Geoffrey Rush — the 66-year-old actor known from movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and his Oscar-winning role in “Shine” — was one of Hollywood’s many powerful men accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo movement. He’s also become one of the few to push back against his accusations.
Where most men issued some form of apology, Rush fired back by filing a defamation lawsuit in Australian federal court in December against the newspaper and journalist who reported his alleged misdoing.
An affidavit filed Monday by Rush’s lawyers outlined the “emotional and social hardship” the accusations reportedly caused, painting a picture of a once-gregarious actor transformed into an increasingly anxious recluse who has lost his appetite for food, sleep and public appearances.
The tension began in November, when the Sydney Theatre Company, where Rush performed for 35 years, released a statement to the Daily Telegraph — then several other outlets — that it received a complaint claiming Rush had “engaged in inappropriate behaviour” while appearing in a production of “King Lear” from November 2015 to January 2016.
Rush denied the allegations, while also making clear he didn’t understand them.
“In this current environment, ‘inappropriate behaviour’ may mean abuse, bullying or other forms of reprehensible activity,” Rush said in a statement at the time, adding that he had “not been approached by the Sydney Theatre Company and the alleged complainant nor any representative of either of them concerning the matter. … There has been no provision of any details, circumstances, allegations or events that can be meaningfully responded to.”
During the next few weeks, the Daily Telegraph didn’t back down.
It labeled Rush “King Leer,” discussed his “Bard Behavior” and ran stories about the allegations at least nine times in print that claimed he acted inappropriately toward actress Eryn Jean Norvill, who portrayed Cordelia in the play. Though details of his alleged behavior remain vague at best, Rush was painted as a sexual predator and pervert.
In response, Rush sued the tabloid’s publisher — Nationwide News Pty Ltd, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp — and journalist Jonathon Moran on Dec. 8 for defamation, according to online court records.
“The Daily Telegraph has made false, pejorative and demeaning claims, splattering them with unrelenting bombasity on its front pages,” Rush said at the time. “The situation is intolerable and I must now seek vindication of my good name through the courts.”
Meanwhile, Rush stepped down from his role as president of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts, saying it was “unreasonable that my professional colleagues should be somehow associated with such allegations.”
Since then, according to Monday’s affidavit filing, he has become “constantly associated in Australia and internationally with the ‘#MeToo’ movement.”
As a result, the actor “has been virtually housebound,” rarely leaving his home during the past three months due to his discomfort in public. Whenever he does step out, he is “full of anxiety as he believes people are staring at him in a way that is very challenging, frightening and unnerving,” the court documents state.
He has “lost his appetite and barely eats,” has trouble sleeping at night and, when he does sleep, he “wakes up every morning with a terrible sense of dread about his future career,” believing it to be “irreparably damaged,” the documents state.
He also worries about the effects these accusations have had on the social lives of his wife and children.
Justice Michael Wigney said the matter is expected to go to trial in December, according to Deadline.
During the months since exposés accusing Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein of decades of sexual assault and abuse appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker, dozens of men in Hollywood, politics, law and journalism have been accused of sexual misconduct. Some have denied such claims, but not many have taken legal action — making Rush’s lawsuit is something of an outlier.
Australia recently had another high-profile defamation case: A judge awarded actress Rebel Wilson a record 4.56 million Australian dollars (US$3.5 million) in damages due to articles published by Bauer Media that called her “a serial liar” who had “fabricated almost every aspect of her life,” according to the ruling. The actress said these articles cost her film roles.