September 06, 2012 11:23pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Geoffrey Rush Feels Right at Home in 'The Eye of the Storm' (Video)
While much of Hollywood's talent and press corps are headed to Canada this week to attend the 37th annual Toronto International Film Festival, two studios are betting that their awards hopefuls will find audiences with the big film buffs who can't make it to our neighbors from the north.
One is Roadside Attractions' Arbitrage, in which Richard Gere gives his best performance in years, opens Sept. 14. (I spoke with Gere last week.) And the other, opening Friday, is Sycamore Entertainment's The Eye of the Storm, an adaptation of Aussie Nobel Prize winner Patrick White's acclaimed 600-paged book that was directed by Fred Schepisi and stars, among an impressive group of others, Aussie Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush. The long-gestating film had its New York premiere Tuesday night -- it was hosted by the Australian Consulate and drew the likes of Meryl Streep, who worked with Schepisi on the 1988 film A Cry in the Dark -- and I sat down for a long and wide-ranging chat with Rush, 61, on Wednesday.
Geoffrey Rush was born on July 6, 1951, in Queensland, Australian. He worked steadily on the Australian stage for 25 years before receiving a script for a project that took years to get made, but, once it did, shot him to international stardom: Scott Hicks's Shine (1996), in which he played the concert pianist David Helfgott, who suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized for years before mounting a remarkable comeback. Rush spent countless hours listening to audio tapes of the fast-talking Helfgott, learned to play the piano like him, and generally immersing himself in the part. For his efforts, he was ultimately rewarded with the best actor Oscar and a career as an internationally sought-after actor.
Over the ensuing years, Rush starred in two films that won the best picture Oscar -- both of which also starred Colin Firth, interestingly enough -- and received three other Oscar noms himself, for his performances as a bumbling theater owner in John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (1998), a flmaboyant Marquis de Sade in Philip Kaufman's Quills (2000), and a quirky speech therapist in Tom Hooper's The King's Speech (2010). He was also memorably good in Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth (1998), Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005) and Neil Armfield's Candy (2006), to say nothing of his many projects in the theater and on television, especially his Emmy-winning turn as the title character in Stephen Hopkins's The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004). And he reached massive audiences with his performance as the pirate Captain Barbossa opposite Johnny Depp in Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean films (2003, 2006 and 2007).
In many ways, The Eye of the Storm was, for Rush, an ideal project. As someone who never moved from Australia, even after achieving international fame, he was thrilled to find an exciting project right at home; he got to portray an actor who wears his doubts, ego and arrogance on his sleeve, not unlike many real actors; he got to work with Schepisi, whom he has has admired ever since he saw his "masterpieces" The Devil's Playground (1976) and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978); he got to work again with Oscar nominee Judy Davis, his co-star in his big screen debut Hoodwink (1981) -- although they didn't share scenes -- and one of the first Aussie actors to make it big overseas; and he got to work closely with Charlotte Rampling, something that he has wanted to do since seeing her in The Night Porter (1974) and developing a major crush on her.
Can Rush believe everything that's happened to him over the last 16 years? No, he says, recounting a conversation that he had with his sister at the ceremony earlier this year in Canberra at which he was honored as Australian of the Year by the nation's prime minister, becoming only the third actor to receive the prize in the 52 years in which it has been presented. (The others: Sir Robert Helpmann in the 1960s and Paul Hogan in the 1980s). "She said, 'Do you have to pinch yourself sometimes?' And I said, 'Of course!' On some levels, it's almost slightly absurd and slightly happening to another person. Do you know what I mean? It's a strange detachment."