Geoffrey Rush, who has played Captain Jack Sparrow's nemesis -- the irascible swashbuckler Barbossa – in all four "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies (including the latest, "On Stranger Tides"), was an Australian stage actor who was elevated to A-list status when he won an Oscar, Golden Globe every other award imaginable for 1996's "Shine."
The accolades haven't stopped for Rush. He's been O-nommed since for "Shakespeare in Love," "Quills" and most recently for his role as an eccentric speech therapist opposite Colin Firth's royal in "The King's Speech." He's also had big fun in films such as "Mystery Men" and "Finding Nemo," and he'll be the voice of that scaly green fish-faced alien scientist Tomar-Re in the upcoming "Green Lantern."
Rush talks with NextMovie about Barbossa's "marriage" to Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack and the truth about his "Pirates" pension plan.
You've described Barbossa's relationship to Jack Sparrow as being like a marriage. Can you explain that?
There are so many extraordinary plot lines in all these four films. We've gone off the edge of the world. There was the East Indian Trading Company. There's swashbuckling, curses, zombies and mermaids. But fundamentally, it all goes back to the first film, when Barbossa was the first mate on the Black Pearl and basically he shamelessly stole it from Jack. That has emerged as one of Jack's key obsessions. He gets caught up in many other crises but getting the Pearl back is crucial to him. Someone asks him why and he said "Because the Pearl to me means freedom."
It's a beautiful image… and it's a perfectly philosophical metaphor in each of the films. There has always been some aspect of that argument that comes into play. In this film, Johnny and I talked about, just as imaginative exercise, let's think of the Black Pearl as a shared girlfriend. And our relationship has become like a longtime marriage, a thorn in your side. Circumstances force Barbossa and Jack together and I think that's good. They are oil and vinegar and to try to ram that into a tasty dressing is bound to produce the most interesting results.
How has Barbossa changed in this film?
He's betrayed the pirate brotherhood and crossed the line and is now working as a privateer for King George II. Barbossa is a survivor. He realizes that he's getting a bit long in the tooth and he's lost a limb so it's a pretty good retirement plan he's gotten himself into. He's always had delusions of grandeur. Even his original pirate costume had the sense of a very courtly gentleman from a bygone era, a look that he feels best expresses him. Now he's wearing a royal Navy uniform and working for the king and is in charge of his own royal vessel. This is where he thinks he deserves to be. But when those white gloves come off, he's still got manky nails and terribly cut hands and the teeth need work, even though he's all powdered up and has a bit of a beauty spot.
Director Rob Marshall says he was awed by your sword-fighting. Does that come naturally to you?
I'm not a natural swordsman. But it's part of the job description. It's no good playing Hamlet if you don't pull off a good sword fight at the end. I trained with Bob Anderson, who was in his 80s and had worked with Errol Flynn and trained Olympic fencers. He did the sword fights in "The Princess Bride," which has some of the best sword fights... He also played Darth Vader. He told me that if Barbossa survived to be in his 50s, he would be the dirtiest fighter in the world. He said, "Forget the classic moves. You are going to throw dirt in people's faces, hit them over the head with barrels. You're going to hack at them."
How was it having all these new actors onboard?
It was brilliant having Penelope Cruz, who had worked with Johnny before on "Blow," come onto the film. We needed new blood. No one wanted "Pirates" to be like a sausage factor, repeating the same thing with the same actors. And the writer keeps coming up with new strong story lines with nice familiarities that the audience enjoys. They are always pushing it to the edges to make it new.
Has the "Pirates" franchise given you personal and professional freedom?
There is a degree of truth in that. I naturally gravitate to the terrain of more independent films or what they used to call the mini-majors. And I haven't really done that many big studio films, "Mystery Men," "Munich" and "Pirates." The continuity of the "Pirates" work does mean that I can do a lot of more theatre for $900 a week, for a company in Sydney that I have worked with for the last 25 years. I was able to do Gogol’s "Diary of a Mad Man" in Sydney because I basically have a pension plan.