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Toronto Q&A: Geoffrey Rush Dishes on ‘Pirates 5’ and Karaoke Battles

Geoffrey Rush is as fearless in his song choices as he is in his performances.

In between preparing to take on King Lear and finishing up another turn as “Pirates of the Caribbean’s” villainous Captain Barbarossa, the Oscar-winner hit the Toronto Film Festival to hawk “The Daughter,” a bold take on Henrik Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck.” The film updates the setting of the tragedy to a modern-day logging town and stars Rush as Henry, a tortured owner of a logging company, struggling to connect with his estranged son.

On screen he’s a model of stillness, but at a festival party, Rush made headlines for his spirited rendition of a B-52s classic. He talked to Variety about becoming a festival meme, finding age-appropriate roles and why he’s ready to tackle Shakespeare’s mad king.

I understand you did some karaoke last night.

Geoffrey Rush: Oh god. It’s probably all over social media. People record things like that now with their phones and publicize it.

What did you sing?

Rush: “Love Shack.” Not very well. I’m glad I went on before the girl who was like a young Janis Joplin.

Your performance in “The Daughter” seems so restrained. Why did you choose to play Henry as such an insular man?

Rush: He wasn’t written as being a melodramatic bombastic character. He just seemed to be somebody who is sitting on a lot of private, particular shame.

Why did you want to work with director Simon Stone?

Rush: I had seen his work in the theater when he came straight out of drama school. I saw “Thyestes” by Seneca which is box office poison. You go, “I don’t want to see Seneca.” It was the most electrifying thing. Then I saw the “Wild Duck” that he did for the theater, so when the film came up and he said, “do you want to play the patriarch?” I said, “I’ll play the duck if you want me to.”

Were you attracted to the role?

Rush: It was interesting. I suddenly became aware over the last couple of years that I’m in my sixties. I never thought about it. I thought I’d better start acting my age or find roles that are going to be interesting to me in the sexagenarian repertoire, because it’s not what you do in your forties or fifties.

What are these age appropriate parts?

Rush: I’m in “Gods of Egypt.” It was CGI on a level that I’ve never encountered. You’re in a blue environment on a mirrored floor because that’s going to be looking like Ra the Sun God’s boat. In the studio it was like I was in a Robert Lepage theatrical piece. He’s supposed to be a thousand years old and I thought, “oh I can do justice to that.”Then I’m about to jump into “King Lear” because you’ve got to kind of get in before your seventies.

How are you going to approach Lear?

Rush: Like any classic you hope to get rid of all the varnish that’s built up over the centuries where people expect it to be in a certain way. It’s a mighty play. It’s about a very old king who also happens to be a very old father, so you’ve got the state and the domestic levels in there together. It’s a story in extremis. Everyone knows the end, there’s only two people left alive.

You just finished “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” Are you surprised the franchise has made it to five films?

Rush: We’re not the Bond franchise. We’re not up to number 25, but as somebody who in my former theatrical life spent a lot of time in companies. Two year contracts. Three year contracts. Ensembles. That’s as close as I’ve got in the film world. Johnny [Depp] and I go back to 2002 and we’ve done five things together. There were a few new people on this thing, but pretty much its been regular cinematographers, makeup artists and more or less the same team.

How will this “Pirates” film be different?

Rush: Jerry Bruckheimer very boldly took these two Norwegian boys from “Kon-Tiki” [directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg]. I think it was a big steep learning curve for them because “Kon-Tiki” takes place on a raft and cost $15 million to make. This is a $250 million movie and there are twelve ships in it. I enjoyed their approach. They were in high school when the first film came out and they said, “we want to take it back to that comedy, that adventure, that swashbuckling.” It was nice having some fresh eyes and a Scandi-indie feel.

Has Oscar campaigning intensified since you won for “Shine” in 1996?

Rush: It’s changed since four years ago with “The King’s Speech.” Now you open up your particular magazine and people go this film opened last night, contender! It’s September. Let it breath. I’ve seen great films they fall by the wayside. They come out of Toronto with amazing notices and by November they fall to the back of the pack and you go, “what happened?”

You made some headlines recently by calling for more women behind the camera. What moved you to speak out?

Rush: That’s one of those questions where somebody says “would you like to see more women behind the camera?” And then it becomes I must have interrupted the interview to make a platform stance. But, no, I do believe it. In Australia, per capita, we’ve got a slightly more balanced and healthier statistic than here. I’ve only just started working more regularly with female ADs and its just a beautiful, different energy on set.

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