Geoffrey Rush and his accuser both say there are no winners after a judge found a Sydney newspaper defamed the Oscar-winning actor in articles which made him out to be a pervert and a sexual predator.
Justice Michael Wigney on Thursday said the publisher of the Daily Telegraph and journalist Jonathon Moran were reckless regarding the truth of their story when they reported Rush had been accused of inappropriate behaviour in 2017.
Justice Wigney found a poster and two articles contained several defamatory meanings - including that Rush was a pervert and a sexual predator - but the news organisation didn't prove they were substantially true.
"This was ... a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind - the very worst kind," the judge said.
The Telegraph and Moran had largely relied on the evidence of actor Eryn Jean Norvill during a Federal Court defamation trial last year.
She alleged Rush sexually harassed her during a Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear in 2015-16, during which she played the daughter of his titular character.
But Justice Wigney on Thursday said Norvill was at times "prone to exaggeration and embellishment" and he wasn't persuaded she was entirely credible.
He awarded Rush $850,000 for general and aggravated damages and set down a hearing in May to consider special damages. They could run to many millions of dollars.
Outside court, Rush said there were no winners in the case and it had been "extremely distressing for everyone involved".
Norvill stood by her testimony, stating: "I told the truth. I know what happened. I was there."
She echoed Rush's comment that there were no winners and called for "genuine, cultural change in our professions and industries".
"It has to be possible for a young woman working in theatre, who feels unsafe in her workplace, to get that situation fixed," Norvill told reporters.
"I will be spending a lot of my time on that issue from here on in and I am very much looking forward to getting back to my acting too."
Norvill had testified that Rush deliberately stroked the side of her breast during a preview performance when her character was dead onstage.
He also stroked Norvill's lower back backstage, made groping gestures and sexual innuendo toward her during rehearsals and told her in a text message after the production that he thought about her "more than is socially appropriate", she said.
Justice Wigney said he was conscious of the fact she wasn't "a party to this proceeding, had no vested interest in it and had essentially been dragged into the spotlight".
But he said her evidence about some of Rush's behaviour appeared inconsistent with an earlier account she gave to a theatre company staffer and interviews she gave to journalists.
It also appeared to be at odds with her testimony about her "friendship with or attitude towards Mr Rush during the production of King Lear", the judge said.
He said the first of the Telegraph's articles in November 2017 was "published in an extravagant, excessive and sensationalist manner".
It included a promotional photograph of Rush as the "deranged" Lear above the headline "KING LEER".
Justice Wigney said articles the following day were, in some respects, worse.
Telegraph editor Ben English said the newspaper was disappointed with the judge's findings and his dismissal of Norvill's evidence.
"We disagree with his criticisms of her and she has our full support," Mr English said in a statement.
"We will now review the judgment."
Australian Associated Press