warns of #MeToo ‘ferocity’

A co-star of Geoffrey Rush and Eryn Jean Norvill has told a court that he saw the veteran actor “cupping” the breast of the actress on stage but that everyone “moved on” from the “strange” incident.

Mark Winter, who played Edgar in the Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear, said the incident happened in an era “pre #MeToo” and “wasn’t something I dwelled on”.

Mark Winter

Winter, who described himself as a friend of both Rush and Norvill, also told the court of a “Three Stoogey-style skit” during rehearsals that involved people laughing and a “boob-squeeze gesture”.

The 35-year-old stage and screen actor was giving evidence on the ninth day of Rush’s defamation action against The Daily Telegraph following a series of stories late last year which he said portrayed him as a “pervert” and a “sexual predator”.

Later in proceedings, an expert witness told the court she had “never seen anything like” the rapid rise of the #MeToo movement that is likely to swamp Rush’s career, irrespective of his guilt or innocence.

Winter told the court that during one performance Rush did “something different” as he, as Lear, grieved over the body of his dead daughter Cordelia, played by Norvill.

“On that occasion I saw Geoffrey’s hand cupping around the bottom of EJ’s breast which was something that I had not seen before on stage,” Winter said.

He said it was “a bit tricky to describe” but said it was “not like a squeeze, if you will’, but a cupping “around the bottom of the breast, the side and bottom of the breast”.

“The picture in my mind is that it was his (Rush’s) right hand on the left breast. That is my memory of it.”

Norvill had earlier testified that Rush had “deliberately” touched her right breast.

Winter estimated the touch would have last about five seconds.

Mark Winter, far left, as Edgar in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of King Lear

Cross examined by Rush’s counsel Bruce McClintock SC, Winter said the event took place “pre-MeToo”, with a general feeling of “that was a strange thing that occurred. That happened, and then we moved on

”It wasn’t something that I dwelled on.”

McClintock put it to Winter that it would have been impossible for Rush to have touched Norvill’s left breast without being seen by the audience.

Winter disgreed.

“I saw your client touch her breast,” he said.

The barrister also said that such behaviour from an actor “dedicated to his craft” would have had a “destructive effect” on such a “tragic and poignant” scene.

“I found it confusing,” Winter said.

Eryn Jean Norvill

Earlier, the witness told the court that on one occasion during rehearsals “Geoffrey was doing a bit of a skit over EJ’s” as she lay on the floor.

“It was like a Three Stoogey skit, if you will,” he said. “There was a sequence of  quick jokes….and a bit of jokey gesture.”

Asked to describe it further, Winter cupped his hands while telling the court it was a “boob squeeze gesture”

The court also heard from Rush’s Hollywood agent, Fred Specktor, who branded the Rush stories in the Daily Telegraph as “garbage” and warned the impact of the accusations have damaged the actor’s “psyche”.

During a feisty hour in the witness stand, Specktor, who represents a who’s who of film stars, including Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons and Danny DeVito, said someone of Rush’s talent and age – he is 67 – could have “as much work as he wants”.

But he told the court he feared for his client’s well-being.

“This has been very destructive in terms of his psyche,” he said. “I see a total difference in him. His psyche has changed and it’s his ability to work that concern me and probably concerns him.”

As courtroom debate switched from events during King Lear to the marketability of actors in Hollywood, Daily Telegraph barrister Tom Blackburn SC referred to a report by the agent which suggested Rush would face a “lag” of at least 12 months before he would receive the same amount of work, should he be vindicated.

The report has relevance to the amount of damages awarded to Rush in the event of him winning his action against the Telegraph.

Blackburn put it to Specktor that the words implied Rush would receive at least some offers in the first 12 months.

“I know that he is damaged as a human being because of this garbage that was in the newspapers,” Specktor replied. “That is what concerns me about his ability to work.”

Blackburn challenged Specktor that there was nothing in his report dealing with Rush’s psyche, arguing that he had “made it up in the witness box”.

Specktor rejected the assertion.

Rush leaves Sydney Federal Court with barrister Sue Chrysanthou

Blackurn also humorously questioned Specktor’s view that Rush has a particular liking for playing complicated characters.

”Have you seen Pirates of the Caribbean?” he asked in reference to Rush’s portrayal of pirate Hector Barbossa.

His agent insisted that Barbossa was, indeed, a “complicated role”.

Another expert witness, entertainment industry consultant and former Disney and Sony executive Robyn Russell, told the court that allegations which have emerged from the #MeToo movement hang like a “huge cloud” over the industry.

In the current climate, Rush, she said, may be regarded as too big a risk by movie makers, even if he is vindicated.

“It’s a huge cloud. I have never see anything like it,” she said. “I don’t like what’s going on. A lot of people on both sides are being injured.”

In her report, Russell added: “I have never seen anything slam into the wall with as much speed and ferocity as the #MeToo movement.

“Unfortunately for Mr Rush, false or not, the movement being in its infancy has not refined its response or addressed behaviour in the gray areas.

“Perhaps it will evolve to such a place but before then, Mr Rush’s career is likely to be irreparably damaged.”

Rush has vehemently denied all claims of inappropriate behaviour.

He is alleged to have made lewd gestures and comments towards Norvill, put his hand up her shirt and rubbed her back, stroked her fingers and deliberately touched her breast during a preview performance of the Shakespeare play.

The case continues.


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