Geoffrey Rush has conceded he may have called a fellow cast member in King Lear “yummy” and “scrumptious” but says it was part of theatre “banter”.
Mr Rush, 67, was being cross-examined at his defamation claim against The Daily Telegraph about exchanges with Eryn Jean Norvill during rehearsals for the 2015-16 Sydney Theatre Company production.
He said Ms Norvill, who played Cordelia – the daughter of Rush’s titular character – would admonish him “like an embarrassed teenager”.
In other evidence on Wednesday, the Oscar winner agreed that he may have “touched the lower part of the chest” of Ms Norvill, but said he did not “intentionally grope” her.
Mr Rush is suing News Corp, publisher of the Telegraph, in the Federal Court over articles in November 2017 which said the STC had received a complaint accusing him “inappropriate behaviour” towards a cast member – later identified as Ms Norvill. She did not talk to the Telegraph for the articles, but will testify for the paper as part its “truth” defence
It has been alleged that Mr Rush touched Ms Norvill’s lower back under her shirt when they were backstage and traced his hand down her torso and across the side of her breast during a scene in which King Lear carries Cordelia’s corpse on to the stage and then grieves over her body. The paper also claims Mr Rush simulated groping Ms Norvill’s breasts, stuck his tongue out, licked his lips and regularly made jokes about the actress’s body that contained sexual innuendo.
The actor says the articles accused him of being a “pervert, a sexual predator and of inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature”.
Tom Blackburn SC, for News, suggested to Mr Rush that he used the word “yummy” when talking to Mr Norvill during rehearsals.
Mr Rush; “I might have. Yummy has a spirit to it.”
Mr Blackburn: “You said things to her like ‘you are looking very scrumptious today’?”
Mr Rush: “I do not recall saying that, but I might have. I am always in a chirpy mood.”
The actor said he “brought a tremendous amount of energy” into the rehearsal.
“There was banter like in any workplace, but in this case a very theatrical workplace… people sparked off each other,”.
He said Ms Norvill would sometimes look askance and call him “Daaad” but he said this had nothing to do with groping gestures, which he denied making.
“I don’t recall a specific moment but she would say it like an embarrassed teenager …. It was a playful admonishment – Oh, give it over Pop”.
Mr Blackburn also asked the actor about the corpse scene.
He said his hand movements were meant to indicate that he was feeling “the loss of her soul”.
“I caressed down but it wasn’t at breast level, it was down [at] torso level… there was no touching of the breast.”
Mr Blackburn: “Did a thumb accidentally touch a lower part of her chest?”
Mr Rush: “Possibly.I wasn’t monitoring this with detachment.”
Federal Court Justice Michael Wigney then intervened and asked Mr Rush if he had “intentionally groped” Ms Norvill.
“No, I did not,” Mr Rush said.
Justice Wigney suggested that questions about whether Mr Rush had touched Ms Norvill unintentionally “were not going to assist me at all”.
After Mr Blackburn said he wanted to include intentional or unintentional acts, Mr Rush’s counsel Bruce McClintock SC got to his feet.
“If it’s an accident, we win.”
Mr Rush also came under further questioning about a text he sent Ms Norvill six months after the show finished saying he was thinking of her “more than is appropriate” and attaching a wink-tongue out emoji.
Mr Blackburn asked Mr Rush how he would have felt if his own daughter, who is 25, had received such a text from a 65-year-old man (as he was in 2016). He said he could not “think of any context in which that would happen” and described his text as “avuncular”.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.