December 2010

Q + LA Geoffrey Rush

You have to admire an Aussie who thinks L.A. is like Brisbane—only bigger  by Robin Sayers


It’s a unique thrill to break the news to Geoffrey Rush that, thanks to Google, he is algorithmically joined at the hip ad infinitum to Tracy Morgan. The Australian has caught only a few episodes of 30 Rock (it doesn’t air Down Under), so he is delightfully astounded as I describe the ginormous EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) necklace of Tracy Jordan—Morgan’s character on the show—and explain how, as the most likely next EGOT-er, Rush is inevitably referenced in stories about said pendant.

“I would call it GOET,” says Rush with a chuckle. “When I won the Tony last year [for Exit the King], somebody did mention, ‘You know, you’ve got to think about a Grammy,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but that’s not my territory.’” I insist, given his phenomenal acting prowess and gilt-edged vocal cords, surely the Grammy will be the easiest letter to score. “I know Paul Scofield [a fellow EOT-er who passed away in 2008] recorded an album of Shakespearean speeches, but nobody has asked me to do that.” (Attention, all spoken-word album producers...)

That G will have to get in line, because the deafening buzz in Hollywood is that Rush might well be heading for a second O, thanks to his brilliant turn as the therapist who helps King George VI lose his stammer and find his voice in The King’s Speech. While the EGOOT notion would probably make Jordan’s head explode, for Rush it’s just business as usual.

What’s your favorite word?
I do love perusing the dictionary to find how many words I don’t use—words that have specific, sharp, focused meaning. I also love the sound of certain words. I love the sound of the word pom-pom.

As in, shake your...?
Yeah. I just think pom-pom is such a good thing. I also like transmogrify, because I think as an actor, that’s something you’ve got to be aware of. You have to do exactly that—shape yourself into a different personality, or even a different silhouette.

Do you get a sixth sense about projects?
Sometimes you do feel a script that glows in your hand the moment you start reading it. By page four of Shakespeare in Love, I said, “I have to be in this movie.” When they offered me Elizabeth, I liked the script, but I didn’t really come so strongly from a dramatic background. I was more a comic actor, playing the clown and fool and rogue and idiot repertoire. Then [director] Shekhar Kapur came over to Prague while I was shooting Les Misérables and took me out to dinner, and suddenly I saw the script in a whole different light. He said to me, “I think Walsingham is like Krishna.” No English director would have said that. He spoke about the sense of history of that period in slightly more mystical terms, and I thought, That’s really fascinating—I think I’d enjoy this process. The most hilarious thing is at the end of the night, he said to me, “Do you want a Becherovka?” That’s a Czech liqueur, but I thought he said, “Do you want a better offer,” meaning money. The conversation went on, where I sort of tried to hedge, because I didn’t really want to discuss money at that point. But it all turned out well, and I did end up doing the movie.

But did you end up having the drink?
We did. It’s very aromatic, like a Fernet-Branca or some Drambuie-ish kind of thing.

You have great initials—G.R.R. [Geoffrey Roy Rush].
It’s sort of like a sexual growl. I think Lucy in “Peanuts” says “Grr.” Sometimes to be scrappy or cheeky, I sign off a text with GRR. It’s the new version of LOL or ROTFLMAO. If I text, I tend to punctuate very accurately. I hardly ever shorten words, and I use a lot of ellipses and brackets and the semicolon. It’s the most underused key. The only thing with texts is, you’ve got to be careful. You have to write “ha-ha” or “heehee” in brackets just to let people know that what you’re saying is not abusive.

Your birthday is July 6, and mine is July 5, so since Australia is a day ahead—
It would be the same day as me!

So from the moon’s perspective, we share a birthday.
Someone once gave me that birthday book where you look up your day. You read it and go, Oh my God! This is so telling and so accurate. I mean, I could look at any other day and not relate, but the people who share my birthday—Nancy Reagan, George W. Bush, Sylvester Stallone and the Dalai Lama, go figure—they’re all reading that same page going, That’s so me!

I used to think I shared a birthday with Liberace, but sadly I was mistaken.
Here’s a funny story, speaking of Liberace: One of the first screenplays I was offered—after Shine had come out and I’d got the Oscar and all that—was to play him. They must have been thinking, We’ve got to get another piano-playing role for this guy. No offense to Liberace, but I am nothing like him, even with good prosthetics and all the accoutrements.

Considering all your awards, has anyone ever dared say, “Please mention me in your acceptance speech”?
No, no. Although I did have a friend—an Australian film director—who said if he got the chance to be up there, he’d drop in the name of the bank manager who denied him a mortgage. I thought that would be a pretty cool thing to do.

What’s it like being on an Australian stamp?
It’s a lick stamp. Cate Blanchett is a very quick-witted woman, and she beat me to the punch, because I was going to say, “You can now lick my back for 55 cents, and it used to cost a hell of a lot more than that.” But she got the line out first, so she can claim the glory. Before this series, Australian stamps only had the reigning monarch on them, so it has been the queen for years. Cate very cleverly, of course, chose a shot of herself from Elizabeth, so she was still the queen on a stamp. I don’t know if you call that postmodern or whatever.

Do you ever receive a bill or letter with you on it?
Yeah, occasionally. Very close friends will send it with just a little arrow with an NB for “nota bene”—meaning, you know, cop this.

Tell me about the first time you ever set foot in L.A.
It was in 1996. James L. Brooks had seen a copy of Shine before it was released, and he asked to meet with me. So I flew over and spent six hours with him. He had a little camera, and I read and did improv, and then I just got back on the plane and came home. It was weird—there was a limo waiting to take me to my $500-a-week theater job.

What was your impression of the city from those six hours?
Well, I’m suddenly driving down Pico Boulevard. You see the palm trees, and you think, Oh my God, it’s just like Brisbane but bigger! It didn’t seem unfamiliar, because it’s known to us through so many movies. It just had a complete air of unreality, and I thought, This is kind of an adventure. [Brooks] gave me some Simpsons booty to bring back. I got [an animation] cel and some shirts and stuff. It was a fun, amazing weekend.

Have you ever lived here—or only dropped in for work?
No, it has always been for work or junkets. My kids started school, so having a strong base in Melbourne has been a key priority. I’m not daunted by the travel. People say, “It’s so far to Australia,” and I say, “You get on the plane, you eat well, you sleep, you wake up—and you’re there.”

I loved your Oscar speech, where you talked about the dinner shared by the characters you and your fellow nominees played. Tough question, but of all your characters, with whom would you most like to share a meal?
I wouldn’t mind meeting some of the people I’ve attempted to portray from the olden, olden days. They probably would all have really terrible skin and horrible bad breath, and I’d have to give them an Altoid.

You could help them out and bring that little something back from the future.
Yes—like Terminator, you know? “I’ve gone back to help your breath.”