Theatre director Neil Armfield has told a Sydney court he cannot recall telling Geoffrey Rush a scene with a female cast member during a production of King Lear was becoming “creepy”.
Mr Armfield has been called as a witness in Mr Rush’s defamation case against The Daily Telegraph over stories published in 2017.
The director told the Federal Court Mr Rush is one of the greatest actors in the world and he knew that if he cast him in King Lear, the actor would produce something amazing.
The actor is suing for articles suggesting he behaved inappropriately towards a younger colleague, later revealed to be Eryn Jean Norvill, during the production for the Sydney Theatre Company in 2015-16.
Mr Rush was in the lead role and Ms Norvill was playing the king’s daughter Cordelia.
When asked by the newspaper’s barrister Tom Blackburn SC if he told Mr Rush — in front of the cast after a preview — that the way he was touching Ms Norvill on stage was becoming “creepy” and unclear, Neil Armfield replied: “I have no memory of that.”
“Did you say that he should make the touching of her body more paternal?” Mr Blackburn asked.
“I don’t remember saying that,” Mr Armfield replied.
‘I never saw any gratuitous action’, director says
Mr Armfield said he watched the previews of the show like a hawk, and in a scene where King Lear picks up Cordelia’s body he had directed Mr Rush to hold Ms Norvill’s torso near his face.
“To ask someone to pick up someone’s torso and hold it against his head as I asked Geoffrey to do … would be impossible to do without him touching her breast,” he said.
“I certainly never saw any gratuitous action outside the action that was necessary for his manipulation of her body in the scene.”
Mr Armfield is one of a string of theatre identities to give evidence about Mr Rush at the trial today.
Producer and director Robin Kershaw told the court she has worked with Mr Rush on many shows, including the ABC’s Kath and Kim, and described him as a great collaborator.
“He has achieved what many actors dream of,” she said.