CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses sexual harassment.

As part of The Daily Telegraph‘s defence against Geoffrey Rush‘s defamation suit, the actress who originally made a sexual harassment complaint against the actor has appeared in court today, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Eryn Jean Norvill performed alongside Rush as part of Sydney Theatre Company‘s 2015-16 run of King Lear, where she alleges he “deliberately” touched her breast. Her then-anonymous claims against Rush were the basis of a number of articles in the Tele late last year, writing that an actress had lodged a complaint with the company about his “inappropriate behaviour“. However, Norvill did not make the claims to the paper herself. In the case, the paper is arguing that the stories were true.

Norvill told the Federal Court today that during a preview performance Rush touched her breast ‘slowly’ and  “deliberately“, as The Daily Telegraph writes:

I had my eyes closed, Geoffrey placed his hand on my face and then his other hand touched under my armpit, and stroked down my, across my right breast and onto my hip.

[His hand] was halfway up my breast, it didn’t touch my nipple I don’t think.

It lasted about eight or 10 seconds. It felt slow. I believed that he’d done it deliberately. The touch was different to what I’d witnessed previously. It was slow and light and pressured across my breast and that’s why I thought it was deliberate. It wasn’t an accident.

At the time I was on stage with my eyes closed playing a dead body so I probably felt very trapped because I couldn’t do or say (anything) or move. But I probably also felt frightened and again I imagine probably confused, trying to make sense of what Geoffrey’s intention were.

She also alleged that he called her “yummy” and “scrumptious“, and  simulated groping her during the rehearsal process. She said he would “smile and cup his two hands, lick his lips, raise his eyebrows [and] bulge out his eyes“.

His actions made her feel “belittled“, “embarrassed” and “shamed“, Norvill told the court today.

The actress also said that during rehearsal he once placed his hand underneath her shirt to stroke her bare back.

He placed his left hand on my lower back above my shirt and he moved his hand from right to left as in rubbing or stroking my back. His hand then moved from above my shirt to below my shirt and I remember feeling his fingers touch my skin.

He went up to the line of my jeans, underneath it, his fingers kind of traced the line where my jeans and lower back I guess, across from left to right, very softly and lightly.

I felt threatened. My panic levels shot up. I felt unsafe and probably sad because I think Geoffrey’s idea of friendship was different to mine.

Norvill also spoke about a text from Rush she received in June 2016 where  he apologised for missing the opening night of  STC’s All My Sons, in which she also starred, and added “thinking of you (as I do more than is socially appropriate) “.

She says she did not answer the text. “I didn’t understand why he would have sent me a message in the first place… I believed Geoffrey to be unsafe.

In court, the actress says she felt she could not openly call out Rush’s behaviour because of the imbalance of power.

I was on the bottom of the rung, in terms of hierarchy and Geoffrey was definitely at the top. His power was intimidating.

“I wanted to be a part of his world and we were also playing father and daughter. I felt as though if I was to speak or reprimand his behaviour, I would jeopardise the relationship, that 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. I felt quashed in my ability to find allies.

The defamation case against The Daily Telegraph is ongoing. Both the production’s director, Neil Armfield, and Rush’s co-star Robyn Nevin, each powerful members of the Australian theatre community, have already testified as part of Rush’s suit against the paper.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Image: AAP/ Peter Rae