Geoffrey Rush rocketed to success in 1996 with his brilliant Oscar award winning performance as Pianist David Helfgott in the critically acclaimed film Shine. Since then he has had an amazing string of performances acting with Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp and a little clown fish called Nemo.
Geoffrey Rush is of a rare breed of actor who has the ability to physically embody his characters. and much like greats Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers (who ironically he will be portraying in an upcoming film) Rush is a member of that rare class of actors 'the man with a thousand faces'. We had the opportunity to talk to Geoffrey Rush just as the Finding Nemo DVD was hitting stores and just a month before the Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl hit DVD.
No, not at all.
I'm just about to launch next week a big photographic expedition in Canberra (which is equivalent of Washington) at the national gallery called "Australians in Hollywood". It will follow Australians in film from the silent era, right to through 2003. It will also Highlight those people from Australia who worked in American film industry.
You can tell when you look at our film history that it has a very interesting series of ups and downs. We had a very prolific film industry in the silent and early talkies period. Unfortunately we sort of lost out to the more powerful global distribution from the American studio system in the 30s and 40s. We really didn't have an active film industry for about 40 years until, if you can remember back in the 70s film makers like Peter Weir and Julian Armstrong, and Fred Schepisi and Bruce Barrister who emerged. So during my childhood I never ever dreamed that you could made a big Hollywood film in Australia. We had a couple of notable international stars at the time like Rod Taylor and before that Errol Flynn, but it wasn't as active as it seems to be now.
So was it an interesting experience doing the voice work in Finding Nemo for a character who spoke with your native Australian accent?
Yes it was, it was really one big part of the draw. Pixar was really the main thing because my kids are 10 and 8 and so they've had the real joy in the last 6 or 7 years of experiencing what I would call the golden age of animation and Pixar is very much of the forefront of that. Every film they've developed is a winner. Like every Beatles album when I was a child got better and better, you know what I mean?
So when the possibility of being in a Pixar film came up and it was for me to portray a Sidney Harbor pelican it was a pretty good match to what I wanted to do.
You are usually such a physical actor, most of the roles I think of you in are marked by real physical manifestation of the charter. How is it for you to work in an environment where your physical was masked and all you had was your voice?
Well you know , they encouraged you to embody the character. You sort of find the vocal dynamic by playing it out. Relatively physically, even though you are limited by the range of the microphone. Then they video you while your doing it. It was really quite strange, because when my kids saw the film here they're looking at this large beak pelican going "dad that looks just like you".
They do very cleverly play on some of your distinctive features, and then sort of incorporate them into the nature of the animal. If I am doing a reading, I tend to flap my arms around a bit, and they've seen to incorporated that and turn my long fingers into a little feathery type of shape. So the animators are very sort of cruel but creative.
You're known for working with very notable actors, how were you able to pull the same kind of performance being off in a recording studio not having that kind of interaction ?
Andrew Stanton the Director has a great sense. Because Pixar refines and keep honing the storyboard over a very long period of time, they are like puppeteers with the computer. They know how to time rhythmically all the options of they want. The great gift they have is that they made all of it look, as though it's being made up on the spur of the moment. I was up in L.A a couple weeks ago for the Hollywood film awards, and Ellen Degeneres was telling us that she and Albert brooks didn't meet on this film until the premier.
They didn't do any of their stuff together. That is a great credit because it sounds like they're ad libbing the most extraordinary riffs of dialogue which they may well have done. Its really quite an art to create that level of heightened animated seemingly spontaneous performance, out of something that is actually meticulously rhythmical and technical.
Quite dazzling to look at. I've probably ended up doing three sessions over a period of nine months. So you do eventually go in and do pick ups on some of lines with the visuals. But when I first did it, they only had character sketches and rough, roughs.
Was this an experience you would do again?
No. This was a bit of a novelty. I've done one other animated film here called, The Magic Pudding, which is based on an old classic Australian kids book from the 1920s. But you know it's not my greatest strength. Some people, particularly people who do a lot of voice over work for commercials have this extraordinary ability to just create characters - they know the expressive range of their voice. That's not particularly how I approach performance I tend to get into things fairly physically, and I like working with the other actors. There is something about being apprentice to this 21st century puppetry. Just a new skill you'd have to acquire.
