Pitch Perfect star suing Woman’s Day over ‘liar’ articles
HOLLYWOOD star Rebel Wilson's film career was destroyed by a grubby media campaign to tear her down, a court has heard.
A series of articles published to coincide with the release of global smash hit Pitch Perfect 2 in May 2015 left the expat Aussie jobless and unable to land a film role.
The Supreme Court heard on Monday a Woman's Day article - titled "Just who is the REAL Rebel?" - was the first of eight over a three-day campaign to paint her as a serial liar who invented stories.
Documents shown to the jury reveal the article's author, Shari Nementzik, and the magazine's editor-in-chief, Fiona Connolly, had expressed concerns about being sued over it.
Days before going to print, Ms Connolly wrote to Ms Nementzik saying: "worried about the legals as we're calling her a liar based on a woman who won't go public."
The court heard the articles alleged Wilson had lied about her age and background, which cost her prestigious roles in hit movies.
Opening her case before an all-female six member jury, Dr Matthew Collins, QC, said the campaign effectively ended Wilson's film career.
He said she was sacked from two films, Trolls and Kung Fu Panda 3, and unable to secure future work.
"Rebel's world collapsed," Dr Collins said. "Rebel knew instantly that the article was serious. It was a crisis. She thought she'd never been hit with such nastiness," he said.
"It should have been the high point of her career. She should have been going from meeting to meeting to discuss future roles. In fact, the phone stopped ringing."
Dr Collins said since the articles were published Wilson had appeared in just one film, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, in a cameo role she was not paid for.
"There's no doubt in her mind why the offers dried up. There could be no other explanation," he said.
Wilson is suing Bauer Media, publisher of Women's Weekly, Woman's Day and OK! magazines, for defamation over the articles.
She did not launch action immediately, but was moved to act after a journalist working for Bauer Media started harassing her grandmother, the court heard.
The court heard the story was written three years after a tip-off from a woman, who claimed to be an ex-classmate of Wilson's, who claimed she had lied about her age and name.
After receiving the tip in 2012, Woman's Day paid the woman $1000 in 2013, but did not run a story on legal advice.
Three days before publishing the article at the centre of the trial, Woman's Day editor-in-chief Fiona Connolly voiced concerns about it.
Dr Collins said in the wake of the articles, Wilson was forced to take sleeping pills, developed a stress disorder and a skin condition.
"(This is) a case about how this publisher refused to let facts get in the way of a good story. Rebel Wilson didn't matter," he said.
Georgina Schoff, QC, for Bauer Media, said the company would rely on four main points of defence, including that the articles were substantially true.
It would also argue the articles were not likely to cause harm to Wilson.
Actor Hugh Sheridan is among a list of witnesses scheduled to give evidence during the trial that is expected to last several weeks.
Wilson will begin testifying on Tuesday, when the trial, before Justice John Dixon, continues.
HOLLYWOOD COMES TO A COURT NEAR YOU
THE judge needn't have worried about the potential bias of at least one of the people cast into the jury pool for Rebel Wilson's defamation case.
Sitting behind the Hollywood actor in the front row of the Supreme Court, the bespectacled man's attention barely shifted from the pages of his crumpled book.
During each pause in proceedings, his reading recommenced, clearly more invested in the work of philosopher Alexander von Humboldt than the famous comedian just metres away.
It had been standing room only when Rebel Wilson walked in.
In a court nearby, staff could have swung a cat as a man faced charges for a grisly murder.
But never mind that.
This was day one of a three-week defamation trial - or 15 days of celebrity theatre depending on which way you looked at it.
Ms Wilson flashed her trademark smile and almost looked the part in this new court drama.
Bauer Media, the publisher of Woman's Day, stands accused of humiliating her in a series of articles in print and online in May, 2015.
Justice John Dixon told the panel of 35 potential jurors, that it was their role to remain impartial.
It was not a concern, he said, if they had previously seen one of Ms Wilson's films, Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids among them.
It was more important to ensure the process of justice was not undermined.
"It is essential that every member of the jury can be completely open-minded,'' he said.
There was a retired illustrator, a teacher, a pricing analyst, graphic designer and church minister among the roll call of jury nominees.
Wilson picked up a pen and jotted down notes as both legal teams made their own assessments.
She even smirked when the judges' associate revealed one of the jury contestants was, indeed, a magazine editor.
He likely stood no chance to serve on this case, but might have been glad not to.
In the end, a panel of six women was picked.
As the court adjourned for lunch, Ms Wilson could be heard commenting to her solicitor about the courage it might have taken the only two jurors who asked to be excused.
"To stand up there like that,'' she said. "It must be terrifying.''