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Geoffrey Rush - Biography

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Geoffrey Rush

Personal details

Name: Geoffrey Rush
Born: 6 July 1951 (Age: 64)
Where: Toowoomba, Australia
Height: 6' 1"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 2 BAFTAs, 2 Golden Globes

All about this star


For anyone fearing that life after 40 is a slow and mortifying descent towards death, the story of Geoffrey Rush must be a real heart-warmer. Engaged in a decades-long battle to keep theatre alive and vibrant in his native Australia, he was utterly unknown to the outside world. Then, in his mid-forties, he nabbed an Oscar for his stunning performance in Shine, and jumped straight to the top of the Hollywood ladder - while STILL finding time for his beloved theatre work, back in Australia.

Geoffrey Rush was born in Toowoomba, Queensland on July 6th, 1951. His father, Roy Baden Rush was an accountant for the Australian air force, while his mother Merle (nee Kiehne) was a sales clerk. The family would break up quickly, Roy and Merle divorcing when Geoffrey was just 5, the boy going with Merle to live with her parents After school - he attended Everton Park State High School - Rush took an arts degree at the University of Queensland (the institution years later awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Letters) where, acting in a revue in 1971, he was spotted and recruited by the Queensland Theatre Company.

In 1971, Rush would make his stage debut proper in the QTC's production of Wrong Side Of The Moon. He'd then stay with them for some four years, gaining a vital and wide-ranging theatre experience, appearing in Twelfth Night, Juno And The Paycock, The Philanthropist, The Rivals, The Ruling Class, Present Laughter, The National Health, Suddenly At Home and The Imaginary Invalid, as well as Godspell, Expresso Bongo, Lock Up Your Daughters, Aladdin, Puss In Boots, Hamlet On Ice (Hamlet On Ice?) and many more. His first big personal success would be as Snoopy in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. As said, a wide-ranging theatre experience, indeed.

Still, Rush was looking for more and, in 1975, he took off for Paris for a couple of years, studying mime and pantomime at the famous Jacques Le Coq School Of Mime, then returned to Australia to resume his stage career. In 1978, he'd appear in King Lear, Point Of Departure and as Roy the Wonderboy in the manic Clowneroonies show (which he also directed), the next year headlining as Vladimir alongside Mel Gibson (with whom he shared an apartment) in a production of Waiting For Godot. In the early Eighties, he joined Jim Sharman's Lighthouse troupe (Sharman having directed The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its follow-up Shock Treatment), and would appear in Teeth'N'Smiles, The Revenger's Tragedy, No End Of Blame, You Can't Take It With You, Mother Courage, Silver Lining, The Prince Of Homburg, Blood Wedding and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Come 1983, he'd star as Figaro in The Marriage Of Figaro and headline in Pal Joey, The Blind Giant Is Dancing, Sunrise and another production of Twelfth Night. In 1984, by now one of the prime movers in Australian theatre, he was part of a syndicate that bought Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre, and helped form Neil Armfield's Company B. He also, between 1984 and '85 directed for Adelaide's Magpie Theatre for Young People. It was almost as a sideline that the early Eighties brought his first screen roles, opposite Judy Davis in Hoodwink, then playing a floor manager in Starstruck, wherein a teenager tries to help his cousin to fame as a singer.

Having put in so much work behind the scenes, he'd return to the stage with a vengeance in 1986 in Benefactors and would appear in a further 12 productions during the next three years, highlights being The Merry Wives Of Windsor, King Lear (as a critically lauded Fool), Les Enfants Du Paradis, Troilus And Cressida and Gogol's Diary Of A Madman, directed by Neil Armfield, another production for which he received high praise. For Rush himself, perhaps the most momentous production would be a touring adaptation of The Importance Of Being Earnest. Having met and married actress Jane Menelaus, this served as his honeymoon. "(Every night) I got to propose to my wife in Oscar Wilde's beautiful language", he later recalled happily, "and I got paid for it". The couple would have two children - Angelica (born in 1992) and James (1995), Jane later appearing in her husband's hit movie Quills.

Throughout this period, Rush was running the Belvoir Street Theatre Company and helping many an aspiring actor get started. In 1992, encouraged by house-mate Lindy Davies, he went to see a play featuring a recently graduated Cate Blanchett and, hugely impressed, picked her to star alongside him in David Mamet's Oleanna, in 1993. Soon she'd play Ophelia in the Belvoir's Hamlet.

The early 1990s were an intensely busy period for Rush as he'd star in Marat/Sade and The Comedy Of Errors, reprise The Diary Of A Madman and The Importance Of Being Earnest, and then move on to Gogol's The Government Inspector, Aristophanes' Frogs, Uncle Vanya, The Dutch Courtesan and Hamlet, as well as directing Popular Mechanicals. Small wonder that, in the middle of this creative surge, he suffered a minor breakdown. Though awful for Rush and those around him, the experience would lend him vital insight into a role that would very soon make his international reputation.

Career-wise, 1995 took Rush to a new level. He appeared as the near-mute Dave in On Our Selection, and once more with Judy Davis in Children Of The Revolution (as her reticent husband). But his big break came with Shine, based on the tale of disturbed pianist/composer David Helfgott who made a successful stage comeback after years spent in psychiatric homes. Rush first saw the script in 1992 and was enthused. He befriended the Helfgotts, who lived close-by in Bellingen, New South Wales, and visited them often, studying David's speech and movements. He reacquainted himself with the piano, which he'd studied at school, and used his vast experience in mime to get through the parts he couldn't actually play. He was perfect for the role. As the movie's director, Scott Hicks remarked "He always seemed to play characters - like the Fool in King Lear, and the lead in Diary Of A Madman - whose minds wander the finer edges of sanity". But, perfect of not, he almost didn't get it, the financiers demanding a name actor for the part. Only after a long period of persistent persuasion and terrible frustration was the part his.

