Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush is back on our screens as that dead again pirate Barbossa in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean adventure. Rush relishes his role biut continues to venture back and forth between the blockbusters and simpler fare such as the Australian film Candy, and the stage. Rush will also be seen later his year in another highly anticipated sequel, The Golden Age, opposite Cate Blanchett. In this exclusive interview, Rush talks pirates and the like with Paul Fischer.
Question: So the last time we spoke you were about to shoot the first Pirates film and I remember you commenting at the time that you were about to discover your inner pirate.
Rush: (laughs) And I actually ended up discovering my OUTER pirate.
Question: How has that journey been?
Rush: Amazing. It’s been really extraordinary, because I think at the end of the first film I was confronting the challenge of being offered Peter Sellers and I had turned it down because I just went ‘I can’t play him’, you know, this is too hard – too iconic and all that sort of stuff. And then I started on the pirate movie and I realised it wasn’t rocket science. Because relatively, the psychological nuances of playing Barbossa are not the key. That’s not the way in. The way in is through owning a galleon and being in charge of 120 pirates and thinking, ‘Why am I still in charge?’ Why hasn’t someone murdered me in my bed at night?’ ‘Oh, he must be a killer swordsman’. And so you start to put together, ‘Why is he yearning for this apple?’ He grew up inside a country for god’s sake and he’s remembering his childhood and when life was beautiful and now he’s got this curse, so you’re dealing with a kind of storybook archetype. But then the more we did the films and as the writers, not wanting to repeat for parts 2 and 3 but to invent new scenarios and new territory, taking it into the realms of mythology, going off the edge of the world, off the edge of the map, you know, sea monsters, gods, goddesses. Wagnerian. By the time they’d written Barbossa for part 3 I went ‘They’ve given me heaps new interesting stuff and very dialogue driven’. Despite the big required set pieces for this kind of summer release movie …
Question: A lot of humour too I think.
Rush: Yeah, well I think that’s the trump card we’ve got up our sleeve. That other trilogies happen. And that appeals to the Shakespearean actor in me because that’s what he always did, Even in Othello there’s a clown, Lear has a fool and it’s kind of fun for the audience to have those moments of release where it’s playful or it’s smart or it’s witty or its clever.
Question: How important is it for you to drift from a big enterprise such as this to a Candy or theatre?
Rush: It’s a good way to do it I think. I don’t think I’m the kind of actor that would like to bounce from one summer blockbuster to the next but hey – having said that, if the right offer came along and you thought this meets the interesting criteria that makes it either an interesting or a challenging or a fun project to do, I will break that rule like that. But normally it’s much more interesting. I mean I actually shot Candy in between trips to the Caribbean because I knew that while I was shooting II I had some nice little blocks of time. And similarly with Munich later that year – I’d be commuting to the Caribbean and I’d come home and I’d have a month and Spielberg would say ‘Well can you shoot between this date and this date’ and I said ‘Well, as long as that’s not going to spread, yeah we can do it’ and ‘Welcome to Budapest’, ‘Welcome to Malta’, you know. It was a very, very global year. I lived in a state of jetlag for about eleven months.
Question: And no perennial confusion about who you were playing or what …?
Rush: No, well that’s an interesting thing because they’re just different environments, mental environments, geographical environments, different teams, different kind of costume designers, different looks, different makeup, you’re experimenting with other hitherto unexplored imaginative lives that you don’t know if you have or have not got them inside your actorial resources.
Question: Jerry told me that he doesn’t foresee that there will be any more Pirates movies but, he’s saying this now, you know …
Rush: Well to be honest, the writers have explored with such intensity the full scope of the pirate lore, , from swashbuckling to mythological. I mean it’s all there in these eight hours of Pirates of the Caribbean but that’s not to say that imaginatively, and it would have to be that, there would have to be something that really appealed to everybody I think. Audiences in particular. I don’t think anyone is interested on this film, from Johnny to Jerry or whatever, in creating a mould and just churning out more product, which I hope shows in these three films. I think they deserve to be called a trilogy. I liken them to Dickens who would write month by month, chapter by chapter and then when he finally felt he had exhausted the book, god knows when he started Martin Chuzzlewit whether he knew what was going to happen at the end. He’d get reader feedback and think ‘Oh they like these bits, I’ll turn more of that’.
Question: Tell me about Golden Age. It’s unusual to do a sequel to an historical film and there was a lot of criticism I think when the first one …
Rush: Well see I got all that in because I didn’t do the junket for Pirates II, because I said ‘Guys, I’m just the walking spoiler’. As soon as I turn up they’ll go, ‘Oh you’re back!’ and I’ll go ‘Yeah – oh damn I’ve just ruined the plot’. So that’s why I got to do Golden Age. We were shooting exactly this time last year.
Question: Was it a challenge to revisit that particular character?
Rush: Look, you know, it was fantastic because again, with Shaker and Cate it was meeting up with two people who I enjoy working with and balancing off artistically and creatively in an enormous way and initially, I think it’s on the record, Cate has reservations. She thought ‘Well I’ve played that character and I’m not sure whether I want to repeat it’ and Shaker said ‘You won’t be repeating it. We’re moving into the middle of her reign’ and not only is there the historical anchor points of the holy war between Catholic Spain and Protestant England, it’s going to be about a woman who’s approaching ‘menopause’ as it were, not being able to bear children, she’s dealing with the added pressures of now being a very established figure in the European monarchies, but yearning for just a one on one friendship with somebody that’s away from court like, enter Sir Walter Raleigh. He’s presenting all of the kind of philosophical vistas of the new world. There’s some great stuff in it.
Question: Is it historically reasonably accurate? Because the first one was criticised – they had some problems historically.
Rush: Yeah, look in a two hour movie if you gave people the absolute – sometimes history is boring. forget the true elements of the fundamental conflicts, you know. In this one it is pretty accurate. It’s pretty much based on her life in the 1580s around the Armada, around Mary Queen of Scots.
Question: How much more did you have to do in this?
Rush: Quite a bit. But I more or less said to Cate, ‘Look, you know, this is beautifully written, in fact I think better written than the first film’. It’s a very good screenplay because of those number of fascinating elements. And I said to Cate, ‘Look all we’ve got to do is go in and say the lines. We’re older and Elizabeth and Walsingham are older. Let’s just deliver’. And there is something about that. Because, you know, it’s only a nine year gap for us but it feels enormous because we were both relative international greenhorns at the time. And we’ve now got more filmmaking experience under our belts.
Question: What’s next for you?
Rush: I’ve just done a lesser known Ionesco play called Exit the King in Melbourne and we’re taking that to Sydney for June/July. At the Belvoir theatre which is my stomping ground. And I’m hoping, I’ve got my sights set on some kind of New York debut with it. Don’t know. All up in the air.
Question: Will you go back to Kath & Kim?
Rush: (laughs) That was such an honour to do that. And they’ve now got a guest appearance by Matt Lucas from the Little Britain team in their next series which is about to go to air. Because I think they belong to the same global family, ? Kath & Kim is sort of Little Australia.