In 1996, Geoffrey Rush was catapulted to fame with his starring role in Shine, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Since then he has appeared in many successful movies including Shakespeare in Love, Munich, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and this year’s Oscar winning film, The King’s Speech.
He’s back playing Captain Hector Barbossa for the fourth time in the new movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, once again battling Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), this time for the benefits of the Fountain of Youth … or is that really his main objective?
What was it about this particular script and taking your character forward that really attracted you to come back?
I have to thank Johnny because, in the development of the screenplay, he said, ‘We must keep Barbossa and Sparrow as an old married couple, constantly bickering.’ It goes back to the first film. The ownership of the Pearl is at the heart of the conflict.
Early on this film, we decided to talk about the Black Pearl as a shared girlfriend, which made that plotline a little more interesting than talking about a boat. But, they keep shape-shifting the character, which is quite good. I started out as the outright villain, spat out from the mouth of hell.
Then, in Pirates 2 and 3, he became more of a diplomat.
Now, he’s really landed on his feet, or foot. Barbossa is vain, arrogant and pompous enough to think that he actually does belong in the court. That gave me a terrific, new set of variables to play with, which was a lot of fun.
Are you glad to be back playing the character?
I was very excited when I heard that there was going to be a fourth film because I love working with Johnny. I find the Jack Sparrow-Barboosa ongoing, annoying conflict very delightful to engage in.
Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, the writers, somehow seem to constantly come up with something new.
You know, I thought that after the first three – in which they’d explore every possibility from the world of swashbuckling, including buried treasure, and Aztec curses and big Wagnerian dimensions of sea monsters, gods and goddesses, and the East India Trading Company – that there would be nothing else left about the Golden Age of Piracy, or the mythology associated around it, for them to write about. But I hadn’t thought about Blackbeard …. or mermaids.
The other thing that is very pleasing to me as an actor is that Barbossa has been increasingly revealed in each successive film.
In On Stranger Tides, by the very fact that, deep in his nature, Barbossa is a very calculating survivor, he’s got himself onto what he thinks is a very satisfying pension plan: because he’s not getting any younger, he’s joined forces with King George and has become a privateer.
In the third film, he had already revealed more of his devious, self-serving politician-type qualities, and not just being a mangy, old pirate.
How do you see the relationship between Jack and Barbossa?
[As I said,] Jack and Barbossa think of themselves as an old married couple. If these two could actually collaborate and not lock horns all the time, they would be the most fantastic, unstoppable team. But they’re worlds apart because Barbossa is purely a strategic thinker, but not the brightest person, I should think.
Jack bobs along the river of life, improvising, taking huge daring risks which always pay off for him, even if he’s being blown from one ship to another. He always lands and ends up looking like Bugs Bunny leaning against the mast. And it will ever thus be so, so that’s a really fantastic actorial dynamic to engage with.
Barbossa has a costume change in this.
The costume design of Penny Rose has given me a silhouette and shape unlike any other character I’ve played. Not just by the sort of historical nature of the costumes, but she’s given him a sort of arrogance and vanity and scale of personality that, once all that stuff goes on, it puts me into a different level of imaginative play that I’ve done in other films.
You also have to deal with a peg leg, how hard was that?
In the 18th century, they basically got you very drunk, sawed your leg off and replaced it with a bit of wood from an old piano or something.
Back in the old days, an actor like Robert Newton playing Long John Silver in Treasure Island would have spent the whole shoot with these legs strapped up to his back and tried to avoid letting people seeing his foot sticking out the back.
From the nature of the script, and the maneuverability that I would need, you can’t run with your leg strapped up like that.
So we went with a more effective and practical solution, which was to put on a blue-screen stocking with all the appropriate marking dots and have it digitally replaced.
I like the fact that Barbossa has a disability, because that’s psychically made him angrier, more forceful and more resilient as a character.