Of course, as David Helfgott, Rush was a sensation. He took the 1997 Best Actor Oscar and, when receiving a Golden Globe, he held his award aloft and dedicated it "to all those people who were happy to bankroll the film as long as I wasn't in it". He won a BAFTA for Shine too, as he did the following year for his performance as the discreetly murderous Sir Francis Walsingham, Cate Blanchett's advisor and assassin in Elizabeth. The plaudits just kept coming. He was again Oscar-nominated, as Best Supporting Actor, for Shakespeare In Love and, in joking reference to Joseph Fiennes, his co-star in Elizabeth and Shakespeare In Love, said "He got to make love to Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett. All I got was an Oscar nomination". Then came Quills, and another Oscar nomination for his show-stopping turn as the jailed Marquis de Sade, at the same time inspirational and sinister.

In the meantime, there were other notable roles. He was hilariously wired and camp as the super-villain Casanova Frankenstein, alongside William H. Macy, Paul Reubens and Tom Waits in Mystery Men and, if possible, was even more outlandish as the fiendish master-mind in the superior horror movie House On Haunted Hill. And, being Geoffrey Rush, he kept up his commitment to Australian theatre. Having in 1996 appeared in The Alchemist, now he co-adapted and starred in Beaumarchais' The Marriage Of Figaro, with which he opened the new Optus Playhouse in the Queensland Performing Arts Complex in Brisbane.

As if making up for his slow start in films, Rush entered the new millennium in a whirlwind of activity. John Boorman's The Tailor Of Panama saw him acting as a spy for ruthless British agent Pierce Brosnan. Julie Taymor's magical-realist biopic Frida had him as Leon Trotsky, engaging in an affair with Salma Hayek's Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Then came The Banger Sisters where ex-groupie Goldie Hawn decides to hook up once more with her now respectable ex-colleague Susan Sarandon. On the way to Phoenix, she picks up Rush, a frustrated screenwriter armed with a gun and one bullet which he intends to fire into his father. Expert at playing sensitive and disturbed men, he made a superb foil for Hawn's kindhearted and surprisingly wise slapper.

In the meantime, of course, there would be Australian productions, too. Lantana was a Short Cuts-style piece where differing lives are pulled violently together. Here Geoffrey played the husband of psychiatrist Barbara Hershey, traumatised by the death of their daughter and so twisted by self-loathing he can only incriminate himself when Hershey herself is murdered. Then there was Swimming Upstream, a fraught family drama based on the life of champion swimmer Tony Fingleton, Rush playing the boy's father - mum being Judy Davis, who'd earlier appeared in Geoffrey's debut Hoodwink. Back onstage, having been forced out of Neil Armfield's production of Waiting For Godot by his Hollywood commitments, he'd appear alongside his wife in Life x 3, then yet again reprise his classic performance in Diary Of A Madman.

2003 would be his busiest and most successful year yet. He enjoyed a $300 million hit by lending his voice to Finding Nemo. Then came more box-office glory with Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl where he played crazy undead buccaneer Barbossa, intent upon murdering Keira Knightley and hounded by Johnny Depp's masterfully louche Jack Sparrow. He'd follow this up with Ned Kelly where he was the merciless Superintendant Hare, tracking Heath Ledger's titular outlaw with 100 good men and true. Then there would be Intolerable Cruelty (so flamboyant and strange, he just had to work with the Coen brothers at some point) where vengeful gold-digger Catherine Zeta-Jones goes after womanising lawyer George Clooney - Rush donning a pony-tail and gleaning big laughs as the husband of one of Clooney's clients. Beyond these, he'd lend his voice to Harvie Krumpet, a claymation pic that won an Oscar as Best Short.

2004 would bring another huge challenge when Rush signed up for the lead in HBO's The Life and Death Of Peter Sellers. Understanding the shaky balance between the comic's shyness and extroversion, his intelligence and wackiness, his depression and creative highs, Geoffrey delivered a stunning performance insiders claimed to be nothing short of uncanny, winning both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Next, he'd join Steven Spielberg for Munich, concerning the secret hit squad sent by Israel to avenge the murder of their athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Rush would play the dedicated, merciless Ephraim, attempting to keep squad leader Eric Bana (a fellow Aussie) on the lethal straight and narrow. Rush would also sign on for an Eric Idle comedy named The Remains Of The Piano, spoofing Brit period pieces, but sadly the budget would fall through.

Instead, he'd move on to Candy, a hard-hitting Aussie movie where Ned Kelly co-star Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, respectively playing a poet and painter, would fall in love and egg each other on in their addiction to heroin. Rush would play Ledger's rich mentor, who distills hard drugs from codeine and helps Ledger in the scams he tries to pull in order to finance his habit. Of course, there'd also be far lighter fare in the ongoing Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, Rush popping up menacingly in the final moments of the second movie and playing a main role in the third, though Bill Nighy's Davy Jones had stolen Barbossa's villainous thunder. Having rejoined director Neil Armfield to play King Berenger in Ionesco's absurdist Exit The King onstage, he'd then enjoy another reunion, this time with Cate Blanchett in The Golden Age, where he'd once again play the relentless Walsingham as Blanchett dallied with Clive Owen's Walter Raleigh, Raleigh's wife being played by Rush's recent co-star Abbie Cornish.

Having for so long toiled to keep Australian theatre alive, having promoted so many careers, having won an Oscar and worldwide respect, Geoffrey Rush could easily sit back and consider his work well done. One sincerely hopes he doesn't, though, as he's one of the finest actors working today.

Dominic Wills

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