Rush in no hurry to re­tire

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES - NEALA JOHN­SON

GE­OF­FREY Rush reck­ons 2013 was “pretty re­mark­able” and “quite rich” as far as his act­ing ca­reer goes. First, he wrapped his run of A Funny Thing Hap­pened on the Way to the Fo­rum at Mel­bourne’s Her Majesty’s The­atre. That, he says, “was a bit of a dream come true to play a clas­sic com­edy role, an unashamed show queen”.

Then he went off to Ger­many to shoot a movie, The Book Thief, at Ber­lin’s his­toric Stu­dio Ba­bels­berg.

“This is where the greats used to work, like Fritz Lang and the young Billy Wilder,” Rush says. “You drive there in the morn­ing and you fi nd your­self on Mar­lene- Di­et­rich- Allee or Quentin- Tarantino- Strasse, be­cause he did In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds there.”

Then there was his “big ex­hi­bi­tion”, The Ex­tra­or­di­nary Shapes of Ge­of­frey Rush, which was on show for al­most fi ve months at the Arts Cen­tre Mel­bourne.

At fi rst, Rush was wor­ried it might be seen as a full stop on his ca­reer. Or worse, a huge self­ind­ul­gence ( at one stage he told the cu­ra­tors it should be called “Me, Me, Me”).

“I didn’t want it to be a eu­logy or a van­ity project,” Rush says.

“It was more my sen­tence in a big­ger story of Aus­tralian the­atre, from how it’s changed when I started in the early 1970s to now.”

While Rush’s sights are now on 2014 – he’ll be­gin this year by shoot­ing myth­i­cal ad­ven­ture Gods of Egypt in Aus­tralia with di­rec­tor Alex Proyas and co- star Ger­ard But­ler – au­di­ences will only see the fruits of Rush’s 2013 trip to Ber­lin this week.

Based on Aus­tralian au­thor Markus Zusak’s best- sell­ing novel, The Book Thief fol­lows an ev­ery­day Ger­man cou­ple, Hans and Rosa ( played by Rush and English ac­tor Emily Wat­son), who open their home to a young girl dur­ing World War II and hide a Jewish refugee un­der their stairs.

It was the or­di­nar­i­ness of Hans that ap­pealed to Rush, who took on the role as a chal­lenge af­ter a string of “char­ac­ters who are fairly bois­ter­ous, fairly flam­boy­ant whether it’s pi­rates or any­thing else out of my crazy reper­toire,” he says.

“Hans was a chance for me to look at a seem­ingly very or­di­nary man, this work­ing- class house­painter in a small, south­ern Ger­man town who, as the script de­vel­ops, re­veals deeper strengths and ca­pa­bil­i­ties, or anx­i­eties and fears be­cause of the rise of the Nazi ide­ol­ogy. It was cho­sen in a very self- chal­leng­ing way, to see how min­i­mal­ist I could be.”

While The King’s Speech touched on the war, The Book Thief marks Rush’s fi rst real World War II movie. But he says it’s dif­fer­ent from what we’ve come to ex­pect of the genre.

“The gift of Markus’s novel was that it gave a dif­fer­ent an­gle, be­cause it has an em­pa­thy for or­di­nary Ger­man peo­ple on the street be­ing cor­roded by this sys­tem. We as the Al­lies, the English- speak­ing world, we tend to re­mem­ber those World War II movies that were com­pletely from our point of view: the enemy were al­ways rather face­less Nazis who smoked their cig­a­rettes hold­ing them up­side down in their hand.”

The thief of the ti­tle is played by So­phie Nelisse, who turned 13 dur­ing the shoot. Rush had seen the young Cana­dian in the art­house hit Mon­sieur Lazhar and thought she was “daz­zling”. He was even more im­pressed when Nelisse came to him at the be­gin­ning of The Book Thief shoot with the idea that she might go a bit “method” and try steal­ing a book.

Rush and Nelisse’s mother tipped off the lo­cal Ber­lin book store be­fore she car­ried out her plan.

Though 49 years sep­a­rate the pair, Rush kept Nelisse laugh­ing be­tween takes with magic tricks and an­noy­ing ques­tions.

“She was train­ing very se­ri­ously to be a gym­nast; her goal was to go to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil,” Rush ex­plains. “I don’t have a sport­ing bone in my body, but I would say to her, ‘ Did you do all that stuff where you fl ip over the bar and you’re not al­lowed to wob­ble?’ She’d roll her eyes.

“I’d say, ‘ Do you also do that stuff where you dance on the mat in some shock­ingly loud leo­tard with cheesy mu­sic and ex­ces­sive eye make- up on?’ Then she’d re­ally roll her eyes.”

Part of the post- war baby boomer gen­er­a­tion, Rush con­nects with The Book Thief’s mus­ings on the power of words.

From Quills to Shakespeare in Love and The King’s Speech, words have cer­tainly played a big part in his fi lm ca­reer.

“Some ac­tors are ter­ri­bly good with a gun; they make an en­tire ca­reer play­ing cops or crim­i­nals or cow­boys or what­ever. When I read a script I do get drawn to men of ideas,” the 62- year- old ad­mits with a laugh. “Even if it’s as per­verse as the Mar­quis de Sade.”

THE BOOK THIEF Now show­ing at the State and Vil­lage cine­mas

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