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’.
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
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
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