Geoffrey Rush Interview

It was shot here in Queensland and it was a pleasure to catch up with Geoffrey Rush to talk about his returning performance in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales…

Matt:  Looking through you resume, you’ve made a lot of films but you’re somehow avoided sequences and big franchises with the exception of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  Did you think this series was going to be as big when it started out back in 2003?

Geoffrey:  The four previous films have done extremely well financially and there’s a massive fan base out there.  Even I get fan mail from places as unlikely as China, Russia and Slovenia.  I’d hate to imagine how much Johnny Depp gets.  They write about such detail in the plot and it’s great to get that positive feedback.

There was a recent screening of this new film at CinemaCon in America and the press were saying “it’s just like the first film” and I thought that’s kind of good.  Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the two directors, they are young enough to have been in college when the first film came out.  Their working model was to capture the original spirit of the whole idea of telling this story.  With the development of technology over the past 15 years, the 3D visual effects in this are really pushing the envelope.

Matt:  How does it work getting you back on board for these films?  Are you contractually obligated?  Or do you look at a script and then sign up?

Geoffrey:  There’s no contractual obligation but there’s a kind of lure for me because Barbossa started out as a “spat out of hell” villain in the first film and I thought that’d be it because I got shot.  Gore Verbinski then phoned me up and said they were going to do all these amazing things in parts 2 and 3 and said they were going to use some voodoo magic to bring me back to life.

In the next one I was a politician and then I started working for King George II and now I’m obscenely wealthy.  Barbossa is the king of the sea – he’s kind of a corporate pirate.  That is until Javier Bardem’s Salazar comes back from the Devil’s Triangle after being in underwater purgatory for 25 years.  His aim is to eliminate every pirate on the planet.  The stakes are very high.

Matt:  Is it easy slipping back into the character of Barbossa given you’ve played him several times or do you looking to do something a little different each time?

Geoffrey:  There are little shifts because of the way he keeps surviving.  We’re all about 20 years older in this story.  Barbossa is ruthless and he runs with what is most opportunistic for him.  He feels different each time but once I get the costume, the wig, the hat and the monkey, it springs into life.

Matt:  You have such a distinctive look in the film with the beard, hair and weathered face.  How long did you spend in the make-up chair each day?  What do you do to pass the time?

Geoffrey:  It’s about a two hour job which isn’t too bad.  On screen, it’s only me, Johnny Depp and Kevin McNally who have been in all five films.  The make-up teams, costume designers, camera operators, the stunt guys… a lot of them have been with the franchise since 2003.  It’s a big boisterous family reunion each time and we love to catch up and chat when getting ready.

Matt:  I was reading this film has a budget of $320m USD which makes it one of the most expensive films ever made.  You’ve made a lot of smaller films but does it feel different being on the set of a film like this with so much being spent?  Are the snacks a lot better?

Geoffrey:  I don’t know how accurate that figure is.  It’s certainly triple figures.  It’s definitely huge.  There are parts where we’ve got 12 to 15 galleons all converging on each other.  In the first film, we went out to sea a lot.  We’d go 30 kilometres off shore every day for several weeks.  For this film, we were on a backlot on the Gold Coast and all of those ships were on extraordinary hydraulic machinery so that they could create the dark, brooding, ugly seas that Salazar exists in.

In terms of playing the scenes, it feels the same.  I remember Johnny saying to me on the first film that while we’re just doing dialogue in a ship’s cabin, it’s no different from an independent film.  You just have to play the scene and make it work.

Matt:  Was it nice to be able to shoot the film in Queensland?  Any sites we should try to keep an eye out for?

Geoffrey:  A lot of it was studio bound.  They shot around The Spit on the Gold Coast and also up in the hinterland.  We then spent about 2 weeks up in the Whitsundays doing some location filming.  I don’t know whether you’ll be able to spot any locations because the art department did such a good job.  I walked down to the beach and went “my God, this looks like the Caribbean” and then you’re told that 40 palm trees were put in last night to make it look more Caribbean.

Matt:  You get to work alongside a young Queenslander who many have tapped for bigger things – Brenton Thwaites.  Did you get to spend a lot of time with him during the process?

Geoffrey:  To an extent but it was more off screen than on screen because our characters don’t overlap that much in the plot.  He was certainly around playing his guitar and he’s a very fine young man.  His co-star, Kaya Scodelario, plays this brilliant young 18th century scientist.  She’s a funky young actress and I really like the storyline those two share.

Matt:  And what was it like to work with Javier Bardem?

Geoffrey:  He’s fantastic because he emerges onto the set having spent 25 years under water and he’s half crustacean.  In every line of dialogue, he had squid ink oozing out of his mouth.  It was quite a thrill.  I got to know him back in 2001.  We were both nominated at the Oscars that year – I was for Quills and he was for Before Night Falls – and so we hung out a lot during the award season.  Also, his wife Penelope Cruz was in the last film and so he was on set a lot for that. 

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  What will we see from you next?

Geoffrey:  I’m currently on the National Geographic Channel playing Albert Einstein in a 10-part series called Genius.  After that, I’m just waiting for the phone ring.