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Geoffrey Rush is Academy-acclaimed material as an actor; but no actor currently working at the top of the cinematic tree can boast such an ongoing, high octane relationship with theatre, says Andrew L. Urban.

He has a wife and two small children in Melbourne, but as the 2001 Oscar nomination for his role in Quills as the Marquis de Sade was announced, Geoffrey Rush was playing a five year old on stage, in Small Poppies. This is an apt juxtaposition, for Rush began his acting career on the stage, and grew to professional maturity and international fame in film. It also demonstrates his extraordinary range as an actor, a factor Hollywood has well and truly ‘got’.

"symbolic validation"

In Quills, Mrs Rush plays Mrs de Sade; for Rush and Jane Menelaus, this is a symbolic validation of their professional and personal relationship – and a rare pleasure for acting couples.

The essence of Rush’s talent comes from a self confidence that translates as authority, and the attendant ability to swap stillness for energy at whim. This sense of authority – as a person, not as a power – is evident in the flesh. I first met Rush in person at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998; he had flown in from Prague, where he was filming Les Miserables with Liam Neeson and director Bille August. It was a flying visit to take advantage of the world’s film media gathered in one spot to get some early interest in the film via Rush. He was still steaming hot from the Oscar winning role of David Helfgott in Shine.

"relaxed good humour"

He handled the chaos of Cannes with a relaxed good humour that would have done a seasoned star proud and managed to speak intelligently in a series of back to back interviews that are a challenge to patience and sanity. There was the Irish Times followed by the Nederlander and the Hamburg Gazette, Le Monde followed by The Financial Times, Brazil’s Il Globo followed by Italy’s Corriere della Sera…you get the picture.

Rush, seated at a table in one of the Majestic’s function rooms looking across the elaborate drive up to the hotel entrance towards the poolside café and bar, had about him the air of a literary giant. I don’t know why I thought that – except perhaps a combination of his languid body language and a smoking cigarette dangling from his fingers as his arm rested on the table.

"edgiest aspect of his persona"

Of course, it is also possible that he felt entirely at home there, partly because he is an avid Europhile and partly because success tends to soothe the ego. But also, perhaps, because Cannes is the altar of cinema. (Okay, the film market adjacent to the film festival is also the equivalent of the money changers in the temple….)

If you see Rush in Quills and it reminds you of his great stage roles, you won’t be alone. Just as the role of Helfgott offered him an opportunity to maximise the edgiest aspect of his persona, the Marquis de Sade allows him to give rein to the theatrically tailored character that is this semi-fictional de Sade. No actor currently working at the top of the cinematic tree can boast such an ongoing high octane relationship with theatre as can Rush.

And the irony is that while a self-confessed Europhile, Rush also admits to having absorbed "a hell of a lot of Americana. There’s a certain lineage in American acting that goes back to John Garfield, a raw emotional truth, a grand tradition of actors that I always love." He’s talking Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, De Niro and Pacino. "They construct that kind of unpredictability and nuance of character in the jigsaw puzzle of making a movie. I was always in awe of that – particularly when working in the theatre…."

Published March 15, 2001

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"My analogy is, if you dare to take on the role of Hamlet—no matter how good your voice is, or how good your stamina—if you don’t pull off a flashy sword fight at the end, you’re fucked." Geoffrey Rush

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Including Oscars Trivia, the full list of nominees and more!

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Frida Kahlo (2001)
Lantana (2001)
The Tailor of Panama (2001)
The Magic Pudding (2000)
Quills (2000)
House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Mystery Men (1999)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Elizabeth (1998)
Les Misérables (1998)
Little Bit of Soul, A (1998)
Oscar and Lucinda (1997)
Call Me Sal (1996)
Children of the Revolution (1996)
Shine (1996)
Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (1995)
Twelfth Night (1987)
Starstruck (1982)
Hoodwink (1981)

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