An article in The Daily Telegraph accusing Geoffrey Rush of inappropriate sexual behaviour “smashed and destroyed” his reputation, the actor’s lawyer has told a court.
Rush, 67, is suing News Corp Australia’s Nationwide News, the publisher of the newspaper, as well as one of its journalists, Jonathan Moran.
In opening statements in the Federal Court in Sydney, Rush’s lawyer Bruce McClintock SC launched a scathing attack against the article, saying it destroyed his client’s 50-year career.
In November 2017 the newspaper published articles alleging Rush acted inappropriately towards a young actor during the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) production of King Lear in 2015-16.
That actor was later identified in legal proceedings as Eryn Jean Norvill.
Mr McClintock said Norvill made an “off the record” complaint to the STC, but The Daily Telegraph “very much put (it) on the record”.
“He [Moran] was obviously very desperate for a story,” he said.
Mr McClintock said his client was a “household name” whose income had dropped significantly.
He told the court Rush earned $1.5 million from July 1 to November 30 last year, but had made only $44,000 since then.
“His reputation was stellar. It could not have been higher,” Mr McClintock said. “There was no scandal attached to it.
“His reputation was that of a consummate professional, an actor devoted to his craft.
“On November 30 , that was all challenged, because a gossip columnist at The Daily Telegraph decided to write an article about my client.”
Holding up a newspaper pointer in the courtroom for the article in question on the day it was published, Mr McClintock read out the headline: “World Exclusive: Geoffrey Rush in scandal claims – ‘theatre company confirms inappropriate behaviour’.”
“This destroyed my client’s reputation,” Mr McClintock said, pointing to the pointer.
Rush arrived at court early wearing a blue suit and black tie.
At times the actor looked despondent as the opening statements were read out and his lawyer listed off his long CV.
“He’s had an extraordinary career, one of Australia’s most famous actors … [I’d] say one of [the country’s] two most famous actors. The only one I think of who would compare is Ms [Cate] Blanchett.
“He has won the triple crown. Only 24 people who have ever achieved this … he is in the company of Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, the list continues.”
Mr McClintock told the court the newspaper was looking for a “Weinstein story”.
He said the article implied Rush “was a pervert, involved in inappropriate behaviour [and] engaged in inappropriate behaviour at the Sydney Theatre Company”.
“Care wasn’t shown here,” Mr McClintock said. “This was a straight-up, full-blown attack on my client along what they said he had done.
“The Telegraph knew it was a lie. If that is not malice, then I don’t know what is.”
Discussing more specifics on how the story developed, Mr McClintock said Rush received a call from a journalist at The Australian last year about allegations against him during his time at the Sydney Theatre Company.
That call prompted Rush to call STC executive director Patrick McIntyre to ask him about it.
Rush’s lawyer claimed Mr McIntyre said to Rush that he was no longer an employee of the STC and could not help.
The court also heard that Mr McIntyre wanted to maintain the confidentiality of the person who made the complaint.
Mr McClintock said it could be argued both Norvill and Rush were “victims” because of the “incompetence” of the STC and the “malice” of The Telegraph to have a sensational story.