The text Geoffrey Rush sent to a female actor that's started a fierce debate in court.

With AAP. 

Appearing in the Federal Court of Australia this week, actor Geoffrey Rush has become the first person in the post #MeToo world to sue a publisher for defamation over allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

In late 2017, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, The Daily Telegraph published a photo of Rush on its front page, beside the headline, ‘King Leer’. The article claimed that during the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016, the 67-year-old acted inappropriately towards another actor.

Rush is now taking The Daily Telegraph’s publisher, Nationwide News, and journalist Jonathon Moran, to trial for defamation, arguing the newspaper made him out to be a pervert and sexual predator.

In court on Tuesday, Rush was questioned about a lengthy message he sent fellow actor Eryn Jean Norvill in June 2016. Part of the message read, “Apologies for missing your opening last night (I sent a scrappy hasty message through Mrs Nevin) … but I was thinking of you (as I do more than is socially appropriate…)”

The comment was followed by an emoji with its tongue out, which Rush said was intended to be “whimsy”.

The emoji Rush used in his text to Norvill.
The emoji Rush used in his text to Norvill.

The Oscar winner denied suggestions by barrister Tom Blackburn SC that he was putting out an invitation to Norvill and intended to tell her he was attracted to her.

"It's a throwaway line. It's actually a joke, I would say modestly, in the style of Groucho Marx," Rush said.

Nationwide News and Moran are pleading a defence of truth and Norvill - who didn't speak with Moran for the articles - has agreed to give evidence.

Under cross-examination on Wednesday, Rush said it was possible he told Norvill she looked "yummy" during rehearsals for the production.

"Yummy has a spirit to it because we are about to go into - most of our scenes together are going to be very dramatic and harrowing, this is a good start," Rush said in response to questions by defence barrister Tom Blackburn SC.

He said he was pretty aware of "moodscapes" within a group and there was "not a hint" that Norvill had a complaint during rehearsals.

"I never detected that I ... was making her uncomfortable or that I was ruffling feathers," he said.

Rush was asked during cross-examination why he'd nominated Norvill as the possible source of a complaint to the STC in a conversation before the Telegraph's articles were published.

He denied he did it because he was conscious of causing her discomfort - saying it was the result of speculation by him and his wife about where a complaint could have come from.