Speaking about other actors. I have to ask, because it's such a distinct performance in Pirates of the Caribbean. In the first scene you had with Johnny Depp, when he first opened his mouth and that unique performance came out of him, how did you react?
It was very strange. There was that long speech in my cabin where I tell Keira Knightly's character Elizabeth, when I am dining with her, and all of the stuff is rolling on the table, I tell her the whole history of the curse. That was the first 2 days of shooting, and then the 3rd day was Johnny's first scene, which is a scene he and I have in the cabin where we start battering about ownership of the boat and how he says "what you will do, is I will put you off on an island and you can yell out the nature of the curse to me while I sail away". And then I go "No. No. No…." Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio as writers gave us this wonderful kind of playful, very mildly dialogue driven scene. Where the 2 characters are playing, mental chess with each other in a very kind of whimsical way. So it seems quite natural, I thought "oh yes of course" Johnny's obviously going to spin it in that kind of direction. He kept doing things in that scene. He knew that Barbossa had a love of apples, and wanted to taste one so he kept fiddling with the fruit just to be annoying. I got the feeling he was going to walk this very subversive line all the way through the movie. Absolutely relaxed as if he was really touched by the sun, and maybe constantly a bit sort of tickled.
It was absolutely jaw dropping and I could only imagine what it would of been like to been another actor.
I loved it because it was highly original. This film was unashamedly ear marked to be a summer popcorn blockbuster movie, and it was really great to see a great screen actor like Johnny create a highly original and very imaginative character. Because we tend to associate those kinds of franchises with the explosions or the special effects not the acting.
Were you surprised at the popularity of the film? It seemed to just break out this summer.
Well yes, I think we were all hoping it was going to be popular and entertaining but it did kind of take on the slightly phenomenal edge, I suppose. The market figures will tell us that.
I don't know if you've heard of this or not. In the states there's this now this Pirates of the Caribbean interactive experience going on. But there are people who are doing rocky horror like shouting at the screen at certain lines. Bringing apples to munch on to theaters.
I hadn't heard that (laughs).
It's possible that this movie is moving into another kind of very "cult" realm that has even further life to it.
That's interesting. I did check out a website somebody told me a Barbossa fan site where these kids were posting "did you like this bit" or "would you do this for me" and then they'll write back "I'm disinclined to acquiesce to your request". This might be their first foray, into the playfulness and the elaboration that you can get through language, you know. Rather than it just being a functional tool being something you can toy with which would be fantastic.
You've had such a fantastic run working with some of the most notable directors and actors out there. Are there any directors or actors you'd really like to work with?
I never really have a kind of specific wish list, because it doesn't seem to work like that. You know? What I do now is I keep a book in which I write down all the things that I don't do. Because I think that kind of highlights something about the ones that I do, do.
I can sit and read a screenplay and have a clear sense that I'd like to work on a particular project or work with a particular person. It was like that for me when I met Philip Kaufman for lunch for the first time ever, and all I've done was read the screenplay (for Quill). It was similar with John Boorman (for Tailor of Panama). You find out in the course of that first meeting, exactly why you want to work with this person. Then you make that decision, and then 10 or 12 other possibilities or 2 or 1 other possibilities drop by the wayside because they don't sort of match that level of potential that you see.
Working with Kaufman and Boorman was a great little period for me where I always said I was working with the tribal elders. For me as an actor they took me somewhere very important in my development.
Do you think that you and Scott Hicks will ever get back together on a project?
There was talk about doing something here on Australian television, like a major 3 part series. But I don't know if that's going to happen now. It's very rare that I work with the same director again in another film. One of the only acceptions has been Peter Duncan an Australian direction I did both Children of the Revolution and the film A Little Bit of Soul with him. Where as in the theater I have a director that I've worked with very regularly over 20 years. But it tends to not happen so frequently, unless of course there is a pirate scene.
What are you working on now a days?
At the moment I did a film for HBO. The Life of Death of Peter Sellers, and I believe that will come out sometime in the spring. They haven't defined that yet.
And you are Peter Sellers?
That must have been an incredible role.
It was the ride of my life. It was extraordinary, because it covers all of his life. All kind of curious elements of it. The ups and the down sides of his celebrity.. And curious personality.. And marriages. It was a wonderful thing to do.
Any word yet on Pirates of The Caribbean 2?
Yes, there is talk of that. But no ones said anything definite.
- Geoffrey Kleinman
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