The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER - JAMES WIGNEY

When Ge­of­frey Rush started work on the first Pi­rates Of The Caribbean movie in 2002, it seemed very long odds in­deed that he’d still be fly­ing the Jolly Roger 15 years later.

For starters, the early word on the big-bud­get Dis­ney pro­duc­tion was not good.

A suc­cess­ful pi­rate-themed film had not been made in decades — and the fact this one was based on a Dis­ney­land tourist at­trac­tion meant the cyn­ics’ cut­lasses were sharp­ened be­fore any­one had seen a sin­gle frame.

“The first film was just called Pi­rates Of the Caribbean and we just thought it was a one-off,” Rush says.

But as the pro­duc­tion went on — and Dis­ney ex­ec­u­tives re­cov­ered from their ini­tial alarm at their lead­ing man Johnny Depp’s wildly off kil­ter Cap­tain Jack Spar­row — it be­came clear that some­thing spe­cial was emerg­ing.

Soon enough, the film’s ti­tle ex­panded to The Pi­rates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, in­di­cat­ing there were po­ten­tially more movies in the off­ing. As it turned out, Pi­rates was a smash hit, mak­ing more than $US650 mil­lion at the box of­fice, earn­ing Depp a Best Ac­tor Oscar nom­i­na­tion and mak­ing se­quels an in­evitabil­ity.

Small prob­lem for Rush (pic­tured) though — his vil­lain­ous and hugely en­ter­tain­ing Cap­tain Hec­tor Bar­bossa, the main an­tag­o­nist, didn’t make it to the fi­nal cred­its still draw­ing breath.

“I thought ‘well that’s fine, be­cause I’m dead, but it’s been a fun ride and I have had a re­ally nice time’,” he says.

“It was quite a dif­fer­ent experience on many lev­els to work on some­thing on that mas­sive scale.” But char­ac­ters need never stay dead long in Hol­ly­wood — not when there’s money to be made — and thanks to the fan­tas­ti­cal el­e­ments of the su­per­nat­u­ral, sea­far­ing fran­chise, Rush’s Bar­bossa was res­ur­rected at the end of the sec­ond film and has re­mained an in­te­gral part of the films ever since, right up to the up­com­ing fifth chap­ter, Dead Men Tell No Tales.

For Rush, whose ca­reer ex­ploded af­ter win­ning the Best Ac­tor Oscar for Shine in 1996, it’s been a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure trove of act­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

For all their unashamed pop­ulist pop­corn ap­peal, the Pi­rates films have at­tracted an as­ton­ish­ing ar­ray of act­ing tal­ent, from fel­low Os­car­win­ners such as Pene­lope Cruz and now her hus­band Javier Bar­dem, in ma­jor parts, right through to well re­garded thes­pi­ans and for­eign lan­guage su­per­stars in smaller roles.

Even rock roy­alty, Keith Richards and Paul McCart­ney, have been shang­haied to work on the films. And Bar­bossa’s trans­for­ma­tion from out-and-

out old-school, pi­rate vil­lain to oily politi­cian, prof­i­teer and fren­emy to Jack has been more than enough to keep Rush in­ter­ested in com­ing back.

“There are all those things that made me feel like I was not tread­ing wa­ter and just push­ing out the same kind of ci­pher of the level of the first film,” he says. “And of course in this one, it starts with Bar­bossa hav­ing now be­come ex­tremely wealthy and is run­ning a con­sor­tium of 12 or 15 ships — he’s be­come a cor­po­rate pi­rate.”

Although Rush has been one of Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful film ac­tors on the world stage in re­cent decades, with four Oscar nom­i­na­tions, such a jour­ney of work­ing with the world’s best ac­tors and di­rec­tors was be­yond his wildest dreams when he was a young ac­tor start­ing out on the Queensland stage.

“I hadn’t re­ally thought it was a ca­reer,” he says.

“But I landed a job at the newly formed Queensland The­atre Com­pany when I was 20 and had a three-year con­tract and I thought ‘my God, I’m ac­tu­ally work­ing as a pro­fes­sional ac­tor, this is amaz­ing and I hope it con­tin­ues’.

“But I had no am­bi­tions be­cause at that stage our film in­dus­try was just on the be­gin­nings of emerg­ing from 40 or 50 years in the wilder­ness. You didn’t set your sights on pro­fes­sional act­ing.”

Shine was only his sec­ond ma­jor film role, but when it swept the awards sea­son more than 20 years ago and made him one of the most in­de­mand char­ac­ter ac­tors on the planet, his years of experience en­sured he was ready to cap­i­talise.

“I have sud­denly ended up do­ing a mix­ture of Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional films and that started for me when I was 43,” he says. “Some­times it’s be­ing in the right place at the right time.”


Ge­of­frey Rush as Cap­tain Hec­tor Bar­bossa.

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