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SAG Nom Geoffrey Rush: 'I Love Coming in Under the Radar'

Rush, as Logue, given a manuscript of King’s Speech in paper bag.
Laurie Sparham/The Weinstein Company

Geoffrey Rush doesn't just react to his SAG nomination ("Thrilling! An onslaught of scrutiny, but scrutiny's a good thing"), he explains how he and Colin Firth crafted the magic that may take both to the Oscars, and how it's like The Social Network.

At The King's Speech's September premiere, I told Geoffrey Rush he'd earn a nom, partly because his role was almost coequal with Colin Firth's -- an acting duel. "No!" he said. Today, after winning a SAG nom, he says, "He's the man behind the throne that kind of made things happen. He's like Lear's Fool, which I've played a number of times. The guy playing Lear is hammering the big stuff. I'm not overly present. Look, it's called The King's Speech [not The Speech Therapist].  I love coming in from under the radar. I'm just the guy on the side who's a catalyst for the action. I'm the one that throws the magnesium on the water, and see what sparkles." So he's the harmony, careful not to drown out the melody? "I'm a Minor-Key Descant Theme. But they don't give that for the SAG Awards." Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
 will have to do.

"I'm also glad we got Outstanding Performance by a Cast, because it does feel a bit like a two-hander. But when you think we've got a not too shabby cast -- Derek Jacoby, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Guy Pearce...creating a family, and Jennifer Ehle and the boys creating my family, it's a rich nuanced story about class structures. A film that is a massive jigsaw when it's put together, to have SAG recognize what they've absorbed and understood [as a whole], and they represent 90,000 actors in America -- it's a very rewarding response."

But it was also a two-hander, and Rush handed Firth some advice on set. "I said, 'OK, Colin, you're up against the great screen stutterers: Porky Pig, Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda, a performance with great comic dimensions and deep emotional ones -- and Derek Jacoby, who played I, Claudius, one of the great roles of Shakespearean dimensions.' To have him on set must've been pretty unnerving. Derek told him, 'You'll never lose this. It'll take you seven months to get this out of your head.' It was an amazing set in terms of actors swapping stories. I encountered Claire Bloom in a makeup van and said, 'Tell me some stories about working with Chaplin in Limelight.'"

Rush thinks he knows why Americans liked his uppity Australian characer. "I think they identify with this funny little guy from the antipodes, and because of their knowledge of therapy, which is a modern phenomenon." And Rush utterly loves the competition in this year's race. "I'd match the current batch of films with the golden age of the '70s. You've got a ballet picture, a fighting picture, a same-sex marriage family piccture, a guy trapped under a rock, a behind-the-royal-scenes picture, a Facebook picture -- it's pretty heady stuff."

He thinks the battle royal, between The King's Speech and The Social Network, is about pictures that are kin under the skin. "If I was a year 12 student in high school asked to discuss The King's Speech and The Social Network, I'd say it's all about what are the dimensions of friendship, of leadership? How does language, oratory, play a role in society and individuals? How do we move forward? Some people think, 'Oh, The King's Speech is one of those royal dramas with plummy accents. No, no, no! Look a little bit deeper."

Doesn't he wish SAG gave a best picture award? "I find it very satisfying that SAG has the ensemble award as their exclusive thing, an actor-based award. It's sort of their way of saying best picture."