The Guardian Australia

Geoffrey Rush’s co-star ‘visibly upset’ after confrontation, court told

Documents claim actor entered theatre’s female bathroom before being told to leave

Geoffrey Rush
Geoffrey Rush labelled the articles published by the Daily Telegraph as ‘spurious claims with bombastic titles’. Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush was involved in a confrontation that left a female cast member “visibly upset” at a party following the 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear, according to allegations in newly released court documents.

On Tuesday the federal court in Australia published a previously suppressed document filed by Nationwide News – a subsidiary of News Corp – in its defence of defamation proceedings brought by Rush against the newspaper publisher.

Rush strenuously denies the allegations made against him and has labelled the articles published by the Daily Telegraph in November and December last year as “spurious claims with bombastic titles”.

The defence provides further details of the allegations made against Rush about his actions during a Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear in 2015, in which he played the title role.

It claims Rush touched the same female cast member in a way that made her feel uncomfortable while carrying her on stage during the performance.

 The touch was “not directed or scripted by any person or necessary for the purpose of the performance of the production”, the document stated.

According to the defence, the woman asked Rush to “stop doing it” but it is alleged that he touched her in the same way on another four occasions in the final week of the production run in January 2016.

She was “visibly upset” after each incident.

News’ defence also alleges that, during a party for cast and crew after the production ended, Rush “entered the female bathroom located in the foyer of the Roslyn Packer theatre, knowing [the woman] was in there, and stood outside a cubicle” that she was in.

He left when she told him to “fuck off” and she was “visibly upset” afterwards. The documents state she made a complaint to the Sydney Theatre Company in April 2016 and that, following an investigation, the production group decided it would no longer work with Rush.

News also refers to a 2015 article in the Sydney Morning Herald in which Rush describes having a “stage-door-Johnny crush” on the woman, a term that refers “to a man who frequents a theatre for the purpose of courting an actress or chorus girl”.

In court on Monday, Rush’s barrister, Richard McHugh SC, said the comments in the 2015 article were meant to be taken in jest.

Rush’s lawyers are seeking to have large portions of the News defence thrown out on the basis that the allegations against Rush lack specifics and it is not clear that Rush knew which behaviour he was being asked to stop.

In a previous hearing McHugh argued that the defence contained “scandalous” information amounting to “rumours” that would do further damage to Rush’s reputation.

On Monday he said the allegation of “inappropriate touching” made against Rush was “completely opaque” and would make it impossible for Rush to defend himself.

McHugh again sought to keep the News defence suppressed but Justice Michael Whitney ruled in favour of the document’s release.

The articles at the centre of the defamation case were published by the Telegraph in November and December last year after the Sydney Theatre Company released a statement to the newspaper saying it had received a complaint against Rush from someone who accused him of “inappropriate behaviour” during the King Lear production.

The Daily Telegraph led its front page with the story on 30 November with the headline “King Leer”.

A second article published on 1 December with the headline “We’re with you: theatre cast back accuser as Rush denies ‘touching’” contained a denial from Rush that he “inappropriately touched” a female cast member on the production.

In a previous hearing News said the articles “did not make any allegations” that the actor “engaged in inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature”.

But McHugh argued the stories were not reasonable and “clearly” contained a “sexual dimension”.

Apart from truth, however, the Telegraph is also relying on qualified privilege in defending the case. The qualified privilege defence in defamation hearings in Australia means a publisher must show the defamatory articles were in the public interest and that it acted reasonably.

It argues the allegations were “matters of proper and legitimate public interest” following a string of allegations concerning “sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment in the entertainment industry” which started with the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

The Telegraph says it acted reasonably because it had other information in its possession at the time which it did not publish.