Geoffrey Rush has won his defamation case against a Sydney newspaper publisher and journalist over articles saying he’d been accused of inappropriate behaviour.
The 67-year-old Hollywood superstar, who played Captain Barbossa in Pirates Of The Caribbean, sued the Daily Telegraph’s publisher and journalist Jonathon Moran over two stories and a poster published in late 2017.
The articles related to an allegation Mr Rush behaved inappropriately toward a co-star – later revealed to be Eryn Jean Norvill – during a Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear in 2015-16.
Ms Norvill, who played King Lear’s daughter Cordelia, claimed he had stroked her breast on stage and stroked her lower back backstage. Rush, who played King Lear, strongly denied the allegations.
In Sydney’s Federal Court on Thursday, Justice Michael Wigney found Mr Rush had been defamed. ‘Nationwide News and Mr Moran did not make out their truth defence,’ the judge said.
The judge said the articles damaged Rush’s career and prevented him from securing work. Rush will be awarded $850,000 for aggravated damages – but the figure will be much higher when compensation for lost earnings is included.
Another hearing will be required to find out how much compensation Rush is to be awarded. The final figure could potentially be several million dollars.
In a short statement outside court, Mr Rush said: ‘I’m pleased to acknowledge the decisions made this afternoon by the federal court of Australia.
There were no winners in this case – it has been extremely distressing for everyone involved Geoffrey Rush outside court. ‘There were no winners in this case – it has been extremely distressing for everyone involved.’
Mr rush then thanked his wife and children for their support. The Daily Telegraph carried the story on its front-page splash headlined ‘King Leer’ on 30 November, 2017.
A second article the next day ‘doubled down’ on the claims, according to Judge Wigney. The judge described the Daily Telegraph’s journalism as ‘recklessly irresponsible.’
‘This was, in all the circumstances, a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind – the very worst kind,’ he said.
‘Those articles were published in an extravagant, excessive and sensationalist manner.’ Rush denied the allegations against him and said Nationwide News and Moran made him out to be a pervert and sexual predator.
Norvill – who didn’t participate in the articles – agreed to testify at least year’s trial. She told the court Rush deliberately stroked the side of her breast while her character was dead onstage.
‘It couldn’t have been an accident because it was slow and pressured,’ she said. She alleged he also stroked her lower back backstage, made groping gestures toward her during rehearsal and would sometimes growl and call her yummy.
Rush said it was possible he used the word yummy – which had ‘a spirit to it’ – but otherwise denied the claims, saying that he thought he and Norvill had enjoyed a ‘very sparky, congenial rapport’.
Justice Wigney on Thursday said he wasn’t persuaded that Norvill’s evidence was ‘credible or reliable’ while he accepted Rush’s testimony. Rush said the months following the publication of the articles had been the worst of his life.
He said it was devastating and he felt sick to his stomach when he saw the Telegraph’s first front-page article about the allegation of inappropriate behaviour.
Rush and Norvill were both in court for the judgement on Thursday afternoon.