Mark Leonard Winter said he saw the star actor cup Norvill’s breast for about five seconds during an early performance of a scene where her character had died, the Federal Court in Sydney on Thursday heard.
The 35-year-old actor was in the witness box as Rush, 67, sues Daily Telegraph publisher Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran.
The Telegraph last year published articles about an allegation the Oscar winner behaved inappropriately toward a co-star, later revealed to be Norvill, during a production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016.
Rush strongly denies the claims against him and argues the newspaper portrayed him as a pervert and sexual predator.
Nationwide News is pleading a defence of truth after Norvill – who didn’t speak with the journalist for articles – agreed in July to give evidence.
Winter, who played Edgar in the production, said today he had a vague recollection of Rush doing a Three Stooges-like bit over Norvill and making a “jokey gesture … a boob-squeezing gesture” during rehearsal.
“I know that people laughed … I was talking to somebody at the time so I sort of tuned in late,” he said.
Winter also told the court that during a performance early in the show’s run he saw “Geoffrey’s hand cupping around the bottom of EJ’s breast, which was something that I hadn’t seen before on stage”.
The touch was long enough for Winter to have “a series of thoughts” and he estimated it would have lasted about five seconds, he said.
Winter said he recalled Rush cupped Norvill’s left breast with his right hand. Norvill in her evidence earlier this week said she’d been touched on her right breast.
When Rush’s lawyer, Bruce McClintock SC, put it to Winter that audience members must have seen the alleged breast cupping, Winter said: “I can’t speak for the audience, I can only speak for myself.”
He agreed he was friends with Norvill and he’d spoken with her lawyers in preparing his outline of evidence.
He also agreed he’d told Rush’s solicitor that the Oscar winner had led the company well and taken on his role with great enthusiasm.
“I would say he was an exemplary company leader,” Winter said.
When asked if he had sufficient respect for Rush, Winter said: “Of course.”
“I mean, there’s also a tendency in this to paint people as black and white … people aren’t just black and white, and Geoffrey Rush is a respected figure and a friend,” he said.
The judge-alone trial continues.
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