One of Geoffrey Rush’s co-stars saw him “cup” the breast of a young female actor during a performance of King Lear, he told the Federal Court in Sydney today (November 1).
Mark Winter, who played Edgar in the Sydney Theatre Company production, was giving evidence at the defamation case brought by the Oscar-winning actor against Nationwide News, publisher of the Daily Telegraph.
Rush is suing the company and Daily Telegraph journalist Jonathan Moran over a series of articles late last year which claimed he behaved inappropriately towards the young woman, later revealed to be Eryn Jean Norvill, who played Lear’s daughter Cordelia.
Winter told the court that one incident he witnessed took place during the play’s final scene, in which Rush, who played Lear in the 2015-16 production, cradled Cordelia in his arms.
On this particular night, “I saw Geoffrey’s hand cupping around the bottom of … [her] breast,” he said. Rush left his hand on Norvill’s breast for about five seconds, he recalled.
“It was long enough for me to have a series of thoughts that took me outside the action of the play.”
However, he added: “This was pre-#MeToo, and there was a strange thing that occurred, and we [the cast] just went, ‘that happened’, and we just moved on.”
On another occasion, Winter said, he saw Rush – internationally renowned for roles in films including The King’s Speech and Pirates of the Caribbean – perform a “Three Stooges-style skit” while kneeling over Norvill. This included a “boob-squeezing gesture”.
Winter remembered that incident as “clowning” and said he “thought nothing of it at the time”.
Rush has denied any inappropriate behaviour. He has told the court the Telegraph articles “devastated” him and left him wanting to stop acting altogether.
Norvill has testified that she felt belittled, embarrassed and shamed by Rush’s behaviour.
Winter – who regards both Rush and Norvill as friends – said he “saw no distress” on Norvill’s part during rehearsals or performances. However, he added:
“I certainly know there were some distressing moments for her”.
Rush’s barrister, Bruce McClintock, SC, pressed him on whether Rush really touched Norvill’s breast during a performance in front of more than 900 people. Surely, suggested Mr McClintock, that would have detracted from a scene of a father grieving over a dead child?
Winter replied that it would have been possible for the audience not to notice what was happening, thanks to the lip of the stage obstructing their view.
“I can say, unequivocally, his hand touched her breast,” he said.