Barrister for Nationwide News Tom Blackburn SC (Image: AAP/Peter Rae)

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

“You had been thinking of her more than is socially appropriate for some time?”

Day two of the trial was a difficult time in the box for Geoffrey Rush as he was questioned for hours by his barrister Bruce McClintock, News Corp’s barrister Tom Blackburn, and Justice Michael Wigney about his relationship with cast member Eryn Jean Norvill. 

McClintock turned his focus to the scene in King Lear where Rush staggers in from stage left with a limp Cordelia in his arms, lets out a guttural cry and lays her on the ground — the scene during which Norvill alleged she was groped. 

“When you’re playing that grieving father, Mr Rush, on stage at those points, what were you thinking about?” asked McClintock. Rush gave an emotional response: “For this scene I always imagined that it was my own real-life daughter,” he replied, choking on his words and wiping away tears with a tissue. 

“And that she had been hit by a bus and on the street near where we live in Camberwell and I knew she was gone. I carried her to the footpath and every night I would reinvent that scene in my mind because she’s in her early to mid-20s now and she was my daughter and I needed that — I needed that trigger.” 

It was a line that made headlines. Nine News reporter Damian Ryan called it a “performance of a lifetime: a glimpse of why Geoffrey Rush is one of the world’s most famous actors”.

Rush described his relationship with Norvill as “whimsical”. The text-message nicknames the pair had texted and emailed each other since 2014 (including “Jittery Rouche” and “Jet Lee Thrush”) were “whimsical”. Saying he had a “stage-door Johnny crush” on Norvill in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald was “whimsical”. A text message with a panting emoji was “whimsy”.  

“What do you say to the suggestion that you were hovering your hands over Ms Norvill’s torso and pretending to caress or stroke her upper torso. Did you do that?” McClintock asked. “Did you make sexual innuendos or references to her? Did you … make lewd gestures in her direction? … What about looking at her, sticking your tongue out and using your hands to grope the air like you were fondling her hips or breasts?” 

Rush’s denials were consistent. He denied director Neil Armsfield had asked him to make the scene where he carries Cordelia “more paternal” and less “creepy”, or that anyone had brought inappropriate behaviour to his attention. 

* * *

After lunch, Blackburn directed Rush to a text message he had sent Norvill after the opening night of All My Sons by Arthur Miller, a play which she appeared in with Robyn Nevin six months after Rush and Norvill worked together on King Lear. The text read:

“I was thinking of you (as I do more than is socially appropriate)”, followed by a winking emoji with its tongue sticking out.

“You had been thinking of her more than is socially appropriate for some time?” asked Blackburn.

“That — that is not correct in my mind. It’s a throwaway line. It’s actually a joke,” Rush said. “If there had been a Groucho [Marx] emoji, I would have punctuated with that to absolutely ensure that it was whimsy.”

“That was the looniest emoji I could find that sort of was yucca, yucca, yucca … If Fozzie Bear had been in there, I would have put Fozzie Bear in.”

The next day, Blackburn pressed further: “If someone who was 65 years old had sent your daughter a text saying, ‘I’m thinking of you (as I do more than is socially appropriate)’ with the emoji with its tongue hanging out, Mr Rush, would you think that was appropriate behaviour?”

“I can’t think of any context in which that would happen,” Rush responded.

Blackburn turned to the first time Rush had heard about the allegations, when Rush and Menelaus were speculating who could have made the complaint. “Is it somebody in admin? Is it somebody on the crew?”, they had wondered, Rush said. “We — we couldn’t — we were — we could only speculate, at that stage.”

But Blackburn pointed out that Rush had previously spoken to Australian Academy of Cinema and Television (AACTA) CEO Damian Trewhella about the “difficult scene” of carrying Norvill, where there was “allegedly some discomfort” —  a tidbit Trewhella had later written in an email and sent to the AACTA board.

“She occurred to your mind straightaway?” asked Blackburn, questioning when, out of 15 women in the cast and crew, Norvill was the only one he could think of.

He continued, arguing Norvill couldn’t confront Rush without it having “a catastrophic effect on [their] rapport”. “It would have been highly destructive?” he asked. Rush agreed it would have.

“On many occasions you stood in front of Ms Norvill and you stuck your tongue out and licked your lips in an exaggerated way? A little bit like the little emoji in the June text?”

* * *

As Rush made his way into court for his third day of evidence, wearing a plum-coloured jacket and pants, lilac shirt and violet tie, a journalist called out to him, “Good suit”. His wife walked several steps ahead of him, carrying a thick red binder filled with pages of documents.

In the witness box, Rush was asked about using the words “yummy” or “scrumptious” to greet Norvill. “You said things to her like, ‘you’re looking very scrumptious today’?” asked Blackburn.

“I might have said that … I was in a — always in a very chirpy mood… ‘yummy’ is — has a spirit to it,” he said. Norvill would often call Rush “Dad” (a joke on their King Lear casting), and often sang “stop, Dad” like a whining child. Rush said she never used that phrase to get him to stop making lewd gestures.

Next: Witnesses for the plaintiff