PIRATES’ VILLAIN IS STILL A RUSH
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.”
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES OPENS MAY 26
Geoffrey Rush as Captain Hector Barbossa.