It’s probably been mentioned in passing a time or two (he did top my list of favorite movie pirates), but I’m going to make it a bold statement here: Holy crud, Geoffrey Rush is an amazing actor. Interestingly enough, I think the first thing I ever saw him in was Shine, for which he won an Academy Award, so you’d think that maybe there’d be nowhere to go but down. Boy, would you be wrong. This Australian actor is fantastic whether he’s being extremely dramatic (as in Shine) or extremely funny (Captain Barbossa, anyone?) or extremely and amazingly subtle. And so, I thought I would list for you some of Rush’s best performances. Although he’s a huge talent, he’s sort of a second-string guy in terms of exposure, so let’s focus on him for a little while, shall we? He deserves no less.
Shine is the true story of David Helfgott, who was a child prodigy on the piano. Driven by his father to succeed, he eventually suffers a breakdown. The main action of the movie focuses on the adult Helfgott (played by Rush) who finds his way back to life and back to the activity he loves. It’s a highly dramatic and affecting movie, and pretty much all of the credit goes to Rush. It’s a truly great performance, and it surprises me to think that Rush’s career has actually taken off after this film. Sure, he won the Oscar, but he didn’t really become a known quantity until later on.
While Rush is fabulous in intensely dramatic roles or particularly humorous ones, I think it may be his subtlety that really floors me the most. I recently rewatched 1998’s Elizabeth, and while I appreciated the overall film a lot more than I did the first time, the thing that stuck with me was Rush’s magnetic portrayal of Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s “spymaster”. He just totally inhabits that role and his every expression seems to speak volumes. Cate Blanchett is, of course, amazing and is the focal point of the whole movie, but I think that Rush ties things together in a certain way. His Walsingham is a catalyst for the movements and progressions of Elizabeth’s growth into her role as monarch. He leads her to the conclusions she needs to make, not in a manner of influencing or changing her mind, but rather showing her the course she already knows she needs to follow. It really does take an exceptionally gifted actor to give us all of that with a modicum of words and gestures.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Wow. Two Elizabethan pictures in the same year? And with markedly different characters? You’ve got to admit that’s impressive. Where Walsingham is mysterious and deadly and fascinating, Henslowe is, well, a little bit of a joke. He’s a fun character, though, and Rush plays him to the hilt, as he always does. My feelings about Shakespeare in Love are already documented, so we’ll just leave it at that.
Mystery Men (1999)
This campy superhero satire is admittedly not a great movie, but it’s achieved cult classic status at this point, and for good reason. It boasts a great cast that includes Ben Stiller, Greg Kinnear, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, and Janeane Garofalo, and of course, Mr. Rush as the film’s villain. Personally, I think Rush as a bad guy is an awesome idea, and his Frankenstein Casanova (an evil genius type) fits the tone of the movie perfectly. He’s ridiculously over-the-top, but still kind of scary.
Speaking of over-the-top and scary, Quills is not for the faint of heart. A fictionalized account of the last years of the Marquis de Sade, we are again treated to an acting tour-de-force, not only by Rush, but also courtesy of Joaquin Phoenix, Kate Winslet, and Michael Caine. It’s not what I would call an enjoyable movie (there’s lots of sex and violence of a somewhat twisted nature, and there’s lots of, well, Geoffrey Rush, if you get me), but Rush’s performance is pretty astonishing. He was nominated for Best Actor for this picture, and lost to Russell Crowe, and I will go on record as saying that I think maybe he should’ve won. If that tells you anything. It should.
The King’s Speech (2010)
Couldn’t leave this one out; you can read my review here. As you probably know, The King’s Speech was the Best Picture winner last year, and it picked up Best Director for Tom Hooper and Best Actor for Colin Firth as well. Mr. Rush was also nominated in the Best Supporting category, and his performance is certainly worthy. It’s a return to subtlety, and his Lionel Logue is the heart of the movie. My favorite scene, though, is when he’s auditioning for a role in Shakespeare’s Richard III. He’s so incredibly bad that I was immediately struck with how amazingly good he would be if he actually played the part. Mr. Rush, if you’re reading, could you make that happen? Call Kenneth Branagh, or something.
These are mine, but what’s your favorite Geoffrey Rush performance? I know some people will probably go for Barbossa, but I felt like that would be repeating myself. 🙂