eryn-jean-norvill
Actor Eryn Jean Norvill leaves court after giving evidence (Image: AAP/Brendan Esposito)

This is act eight in Inq’s series on the media trial of Geoffrey Rush. Read the full series here.

“I felt overwhelmed and flattered, and excited”

Eryn Jean Norvill looked regal in a black shirt and plaid pant suit with stripes of mustard yellow, her blonde hair flowing past her shoulders.

She smiled for the cameras as she walked into court holding her mother’s hand, accompanied by her solicitor Leon Zwier — a hotshot corporate lawyer from Arnold Bloch Leibler — as well as her father and her boyfriend. 

Norvill testified for eight hours across two days. She recounted how she first met Rush at the opening night of an independent play she starred in at a warehouse in Melbourne’s industrial inner-west.

Norvill said she was excited that a big star had come to see her play, and recounted how, when she mentioned her plans to go to the US, he offered to write her a reference letter: 

“I felt overwhelmed and flattered, and excited. I guess I hoped that he would want to have a more close working professional relationship with me. I thought that he respected me.”

But Norvill recalled that, during closing night of the 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of Suddenly Last Summer, Rush was “standing very close to me”.

“I remember feeling uncomfortable by how close he was standing … I remember feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable,” she said.

Then came King Lear. Rush was cast as Lear, while Norvill was playing one of his three daughters, Cordelia.

During the third week of rehearsals, while she was playing dead, Norvill said Rush stopped mid-monologue: 

“I had my eyes closed and I remember hearing, like, titters of laughter, murmuring responses around the — around the rehearsal room. And I — I opened my eyes and Geoffrey was kneeling over me and he had both of his hands above my torso, and he was stroking — gesturing, stroking up and down my torso and gesturing — groping or cupping above my breasts, and he was looking up to the front of the room and kind of raising his eyebrows and bulging his eyes and smiling and licking his lips.”

She said director Neil Armfield had ordered Rush to stop (Armfield later denied this happened). From there, she testified, “I started noticing that Geoffrey would make these sexual kind of gestures toward my body” and call her “yummy and scrumptious”. 

When Rush told a reporter he had a “stage-door Johnny crush” on Norvill, she felt “belittled and embarrassed and was, I guess, ashamed”. 

“I discovered that Geoffrey’s behaviour was inappropriate, mostly toward women,” she said, adding that it had become normalised in the rehearsal room.

* * *

Norvill described herself as a young actor “at the bottom of the rung in terms of the hierarchy and Geoffrey was definitely at the top”. It was a huge opportunity, and Norvill said she didn’t want to jeopardise either her role or the dynamic between herself and Rush onstage. 

Norvill alleged Rush “deliberately” touched her breast on stage during rehearsals, and rubbed his hand along her lower back. During the final weeks of performance, she claimed he slipped his hands underneath her shirt above her jeans and lightly “traced” his fingers along her lower back. 

“I felt threatened … my panic levels shot up and I felt unsafe and probably sad,” she told the court.

“Did you say sad?” the Telegraph’s barrister Tom Blackburn asked. “Why did you feel sad, Ms Norvill?” 

“Because I think Geoffrey’s idea of friendship was different to mine,” she said. Her voice cracked and her eyes welled with tears, she grabbed a tissue and the court adjourned for lunch. 

Norvill defended her written email and text banter — which continued even after Rush had allegedly traced his fingers under her shirt — as “survival mode”: 

“I had two shows to go. I was very frightened. I didn’t want to risk the performance. I guess I chose to put Geoffrey’s comfortability above my own. I just thought I could keep going, I have come this far, and I felt trapped by my own silence.” 

After receiving Rush’s text message in June of 2016, six months after King Lear finished up, Norvill turned to Nevin.

“I told [Nevin] that I had been harassed by Geoffrey during the show and that I thought it was sexual harassment … Nevin said to me, ‘I didn’t think Geoffrey was doing that anymore. Poor Jane [Menelaus]’.” 

Of one nickname used in her exchanges with Rush — “Galapagos Lusty Thrust” — Rush’s barrister Bruce McClintock asked Norvill: “I suppose you would tell your honour that there’s nothing sexual about that, do you?”

“It could be perceived as sexually — intellectually flirtatious,” she replied. 

Justice Michael Wigney interjected: “What about sexually flirtatious?” 

“No,” Norvill replied. “I was not sexually interested in Geoffrey Rush. He had a wife and, also, he was my friend.” 

Under her breath, she added: “That’s disgusting.” 

