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From Lady Gaga to David Frost, Geoffrey Rush plays musical TV show couches around the world as he junkets with media to promote Pirates of the Caribbean 4, in which he reprises his role as the one legged Barbossa – the wooden leg being a great aid, he tells Andrew L. Urban. 

In the past two weeks or so, Geoffrey Rush has shared a couch with Lady Gaga on the BBC’s Graham Norton Show, had a 30 minute interview with legendary interviewer David Frost for Al Jazeera’s English language show in Europe and made an appearance on the savagely satirical The Colbert Report on Comedy Central in the US.

To do that (and more) Rush had to fly from Melbourne to Los Angeles to London to New York to Cannes and now finally to Sydney, promoting Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Sitting on the 24th floor of a Sydney hotel a few hours before the film’s Sydney red carpet premiere, Rush is relaxed in smart black zippered top, looking like his screen character’s much younger, handsomer and wealthier brother.

"a pirate chameleon"

But he loves his pirate persona now, after making four films in which his creation, Hector Barbossa, has gradually evolved from a plain brute to a strategically thinking and self serving schemer. “Barbossa is a survivor,” he says, “he’s a pirate chameleon and shifts to whatever will bring him advantage.”

In this latest adventure, that shift is to accept work from George II of England as a kind of mercenary fortune hunter. “I also relish having a wooden leg,” says Rush, “because I approach my characters from the physical point of view – that’s my acting heritage. So having a wooden leg, even when it’s not in shot, gives me something specific to work with. Especially,” he adds, “when standing on the poop deck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge as it sways wildly.” 

The film’s sword fight choreographer Bill Anderson (who had choreographed the legendary Errol Flynn in his day) was enthusiastic about using the wooden leg in Barbossa’s sword fight with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). “He said he was going to give me something extra for this fight… and he pointed to the wooden leg. You can pivot a full 360 degrees on that,” Rush recalls with a little laugh.

“When we started work, Bill asked how old I was and I said early 50s; he said for a pirate to have survived to that age meant he was a tough guy, a mean fighter. That’s what we’ll show…”

Yet it wasn’t the wooden leg that made the transformation complete for Rush. “You know, after spending all these years together with hair and make up teams, we’ve got it down from over three hours to just two hours to get my make up and hair done. But it’s when I stand in front of the full length mirror and put on Barbossa’s hat that I can see him come alive. To me the hat is like his big, crazy brain!”

"Working with Johnny Depp is now seamless"

Working with Johnny Depp is now seamless, he says. They work on lines of dialogue together and bounce off each other. But Penelope Cruz is new to the Pirates films, and Rush couldn’t be happier. “Look, she’s capable of such an extraordinary range… look at her roles in Pedro Almodovar’s films, all the way to Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and now this.”

Although they didn’t really share any scenes, Rush says he was delighted that she was on board, as it were. “Her presence lifted everybody’s game.” (Cruz had got so obviously pregnant by the end of the shoot, says Rush, her sister was standing in as body double for the long shots.)

Rush also developed “a very special rapport with (director) Rob Marshall. He comes from a musical and stage background and his sense of the tempo is terribly good. But he also knows how to make a fragile love story work, like the one with the mermaid in the film.”

"a self rewarding period"

Although Rush had planned for a three week break after shooting Pirates 4, the production ran over and he had to go straight from the set to rehearse Diary of a Madman at Belvoir St in Sydney. But he’s not complaining. “It’s been a self rewarding period for me, doing a Gogol play in Sydney and New York, sandwiched between The King’s Speech and Pirates …”

First Published in the Sun-Herald

Published May 22, 2011

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Geoffrey Rush...as Barbossa


Geoffrey Rush

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