×

Playback: Geoffrey Rush on 14 Years of ‘Pirates’ and Tackling Einstein in ‘Genius’

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

The summer movie season is in full swing and next on the list of massive Hollywood extravaganzas is Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The franchise, which debuted to considerable skepticism in the summer of 2003 as there was no successful pirate genre to speak of, has gone on to become one of the biggest successes for the studio. Five movies deep and it’s still raking in billions of dollars.

Actor Geoffrey Rush has been along for the ride every step of the way as Captain Hector Barbossa, and without giving much away, he’s able to put something of a period on his work in the series with the new film. There’s obviously something big and robust and Baroque about playing a pirate, and looking back, Rush acknowledges that was a huge draw and catnip for a theater actor like himself.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“I do get drawn towards big landscapes that have characters that occupy that space,” Rush says. “I’m not really a kind of domestic, psychological, interior actor. And I love silent films, which had that in bucketloads. And that drew me to study mime and movement. So when ‘Pirates’ came along, I don’t know, it was breaking the mold in a certain degree. I had been playing more serious characters, like Walsingham advising Queen Elizabeth I, or Javert [in ‘Les Miserables’]. It goes back to when I was a theater actor in repertory situations. I just liked being different role by role by role, season by season by season.”

Meanwhile Rush is also on the small screen in National Geographic’s “Genius,” playing the iconic figure of Albert Einstein. And indeed, iconography was something of a hurdle with a role like that.

“Einstein’s image was an Apple ad on the side of a building,” Rush says. “He’s a T-shirt. He’s an emoji. Everyone knows the hair, everyone knows he was a theoretical physicist. [But] with the pleasures you can get from a 10-hour, limited form series, you get to go into more character detail. I suppose with any of those historical characters you have to kind of go, ‘OK, what was they’re domestic life like? What was their daily life like?’ Walter Isaacson’s book is forensically detailed in his research, and the dramatic qualities of Einstein’s life emerged.”

Speaking of the small screen, as companies like Netflix continue to grow and expand and push the boundaries of the business, Rush has a few thoughts on the progression. And he’s kept up with the debate raging at the Cannes Film Festival, where no film will be allowed in competition going forward if it doesn’t have plans for a French theatrical release. Pedro Almodovar and Will Smith had a testy exchange about it at the start of the fest.

“That kind of dialectic is what makes the whole shebang important and fascinating, that this debate rears its head,” Rush says. “I think the essence of what Almodovar was saying, and I agree with it and was more enchanted by, he said there’s something about the big screen. And the history of cinema is it’s bigger than the room you’re in. You kind of lose peripheral extremities of what you’re being immersed in. And I love the fact that he used the word — as an audience member you must be ‘humbled’ by the world of the imagery that you’re being asked into by the masters of film language. I take that on board.”

However, he takes Smith’s counterpoint as well, that the access to content is crucial in the modern context of film education.

“You sometimes get locked into the primitiveness of early technology,” Rush says. “You look at the musical films that came out in 1928, ’29, four years later Busby Berkeley was in there and there was a new consummate medium. If we didn’t have these kinds of arguments, we’d probably still be watching short titillating films in Nickelodeons.”

For more, including a random aside about 1999’s “Mystery Men,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content