Blackburn stepped in. “There’s no suggestion, your honour, that this witness would have acted sexually inappropriately to Mr Rush in King Lear,” he said. 

“It would be fair to say that [Rush] was doing exactly what you were doing, wouldn’t it?” McClintock pressed.

“I hadn’t spent several months sexually harassing him,” Norvill replied, resolute.

On her reply to Rush’s glowing reference — in which Norvill had written, “Thanks again for this generous de gache,” — McClintock said, “Not the sort of email, may I suggest, that anyone in the position that you say you were in would ever have sent, Ms Norvill?” 

“Somebody who was in my position sent it, because I sent it,” she replied sharply. 

* * *

It was Halloween when Norvill returned to the stand. McClintock ramped up his examination. He accused Norvill several times of lying. 

“You are a person who is prepared to tell untruths if it suits you, aren’t you Miss Norvill?” he asked. “Mr Rush never behaved inappropriately to you at any time during the production of King Lear … and when you told his honour that he did so, and indeed in that answer, you’re lying, aren’t you?” 

Norvill turned to Justice Wigney: “Your honour, I am not lying.”

* * *

Actor Mark Winter, a lanky man with searing blue eyes and dark shoulder-length hair, strode into court to testify he had witnessed inappropriate behaviour toward his friend Norvill.

Winter played Edgar in the production of King Lear, and agreed to give evidence after being contacted by Norvill’s lawyers. 

“There’s two things I remember about the rehearsal of that scene,” he said. 

The first: “Geoffrey was doing a bit of a skit over [Norvill] when she was lying on the floor of the stage … making, like, a jokey gesture at the end … a boob-squeezing gesture … I know that people laughed.” 

The second: “I saw Geoffrey’s hand cupping around the body of [Norvill’s] breast, which was something I hadn’t seen before on stage,” he said. The touch lasted about five seconds, long enough for Winter to have “a series of thoughts”. 

* * *

Fred Specktor is a white-haired, fashionable Hollywood agent who wears a gold sleeper in each ear and represents stars like Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Irons, Danny de Vito, Dan Aykroyd, Helen Mirren and, for the past 22 years, Geoffrey Rush.

According to Specktor, prior to the allegations Rush could expect movie and stage offer to come for decades to come.

He also explained that Rush deliberately chose complicated roles.

“Is Hector Barbossa [in Pirates of the Caribbean] a complicated character?” asked Blackburn. 

“Yes. If you knew anything about acting, you would know that … you don’t understand the movie business,” Specktor snapped. Rush’s accountant Terrence Michael Potter later testified that Rush earned $5 million for playing the “complicated” pirate. 

Specktor’s comments were supported by studio lawyer Robin Russell. “It’s about the name of the person in the films … Mr Rush is a movie star. So if I was hiring somebody to play my father, I would rather hire him than you,” she told Blackburn. “Or you, even!” she said, turning to Justice Wigney. 

But US entertainment lawyer Richard Marks disagreed, saying there were generally fewer roles for older actors, and Rush wasn’t a leading man. 

* * *

As if the trial hadn’t attracted enough controversy, there was an extraordinary intervention midway through. 

It came from Blackburn, who wanted to amend the Telegraph’s defence. It had received an 87-page affidavit the previous weekend from “Witness X” — actor Yael Stone — that contained “vital evidence” that went to the “heart” of the imputations that Rush engaged in “inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature”.

Days before the trial concluded, Justice Wigney rejected allowing the new evidence because, he said, it would cause uncertainty, harm and prejudice to Rush and his family and result in an unacceptable delay of “at least six months” to the defamation proceedings which are “all-but finished”. 

The allegations from Witness X, he said, were completely separate to the accusations at the centre of the Telegraph stories which related to inappropriate behaviour towards Eryn Jean Norvill during the production of King Lear — an “entirely new set of allegations from a different person, in a different setting and a different time”.

The judge said that Nationwide News had contacted Witness X on several occasions over the past few months in a bid to get her to cooperate. All had been unsuccessful until she was contacted on October 26 by the same solicitor who represents Norvill. 

Stone’s identity was revealed six months later. She is best-known for her work on Netflix series Orange is The New Black

In interviews with The New York Times and the ABC’s 7.30 program, Stone claimed that Rush had exposed himself to her backstage while working together in 2010 and 2011, had sent her sexually suggestive messages and attempted to spy on her while she was showering. 

Rush denied the allegations.

* * *

At long last, the trial concluded at lunch on Friday, November 9, 2018.

Next: The judgment

Peter Fray

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