SYDNEY — A star of the prison comedy drama “Orange Is the New Black” said she was the victim of sustained sexual interest from actor Geoffrey Rush, culminating in the Academy Award winner exposing himself to the much younger actress and peering at her while she showered.
Yael Stone, an Australian actress who plays inmate Lorna Morello in the Netflix hit, told a television interviewer that she played along with his flirtation and sexual banter during a Sydney theatrical production in 2010 and 2011 because she was terrified of upsetting such a powerful figure of the acting world.
Rush, 59 at the time, was a star of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Stone was an unknown 25-year-old. While both were starring in a play in Sydney about a clerk under the Russian czars, Stone said Rush would text her into the night, sharing a playful but increasingly sexual banter that made her feel deeply uncomfortable.
“I didn’t know how to stop the texts,” the actress told the Australian Broadcasting Corp., according to an article on its website. “. . . I was enthusiastically trying to keep up with this banter.”
Rush, who won an Academy Award for best actor in the 1996 film “Shine,” denied harassing Stone but has offered an apology.
“The allegations of inappropriate behaviour made by Yael Stone are incorrect and in some instances have been taken completely out of context,” he said in a written statement to the ABC.
Stone’s accusations demonstrate how the #MeToo movement continues to reverberate through industries around the world. They also repeat a theme common to entertainment — powerful older men allegedly taking advantage of young women who feel they have no one to turn to for help.
Even when Rush surreptitiously watched Stone bathing, she took no formal action to stop his behavior, she told the broadcaster, because she feared for her career and the damage to the play.
“I looked up and saw a small shaving mirror being held over the top of the cubicle, to be used in a way to look down at my naked body,” she said. “I believe it was made in the spirit of a joke. The fact is it made me incredibly uncomfortable. I think I dealt with it by words to the effect of, ‘Bugger off, Geoffrey.’ ”
In another incident, Stone said Rush entered a dressing room used by the cast, not wearing clothes.
“He came in from the shower holding his towel and he was naked and he danced around in front of me with his penis out,” she said.
Rush is suing a tabloid newspaper in Sydney for accusing him of engaging in similar harassment of another young actress in a production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” The paper had dubbed him “King Leer” and is facing a hefty compensation bill under Australia’s tough defamation laws. The case has not yet been decided.
“I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress,” Rush said in a statement. “. . . As I have said in the past, I abhor any behaviour that might be considered as harassment or intimidation to anyone.”
Stone’s allegations, which were also reported in the New York Times, will probably place great pressure on the Australian theater establishment, which largely closed ranks behind Rush after the first allegations surfaced a year ago.
A federal court was told last month by a 34-year-old actress, Eryn Jean Norvill, that Rush groped her breast onstage after a period of sustained sexual attention, including late-night texts. She told the court that predatory behavior was common in the industry. After the production ended, Norvill informally complained to the theater company, which did not take any action against Rush.
“I believe people knew about it but they didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say,” Norvill told the court last month.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper sought to include a last-minute affidavit from Stone in its defense against Rush’s lawsuit last month. A federal judge refused to accept the evidence, on the basis it had been provided too late.
“It would lead to a separate trial of what are very old allegations,” said the judge, Michael Wigney.
Stone and Norvill share the same attorney in the defamation case. It is unclear whether the judge will allow Stone to testify in the case now that her allegations have been made public.
In her television interview, Stone said she was speaking out to help change behavior in the entertainment industry, which has seen several leading figures over the past year face allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
“Certain behavior has been allowed, if not encouraged along the way, and suddenly, a lot of people have stood up and said, ‘No, actually. No,’ ” Stone said.
In addition to the Oscar, Rush has received numerous other nominations, most recently for best supporting actor for portraying the man who taught Colin Firth’s King George VI public speaking in the 2010 film “The King’s Speech.”