Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush has pulled out of a stage play in Australia while he sues a Sydney-based tabloid newspaper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, for defamation.
The Australian star is suing the Sydney Daily Telegraph over articles it published in December last year accusing him of inappropriate behaviour towards actress Eryn Jean Norvill during the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of King Lear in 2015.
Rush, who is perhaps best known as Captain Barbossa in the Pirates Of The Caribbean movie franchise, has denied the allegation.
He argues that the articles portray him as a pervert and sexual predator, although details of the alleged behaviour remain vague.
His lawyer Nicholas Pullen told the Australian Federal Court in Sydney in April in an affidavit that Rush had become virtually housebound, barely eats and wakes each morning with a “terrible sense of dread” since the articles were published.
Rush “suffers lack of sleep and anxiety requiring medication” and believes his worth to the entertainment industry “is now irreparably damaged”, his lawyer wrote.
The actor met with the newspaper’s lawyers in a confidential mediation hearing in Sydney last week that suggests the case might soon be settled. The Telegraph is owned by News Corp, which also owns the Sun and Times in the UK under News UK.
Rush was set to appear as Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night alongside actress Christie Whelan Browne playing Olivia.
Melbourne Theatre Company artistic director Brett Sheehy said he received confirmation on Monday of Rush’s withdrawal from the seven-week production that begins on November 12.
Rush cited his current circumstances and medical advice for having to withdraw.
“I do so with the greatest regret. I know that I would not be able to provide the necessary creative spirit and the professional stamina required,” Rush said in the statement received by the artistic director.
Sheehy said the company respected Rush’s decision and the resulting casting decisions would be made “in due course”.
Rush won the 1997 best actor Academy Award for movie Shine and has had three other Oscar nominations for the King’s Speech, Shakespeare in Love and Quills.
His libel claim follows not long after actress Rebel Wilson was awarded 4.56 million Australian dollars after suing Bauer Media for libel damages after magazine articles falsely claimed she had lied about her age, the origins of her first name and her upbringing in Sydney.
The record amount in damages was then slashed following an appeal by the magazine publisher that took the total to A$600,000.
Picture: Reuters/Phil McCarten