Featured Profile: Geoffrey Rush

Bec Fary / July 11, 2013 01:26 PM

Geoffrey Rush is a bit of a hoarder. 

From school drama clubs to feature films, the internationally-acclaimed actor and Who’s Who entrant has made sure to keep mementoes along the way. 

Geoffrey Rush Photo Credit The Age

Photo credit: The Age

“When I was at school, I was given to feel I’d let them down because I didn’t have any sports trophies,” Rush told the Herald Sun.

So he made up for it by celebrating school drama club roles, keeping programs and photos for scrapbooks. 

“When I became a professional actor, I started filling scrapbooks and crappy photo albums,” Rush said.

“Because theatre is completely ephemeral, the only mementoes you’ve got are bibs and bobs.”

Now the actor has combined his private collection with the archives of Victoria’s Performing Arts Collection for ‘The Extraordinary Shapes of Geoffrey Rush’, an exhibition celebrating his prolific career.

Pieces in the exhibition, which launched on July 6 (Rush’s 62nd birthday), range from academy awards to a Lego figurine.

“The curators asked if I’d lend the Oscar, the Tony and the Emmy.

“I said, ‘Sure, but it would be nice for me to keep all that in perspective by surrounding them with tiny little things’.

“I want the whole thing to have a sort of sideshow alley feel so when people walk in, they get attracted to whatever they see across the room. I didn’t ever want it to be a po-faced museum experience.”

Rush says he’s not going to write a memoir, which meant he wanted to have a hands-on role as a collection curator.

“I wanted to add my voice,” he said, a voice that has become one of the most well-known and well-loved in the Australian art world. 

Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, in 1951, Rush went on to get an arts degree at the University of Queensland. While there, he was talent-spotted by Brisbane’s Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) and began his professional career with them in 1971.

In 1975, Rush went to Paris to study mime and movement at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq school of physical theatre, before returning to Brisbane for QTC.

In 1979, Rush graced the stage with Mel Gibson, another of Australia’s most successful theatre exports. The pair shared a Sydney apartment while they prepared for a production of Samuel Beckett’s classic ‘Waiting for Godot’.

“I’m a sentence in a much bigger Australian story,” Rush says of his varied career.

“I journeyed through that early period of subsidised theatre, through the renaissance of Australia’s film industry to a time now where we can tour a Melbourne production of (Romanian playwright) Ionesco and take it to Broadway.”

Rush’s acting talents have taken him through the highs and lows of stage, TV and film, ultimately earning him the elusive ‘Triple Crown’ acting achievement of an Oscar (for ‘Shine’ in 1996), Emmy (for ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers’ in 2005) and a Tony (for ‘Exit the King’ in 2009). 

The four-time Academy Award nominee was the first Australian to win an Oscar.

He says a Lego figurine of Captain Barbossa from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, given to him by last year’s Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng, and his Oscar are equally honourable gifts.

“They talk to each other,” he said.

Rush is humble about his achievements and despite his move star status still appears in local theatre and independent film (including ‘Lantana’ in 2001 and ‘Candy’ in 2006).

Rush also dedicates his time to developing the Australian arts industry and in 2011 was appointed foundation President of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.

He is patron of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre Foundation, the Spina Bifida Foundation Victoria, an ambassador for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and ambassador for UNICEF Australia.

Despite his distinctive gravelly voice, Rush has a chameleon-like ability to transform into different roles, which is backed by his devotion to physical acting.

“I tend not to start from the psychological point of view of a character,” he said.

“I try to imagine what the silhouette or the outline of a person is going to look like.”

After meticulous research and poring over scripts, Rush says his transformation into a character isn’t complete until he gets into costume, which he says is a “complete body mask”.

Rush says one of his favourite costumes is the hat of one his best-known characters, the larger-than-life Captain Barbossa.

Geoffrey Rush Capt Barbossa Photo Credit Ausfilm

Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa. Photo credit: Ausfilm. 

“That, to me, is the brain of the character. All his vanity and pomposity, all his danger and cunning and ego is contained in that hat.”

The pirate hat sits alongside photographs, film reels, posters and even a dress (Lady Bracknell’s, from Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2011 production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’).

 “When you’re in the middle of (the exhibition), it all feels a bit random, but in acting, I do enjoy the extreme ends of the spectrum.”

“I hope it doesn’t represent a full stop. I’m holding out for the possibility of a sequel.”

‘The Extraordinary Shapes of Geoffrey Rush’, at the Melbourne Arts Centre, runs until October 27.

Sources: Herald Sun, The Age, Arts Centre Melbourne, University of Queensland, LA Times. 

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