‘Pirates of the Caribbean’: Geoffrey Rush as the Barbra Streisand of buccaneers?

May 22, 2011 | 12:55 p.m.
pirates Pirates of the Caribbean: Geoffrey Rush as the Barbra Streisand of buccaneers?

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Walt Disney Studios)

Geoffrey Rush has been aboard the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise from the start so of course he watched with intense interest as Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer looked to replace director Gore Verbinski, who abandoned ship (so to speak) after the third film in the swashbuckling series. Rush says now he could not be happier with the new captain of the ship, Rob Marshall, whose background with Broadway and films such as “Chicago” put him in tune with Rush’s own rhythms.

 Pirates of the Caribbean: Geoffrey Rush as the Barbra Streisand of buccaneers?

Geoffrey Rush at the Cannes Film Festival. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images)

“Rob and Gore are just opposite sides of the same coin really,” said Rush, who plays Hector Barbossa in the franchise. “I think Gore probably comes from more of a rock ‘n’ roll and comic book angle and Rob is more from a musical theater and musical film, choreographic  background. They overlap with their finely tuned comedic sense and sense of the absurd. They have a strong grasp of sharp, lean storytelling.

“I thought Rob was the best man for the job once Gore moved on.  We had a great rapport. I’m a huge Broadway fan and I’m also a huge musical film fan. That informed our conversation more than you would think.”

How exactly? “Well we were shooting one scene, it was early in the shoot, where Barbossa is up on the deck of [Blackbeard’s ship] Queen Anne’s Revenge and he’s reclaiming his identity in a way, and I turned to Rob and said, ‘I’m getting a sort of feeling here like I’m Barbra Streisand on a Staten Island ferry.’ He said, ‘Oh, Geoffrey, that’s perfect.’ It was fantastic. That happened a lot. There’s a scene where we’re lying on a bluff looking down at the Spanish camp and Rob closes his eyes and says, ‘OK, I’m getting Sammy and Liza and Frank.'”

Rush added that Verbinski and Marshall have made the “Pirates” series a relative pleasure cruise despite the long shoots, high stakes and colossal expectations. “Like Gore, Rob is so approachable, so even-tempered, there’s never a tense or disgruntled moment. The mood of the set is always guided by the temperament of the director or the temperament of the lead actor and so with all of these movies there has been this feeling of availability for delivering your most relaxed, playful, daring sort of work because you have someone at the helm who is guarding you in a really nice way.”

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” opened Friday and is expected to finish among the top-grossing films of 2010. Rush, who is fresh from an Oscar nomination for “The King’s Speech,” said the arrival of Penelope Cruz in the cast as the pirate vixen Angelica tilted his own performance.

piratespremiere Pirates of the Caribbean: Geoffrey Rush as the Barbra Streisand of buccaneers?“The dialogue in this film is even funnier and sharper than the first one and there’s an element of the classic screwball comedy in this one with Penelope and Johnny with their lover’s relationship and it takes the heat off of Barbossa, who normally has the spats with Sparrow,” Rush said. “Those spats are still there but it’s going in a different direction with her in the mix. The whole thing makes me realize that it’s Jack who probably has the personality disorder. He can’t get on with anybody. He’s such a selfish, singular anti-hero. It’s all his fault, I see now.”

Barbossa has changed in other ways, too, as the Disney flagship series has sailed on for almost a decade (filming on the first movie began in October 2002). Rush is naturally protective of the character and in the lead-up to this film he talked to screenwriter Terry Rossio to tweak an early version of the script — the actor wanted to make Barbossa’s motivation in this new film a little bit of a mystery early on. Those changes were embraced and Rush is pleased to see his slippery alter ego remain the least predictable pirate in the ongoing saga.

“He was originally the guy spat out from hell, the bad-ass villain, a mercenary, ruthless killer but with certain gentlemanly pretensions,” Rush said as he pondered the different shadings of his cinematic scoundrel. “As they brought more and more villains into the films, Cutler Beckett and Davy Jones and now Blackbeard, there’s been room to move with Barbossa. Now in this one he crosses the line to go work for the king and it’s an interesting step. He’s always had delusions of grandeur and a vulgarity, so it was fun to play with.”

— Geoff Boucher


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