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Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Geoffrey Rush interview

Geoffrey Rush in Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GEOFFREY Rush talks about reprising his role as Sir Francis Walsingham in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and why he feels drawn to biographical characters…

Before you started filming Elizabeth: The Golden Age was there ever a sense that this was a sequel that might be perceived as “cashing in”? Or were such thoughts dispelled very quickly?
Geoffrey Rush: They were dispelled very quickly. When we all managed to get together for a bit of a two hour meeting to discuss why we’d do it, when we would do it, where we would do it, I was in the middle of doing the Pirates films. When we got to the end of shooting the first Pirates film we started to get daily schedules stating that it was no longer called Pirates of the Caribbean, it was called Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and once we saw the colon we thought: “Oh, we’re going to have two and three…” But that seems a fairly standard business model almost… if a film looks like it’s going to have “summer legs” – and I love “summer legs” – in an action-adventure genre that’s a fairly inevitable thing.

But with the dramatic historical genre I couldn’t think of many examples beyond The Godfather where maybe a set of actors got together much later to see what had happened to the characters further down the track. So, I was quite excited by this. When I worked on a film like [The Life & Death Of] Peter Sellers we had a wonderful time – there was such a bonding of people on a film like that. But after three months we all split up and went all over the planet and didn’t get to regroup to work together again. But we were able to do that on this film, so that was a bonus.

You’ve done several biographical parts, so what draws you to them?
Geoffrey Rush: All of that for me has been very random and very haphazard. They were the things that were being presented and they create their own different challenges. Playing David Helfgott in Shine I knew that 99.999% of the audience would have no idea what the real David Helfgott was like and I wanted to honour him for the man that I met – because he was still alive – but ultimately create something that worked satisfyingly as a dramaticised figure.

With Peter Sellers, on the other hand, there’s a whole generation that know him intimately. If I had directed Quills, I would have cast Marlon Brando as The Marquis de Sade because he would have been the right age, the right weight and the right temperament. But Philip Kaufman said to me: “I want the way The Marquis de Sade perceives himself as the hero within his own roguish novels.” But there’s been no conscious choice. Maybe I’m drawn towards certain historical material just by things that appeal to me. You find a role like Elizabeth or The Marquis de Sade something that’s got big parameters to it that normal screenplays don’t come up with.

How inspiring was it to film on location in settings such as Winchester Cathedral?
Geoffrey Rush: I think imaginatively you can enter into a very sort of slightly freaky, spooky area. The first day of filming, for me, was the death scene and we’d recreated [Sir Francis] Walsingham’s bedroom in Hatfield House and we knew that she had walked there some 450 years earlier. It just ups your game because you play into it with a greater sense of relish.

b>Read our review of The Golden Age