Geoffrey Rush will receive $2.9 million from the Daily Telegraph newspaper in a record payout, but the Academy Award-winning actor would have accepted just $50,000 if it came with an apology.
Justice Michael Wigney in April found the Daily Telegraph‘s publisher, Nationwide News, and journalist Jonathon Moran were reckless regarding the truth when they reported Rush had been accused of inappropriate behaviour during a Sydney theatre production of King Lear.
The judge said a poster and two articles contained several defamatory meanings – including that Rush was a pervert and a sexual predator – but the publisher hadn’t proven they were true.
Following an agreement between the parties, the judge on Thursday awarded Rush $1.98 million for past and future lost earnings.
Justice Wigney had previously awarded the Oscar winner $850,000 in general and aggravated damages plus $42,300 interest.
But Rush’s barrister, Sue Chrysanthou, revealed on Thursday in the Federal Court that the actor had offered to settle the case in early 2018 in exchange for $50,000 plus costs and an apology.
She said Nationwide News didn’t respond.
The Telegraph and Moran instead tried to prove a truth defence at trial, based largely on the evidence of Rush’s former co-star, Eryn Jean Norvill, who didn’t participate in the 2017 articles.
Norvill alleged Rush sexually harassed her during the Sydney Theatre Company’s King Lear production in 2015-16 when she played the daughter of his titular character.
Justice Wigney ultimately said Norvill was at times “prone to exaggeration and embellishment” and he wasn’t persuaded she was an entirely credible witness. Norvill later said she stood by her testimony.
Nationwide News and Moran are appealing Justice Wigney’s defamation decision arguing his conduct “gave rise to an apprehension of bias”.
Justice Wigney said Mr Rush had suffered a financial loss as a result of the publications but the prospect of him never being able to work again was “very remote”.
“I consider that, all other things being equal, once his reputation is vindicated, he will eventually be able to engage in acting again,” the judge said.
“It’s a tricky time in history to have mud thrown at you, however unfair,” a Melbourne theatre source told The New Daily after the Rush verdict.
“Geoffrey is in the clear, but mud sticks. And from what I hear, this whole thing has taken a toll on him, his family. He might not have the same appetite, that drive, to be back in the spotlight.”