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Arrrr, my beauties, Barbossa is back – with another big fight on his hands, as The Flying Dutchman heads for Singapore and treachery …. But a bit of this seafaring villain was probably born on a Queensland stage 34 years ago, as Barbossa’s creator Geoffrey Rush reveals to Andrew L. Urban.

“My career this year is very nicely positioned,” says Geoffrey Rush in a sublime understatement during a phone conversation from Melbourne. We are talking about his role as the fruity pirate, Barbossa, in the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, setting sail around the world May 24, 2007. Sandwiched between playing the 18th century fictional Barbossa and the 16th century politician Sir Francis Walsingham opposite Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth I in The Golden Age, Rush had a season in Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist Exit the King six hander play in Melbourne. (Playing in Sydney from June 9, 2007 at Belvoir St.)

For those who don’t know, Rush began his acting career with the Queensland Theatre Company and he says he had a flashback to those early days on the set of Pirates, as he stood on the set with “my boots and my hat with kind of King Charles II aspirations … I thought of my first role as the villain Abanaza in the panto, Aladdin, for the QTC at the age of 22 in 1973. I was a young pup with no experience but I think a little bit of Barbossa was born then.”

Rush had a grand time on the film: “There were moments I thought how great it was to be in something so well written for its genre … and in terms of global popularity that is seen by millions of people with a forensic interest in what you’re doing.” Amazing, really, when you consider that until the first Pirates movie in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean was just a fun ride at Disneyland.

In this third film, Rush says that Barbossa’s character “is not really a changed man, but he becomes something of a politician, almost a noble figure representing all pirates.” This final sequel tells the adventures of the ghost ship The Flying Dutchman, navigating its way through treachery, betrayal and wild waters, as it forges its way to exotic Singapore for one final, titanic battle. “It was fun but hard work,” says Rush, “with much of it shot against a green screen, with wind machines, water hoses splashing us and pyrotechnics going off – plus 12 pages of crucial, plot dénouement dialogue!

"an amazing challenge for an actor"

“It’s an amazing challenge for an actor to work on something of that magnitude … after my six hander in Melbourne, where you are pretty much in charge, on this set there were days when we had 700 people for lunch!”

Rush has high praise for director Gore Verbinski, who has directed all three films. “Gore’s very savvy about the technological tools required to make this huge enterprise into a seamless movie. He’s also affable and film literate. His terms of reference are often surprising,” says Rush. He recalls one Sunday during the shoot in the Caribbean when they were not working, Verbinski invited him and a few crew for a screening of the 1953 Wages of Fear.

“They were all pointing to the screen talking about the shots, the lighting, the way it was structured … They relished the fact that Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film was a highly political satire hidden inside an action movie. It was made by a bunch of Marxist filmmakers, but the metaphor was hidden … it was never shoved down your throat...”

At another time, Verbinski referenced a Sam Peckinpah movie to help the actors get the mood: “he comes from a classic screen background and he’s bold with the camera. A very smart filmmaker.”

"flavoursome notes"

Over the three films together, says Rush, “Gore has developed a short-hand style … he’s very good at giving flavoursome notes … he’d say ‘amp up the charm here’ or ‘Barbossa is in a scheming, evil mood, so I want more phlegm, more spit coming out of your mouth’…”

Published May 24, 2007

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Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Australian release: May 24, 2007
Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce, Bill Nighy, Yun-Fat Chow, Tom Hollander, Stellan Skarsgard

Geoffrey Rush

Keith Richards & Geoffrey Rush (WireImage Photo)

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