Eight years ago, the news that Disney planned to release a film based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was met with shocked skepticism from a public that could see no way that such a film would lead to anything other than embarrassment and box office disaster.
So when Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was released, audiences received one of the most welcome surprises of the decade. Pirates had a genuine sense of charm and adventure that is rarely seem in film today and introduced the world to what has become one of cinemas most beloved characters, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.
There is no Pirates of the Caribbean without Capn’ Jack, but in many ways, there is no Capn’ Jack without what has become his natural counterpart, nemesis, and fishwife rolled into one: Captain Barbossa. When At Worlds End was released, Geoffrey Rush (somewhat jokingly) pitched the idea that the fourth film ought to become a sort of buddy road-movie for Jack and Barbossa. That notion of the two men on the road as (quasi) compadres actually does come to fruition (to some degree) in the latest instillation in the Pirates franchise, On Stranger Tides.
We had the opportunity to interview the Rush at the Los Angeles press day for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – be sure to take a look at our earlier piece on his role in Green Lantern and the 5th Pirates film HERE.
During the course of our conversation, we asked Rush what he would pitch for the fifth Pirates film, now that his suggestion for the fourth has, in some ways, been realized.
“It has sort of, yes,” Rush agreed. “But you know, those elements have always been there. You know, the conflict between Barbossa and Jack over the rightful ownership of the “Black Pearl” (which the actor has referred to as a “shared girlfriend”) is one of the fundamental storylines that’s been there since the first movie. No, I was always trying to pitch to Ted (Elliott) and Terry (Rossio) the writers, that there should be a sort of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road movie – it would be fun. Which you know, in a funny sort of way, is what happens with the Spanish camp scenes here (in “On Stranger Tides”). You know, going in and stealing the goblets and all of that sort of stuff. You almost expect Dorothy Lamour to come out in a sarong at any moment. I don’t know. All I know is that there is always a cliffhanger; it’s part of the style. Like an old Saturday morning twenty-minute film serial that people would go and see in the olden days — to keep you coming back next week. “At Worlds End” finished with me thinking, I’ve gotten the map for the fountain of youth and, of course, I open it up and there is a great big chunk missing from the middle that Jack’s got, and that’s really annoying. At the end of this one, Barbossa is in a very powerful and triumphant position. I’m not sure where they will take that, but I would imagine that being megalomaniacal fool that he is, he’ll probably do something wrong, or fate will conspire against him, or Jack will outmaneuver him. I think that cat and mouse game will continue.”
That cat-and-mouse game between Barbossa and Jack is one of the most engaging and entertaining aspects of the franchise, their interplay has such a fresh and spontaneous quality to it that one would assume there is a fair amount of improvisation between them. Rush corrects that assumption, however, by saying:
“It’s not an improvisational approach. I mean the spirit of it is fairly improvisational, but the writers construct very precise…You know there are various strategies and dramatic ideas that have to happen at certain points in the narrative to keep the engine of the machine going forward. Because we are juggling three major storylines on three separate boats, and there is a kind of balance in tempo and excitement and tension that is being built up. But things do evolve. Terry, as a writer, was always on-set, so certain lines would remain in a state of flux and suggestions for improvements would come up here and there and would be incorporated.”
One of the most intricately crafted and choreographed aspects of the films are the swashbuckling/sword-fighting sequences – director Rob Marshall has extolled Rush’s physical abilities and prowess in his sword-fighting scenes. One may believe that Rush had a background in swordplay given his training and work as a classical actor, yet once again, Rush corrects that notion.
“No,” the actor said, “I was never a swordsman. I never played the characters that were skilled with the blade in the classical repertoire. I would normally play the fools and the idiots and the drunks and the rouges.”
The truth-tellers, we point out.
“Yeah.” Rush laughingly agreed. As to the swordplay:
“That’s something I pretty much had to learn from square one on the first pirates film. Which I liked. I mean its one of the great and fun parts of the three films that I’ve been in. They’ve all contained two or three spectacular sword-fights. In “At Worlds End” in Singapore I think I killed twelve people in about thirty seconds of screen time while galloping up a rickety bridge. You know you go hey, ‘this is fun to rehearse.’ The added bonus this time around was that I had to do it with a leg missing and incorporate my crutch as a weapon as well…which is fantastic. But it took me three or four months of pretty major rehearsal to build up the right kind of skill and stamina.”
Skill and stamina are (in many ways) the perfect words to describe Geoffrey Rush’s career. He spent years in the trenches of theatres and smaller films until he was catapulted onto the world stage with his Oscar winning performance in the 1996 film, “Shine.” He was in this year’s Oscar-winning breakout hit “The King’s Speech,” and now is in two of this summer’s biggest releases, “Green Lantern” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” When we asked Rush to deliver some sage advice on thriving in the creative life, he responded thoughtfully.
“I don’t know, there’s no guide book out there. I think you’re learning individually as you go, and certain wisdoms occur to you, and certain mistakes are made. I suppose certain techniques are developed and sometimes you’re lucky in that you choose a project that you collide with in a very creative way, and sometimes you don’t. It’s pretty hit and miss. It has been a particularly fruitful period for me in the past two years, where I’ve managed to do a Gogol play in Sydney which then got invited to the (prestigious) Brooklyn Academy of Music; and then around “The King’s Speech” going from a very small film into a very widely popular experience, and that’s counterpointed with the ongoing franchise of “Pirates” So the level of diversity is very rewarding.”
As to a diverse and evolving life-path, all signs indicate that we can expect the character of Barbossa to continue to develop in surprising, unique, and captivating ways just as the career of the actor who portrays him has done, and continues to do.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens in theaters this Friday, May 20th.
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