01:32, October 30 93 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-30 01:32:05
Geoffrey Rush trial: Eryn Jean Norvill alleges actor touched her breast, left her frightened

The actor at the centre of accusations against Geoffrey Rush has claimed the actor “deliberately” touched her breast in front of an audience during a 2015 stage production of King Lear, saying she felt “trapped” and “frightened” by the Oscar-winner’s behaviour.

On Tuesday Eryn Jean Norvill told the federal court that she had been made to feel “belittled” and “embarrassed” by Rush during the production, describing a “pressured” and “stressful” environment in which the rest of the cast was “complicit” in endorsing Rush’s behaviour.

Speaking for the first time since Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published allegations about Rush’s behaviour during the production, Norvill told the court she had endured a pattern of conduct including groping gestures, “sexual innuendo” and unwanted touching from the Hollywood star during the lead-up to the production.

“I felt shocked,” she said. “I guess I was confused. I mean, Geoffrey, I considered Geoffrey a friend. I felt belittled and embarrassed and I guess shamed.”

The Telegraph’s star witness in its defence against Rush told the court the actor had “deliberately” stroked down the right side of her breast to her hip in front of an audience during a preview performance of the play.

“I believe [it was] deliberately,” she said.

“The touch was different to what I’d experienced previously. It was slow and light and pressured across my breast and that’s why I thought it was deliberate.

“It didn’t feel like an accident.”

Rush denies the claims and is suing the Telegraph over a series of articles published at the end of November and the beginning of December in 2017 alleging he behaved inappropriately towards cast-member Eryn-Jean Norvill during a 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Her evidence came after the Telegraph made a surprise attempt to amend its defence, which will be heard by Justice Michael Wigney on Wednesday. Rush’s legal team will ask for the application to be heard in a closed court.

Norvill remained composed throughout most of her appearance on Tuesday morning.

Her voice cracked only once, when explaining why she had not invited Rush to her Christmas party at the end of 2015.

“I didn’t want him to meet my family,” she said. “And he wasn’t my friend anymore.”

Norvill, met Rush in 2008 and became friends with him in about 2014. She told the court she felt unable to speak up about his behaviour because of his power within the production.

“I was at the bottom of the rung in terms of hierarchy and Geoffrey was definitely at the top,” she said. “That was at play – I have to be honest and say his power was intimidating and this person, I wanted to be a part of his world.

“We were also playing father and daughter [and] I felt that if I was to speak [it] might jeopardise, I would jeopardise that relationship, the tenderness, the closeness [that] is needed in those two roles.

“Everyone else didn’t seem to have a problem about it ... I was looking at a room that was complicit, my director didn’t seem to have a problem with it so I felt quashed in terms terms of my ability to find allies.

“I think Geoffrey’s idea of friendship was different to mine,” she said.

The Telegraph is mounting a truth defence against Rush, claiming the actor engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behaviour towards Norvill during the play. The court has previously heard that during previews of the play he had traced his fingers over the side of Norvill’s right breast during one scene.

She said that while she was onstage she remembered Rush “placed his hand on my face and then his other hand touched under my armpit or just near my armpit and stroked down my across my right side of my right breast and on to my hip”.

“He had maybe three or four fingers and he was halfway up my breast; [he] didn’t touch my nipple, I don’t think.

“It couldn’t have been an accident because it was slow and pressured.”

She said she was “on high alert” around Rush after the incident.

The court has previously heard Rush made “groping” and “hour-glass” gestures towards Norvill, who played Lear’s daughter Cordelia. Rush has denied the allegations. The court has also heard that before going on stage Rush had put his hand underneath Norvill’s shirt “up to the line of her jeans”, “very softly and lightly” tracing the skin above the waistband.

“I felt threatened. My panic levels shot up. I felt unsafe and probably sad,” she said about the second incident.

Rush previously told the court the statements were “all untrue” and “did not happen”.

But Norvill described “daily” behaviour from Rush which said felt make her feel “compromised” and “pressured”.

“I started noticing that Geoffrey would make these sexual kind of gestures toward my body when I’d come into work or when he’d greet me at the start of the day,” she said.

“He’d sort of comment on my body [and] kind of grope the air. He would look at me and he would smile and cup two hands [he would] usually lick his lips, raise his eyebrows, bulge out his eyes, sometimes he’d like growl.

“I remember him calling me yummy.

“I have to say [I felt] confused because I just didn’t really understand why Geoffrey would make fun of my body or comment on my body. He was my friend and respected me as a colleague.”

In another alleged incident, the Telegraph claimed Rush had made groping gestures above Norvill’s breasts while she lay on stage with her eyes closed.

Rush has denied the claim, but Norvill gave lengthy evidence on Tuesday about her interactions with Rush during the production.

“I was lying on my back on the floor and I remember Geoffrey had stopped talking,” she said.

“He was delivering [a] monologue grieving over Cordelia. He’d stopped talking. I can’t remember if he was looking for a line or Neil [Armfield, the play’s director] was giving him a note.

“I had my eyes closed [and] I remember hearing titters of laughter, murmuring responses around the rehearsal room and 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 up and down my torso [and] groping above my breasts and he was looking up to the front of the room and kind of rising his eyebrows, bulging his eyes, smiling, licking his lips.”

The hearing continues.

Topics