robyn-nevin
Actor Robyn Nevin leaves court after giving evidence (Image: AAP/Peter Rae)

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

“I was trying to understand why someone would hate us so much” 

Geoffrey Rush’s wife Jane Menelaus was the first witness to give evidence in support of her husband.

Wearing a dark blue robe and long silver chain, she began by explaining that Rush was “admired” so much that people often came up to her to say how “fabulous” they thought he was. 

She painted a picture of a family lifted straight out of an ‘80s Christmas movie. “We sing around the piano … he loved to get different generations together.” 

But when she heard The Daily Telegraph had decided to publish entertainment reporter Jonathon Moran’s story alleging misconduct from Rush, “I was trying to understand why someone would hate us so much,” she said. 

Rush, on the other hand, was in “shock … total and unbelievable shock”, she said.

“He was quite fetal at times on the bed. He put his head in his hands. He couldn’t sleep. He groaned every morning when he said to me, ‘I dread going to bed and I dread waking up…’ Our days for 11 months have been appalling. Our 11 months, I would say, were like Groundhog Day, except in Groundhog Day, it’s the same day. With this, it got worse and worse and worse … I saw a man so altered and changed. His eyes sunk into his head. He retreated very much from — well, from the world.”

She rubbed her temples and forehead and began to cry as she described the impact on Rush and their two children. 

“He felt when the children withdrew because they often didn’t know how to speak to their father about these gross issues, that they were believing these articles themselves and that they didn’t love him as much … [He said] I think they’re pulling away from me.”

Menelaus said Rush was obsessed with looking up comments on himself on the internet, throwing up after seeing other articles. 

By the time court adjourned for the day, the weather was as bleak as Menelaus’ evidence. Rush and his wife clutched one another’s hands tightly as they braced the reporters and gusts of winds outside. 

* * *

Day four was a day full of praise for Rush as his long-time friends and colleagues took the stand to defend his character. 

Actor Trevor Smith, who appeared via video link from London, described himself as “besties” with Rush. The pair had been housemates, studied at the same university, gone to an acting school in Paris throughout the ‘70s and remained friends.

He told the court Rush had been distraught and housebound since the articles were published — though the two had gone out for dinner and art gallery visits during a recent trip to London. 

* * *

King Lear director Neil Geoffrey Armfield, wearing a white shirt, camel chinos, and a beige jacket, explained how he and Rush had met when Armfield was 24. 

Armfield denied telling Rush that a scene between Rush and co-star Eryn Jean Norvill had become “creepy and unclear”, or that he had said “Geoffrey, stop that,” when Norvill alleged Rush made groping gestures as she played dead. 

Appearing on the ABC’s Q&A later that month, Armfield acknowledged there needed to be a circle of trust within theatre companies, saying: “There is sexual energy which in a sense is part of an actor’s way of connecting to the audience as much as connecting within the cast, and I think that means we have to be particularly mindful and particularly respectful.” 

His approach was criticised by other panelists. 

* * *

The trial’s real drama started when King Lear cast member Helen Buday, who played Lear’s eldest daughter Goneril, took the stand. A brunette with a slender build and dark, expressive eyes, the 57 year old made a name for herself starring alongside Mel Gibson in 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but shied away from a career in Hollywood, telling a reporter in the early 2000’s that she’d “never had any ambition to go to LA and do that sort of stint”.  

But when called to the stand just after 2.30pm on day four of the trial, she was nowhere to be seen. A few minutes later, Buday was found outside the courtroom and finally ushered in. 

On Rush’s reputation, Buday had “heard him defined as iconic”: “I think that’s an understatement. He had been a mentor and a role model to younger actors throughout his career,” she said. 

When examining the “panting” emoji and text messages that Rush had sent to Norvill, Buday became flustered.

“There’s no panic about this, Ms Buday. Let’s just work through,” said News Corp’s barrister Tom Blackburn. “The proposition I want to put to you is this, Ms Buday: that is not an example of responsible mentoring by a sixty –”

Blackburn was cut off by cackling laughter from Buday. 

“You are here to answer questions… Right. Now, would you do me the courtesy of hearing me out? … The proposition — ”

Blackburn was again cut off. 

“You just made me laugh,” Buday said. She started to explain what she thought of the emoji, before imitating it. “It’s like that, isn’t it?” she asked.

Rush sat with his head held in his hands. 

When asked about Rush’s line, “…but I was thinking of you, as I do more than is socially appropriate,” Buday spontaneously broke out singing “Truly Scrumptious” from the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Seemingly distracted, Buday asked Blackburn whether he was speaking to her or staring out the window. She interrupted his line of questioning a few more times and again started laughing, with Justice Michael Wigney intervening to try and keep her on track. She broke out into song twice more, singing “Truly Scrumptious” again followed by “Yummy Yummy Yummy”.

When Blackburn finished cross-examination, Buday refused to leave the stand. “I have something I would like — can I? May I?”

“No,” said Justice Wigney.

“You can go stage left,” Blackburn quipped before Buday fled the courtroom and began crying loudly outside.

* * *

Next came King Lear co-star Robyn Nevin, an elegant woman with bright white hair, wearing large, dark sunglasses to shield her from the camera flashes outside the courtroom. 

Her husband, actor Nicholas Hammond, had been the first to bring the rumour of a complaint to Rush and Menelaus. The day after the Telegraph’s “King Leer” headline, Nevin texted Norvill: 

“Oh, dear girl, are you okay? I was contacted today by Channel 9 and I was in rehearsal with no iPhone. Fortunate. I told my agent no comment, but it’s nasty. I hope you will protected [sic]. I’m sure you will be. If you need anything just ask.”

Norvill replied, saying the media had been hounding her. “I didn’t ask for any of this. It’s awful, Robyn.”

But by that stage, Norvill’s name hadn’t been published. How had Nevin known it was Norvill who made the complaint? 

“I guessed it… I mean, it was obviously around,” said Nevin. 

The court adjourned for lunch but didn’t resume that day. Both parties had gone into settlement talks once again — but nothing came of them. One of Rush’s lawyers, Sue Chrysanthou, later said that Rush had offered to settle the case for $50,000 along with legal costs and an apology, which the Telegraph rejected. 

Instead, the Telegraph submitted a shock application to amend its defence on Tuesday, October 30. An 87-page affidavit of “Witness X” — actor Yael Stone — had been added to the list.

By lunch, Justice Wigney slapped a non-publication order on the witnesses’ name, keeping Stone’s identity a secret.

Next: Cordelia

Peter Fray

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