Actress felt ‘shocked, belittled, embarrassed and shamed’
HOLLYWOOD star Geoffrey Rush "slowly" and "deliberately" ran his fingers over his young co-star's right breast during rehearsals for a Sydney play, a court heard yesterday.
Actress Eryn Jean Norvill said she also felt "belittled, embarrassed" and "shamed" after Mr Rush gestured groping her breasts while bulging his eyes and licking his lips during rehearsals for King Lear.
But the 34-year-old said she received no support from director Neil Armfield or her fellow actors as the sexual gestures became a regular occurrence.
"I was looking at a room that was complicit," Ms Norvill told the Federal Court.
"My director didn't seem to have a problem with it. I felt quashed in my ability to find allies."
Mr Rush, 67, is suing The Daily Telegraph over a series of articles in late 2017 that reported a young actress had lodged a complaint with the Sydney Theatre Company over his alleged "inappropriate behaviour".
The actress was later named as Ms Norvill, who played Mr Rush's daughter Cordelia in the production.
Ms Norvill said she felt "trapped" as he stroked her breast while she played a "lifeless body" on stage.
"I believed that he'd done it deliberately," she said. "The touch was different to what I'd witnessed previously. It was slow and light and pressured … it wasn't an accident."
But Ms Norvill felt she couldn't complain about the Oscar winner's behaviour or it would be catastrophic for the show.
Ms Norvill said she was the bottom rung of the production's hierarchy while the Pirates of the Caribbean star was "definitely at the top".
"His power was intimidating," she said.
"I was not a priority in that show. I wasn't the one putting the bums on seats … I was very frightened and didn't want to risk the performance."
The award-winning actress said during rehearsals for the climatic scene in which her character lies dead on the stage, she opened her eyes after hearing laughter.
"Geoffrey was kneeling over me and he had both of his hands above my torso and he was gesturing, stroking up and down my torso and gesturing, groping and cupping above my breasts … raising his eyebrows and bulging his eyes, smiling, licking his lips," Ms Norvill said.
She said after a preview performance in November 2015 when the Academy Award winning actor touched her on the breast on stage, director Mr Armfield told Mr Rush his actions were "creepy" and "unclear", and should be more paternal. Mr Armfield previously denied that.
Ms Norvill said she felt isolated over Mr Rush's actions during the King Lear rehearsal period but went into "survival mode", choosing to "buck up" and get through the play because "maybe I thought it was part of my job".
She said that while she was standing on a chair in the wings, waiting for Mr Rush to carry her on stage in a January 2016 performance, he put his hand under her shirt and rubbed her back along the waistline of her low-rise jeans. He would also "fondle" her fingers.
"I didn't swat his hand away, no. We were on stage, and the audience was right there. I was worried about making noise," Ms Norvill said.
She said Mr Rush would regularly make groping gestures and comment on her body when she came to rehearsals, and call her "yummy" and "scrumptious" while licking his lips and bulging his eyes. "It happened a lot," Ms Norvill said.
She said he also targeted other women in the production and the behaviour became "normalised" in the rehearsal room.
Mr Rush, wearing a burgundy suit, sat in court with wife Jane Menelaus to listen to the evidence. Ms Norvill's parents sat behind him.
Ms Norvill said she confided in co-star Robyn Nevin about Mr Rush's behaviour and the older actress told her: "I didn't think Geoffrey was doing that anymore, poor Jane."
During cross-examination Mr Rush's barrister Bruce McClintock, SC, said: "What you're saying about Ms Nevin in particular is that she realised you were the victim of sexual harassment and did nothing about it."
Ms Norvill said: "No … she's part of a cultural problem, that maybe she doesn't see the behaviour as damaging, whereas I believe it is."
Mr McClintock questioned why she had given a positive media interview before the show began.
"I'm the youngest, I'm the least experienced, I had the least power, what was I supposed to do?" she said.
Ms Norvill said she felt "panicked" when she received a text message from Mr Rush containing an emoji of a face with its tongue hanging out "because I believed Geoffrey to be unsafe".
Ms Norvill added that "in no way" during a series of pun-filled emails between her and Mr Rush "am I inviting to be sexually harassed": "I was not sexually interested in Geoffrey Rush, he had a wife and also he was my friend."
Mr Rush denies any wrongdoing and claims two front page articles in the Telegraph about the alleged incident painted him as a "pervert" and "sexual predator".
The newspaper argues the stories published on November 30 and December 1 last year draw on allegations made by Ms Norvill and are true.