(Creative Minds series, episode 2 starring Geoffrey Rush which aired on SBS 26 January 2013)
If you didn’t catch this exciting and insightful episode featuring acting great Geoffrey Rush then fear not. I have taken the laborious time of transcribing (some) of the interview conducted by Robin Hughes. There’s some little gems of information that I wanted to highlight and share with you, particularly on his acting technique and character development. Geoffrey gives away many acting tips and acting secrets. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Geoffrey Rush attended the great international theatre school of Jacques Lecoq in Paris, France. He’s been nominated for an Oscar (Academy Award) four times in 1997 for Shine, 1999 for Shakespeare in Love, 2001 for Quills, and 2011 for The King’s Speech. Playing David Helfgott in Shine is where he proved his worth as an actor on the international circuit by winning the Oscar.
Let us know your thoughts on Geoffrey’s comments below. Go Geoffrey!
“Geoffrey – I’m interested in pitching my imaginative sense of play…
Robin – When you’re working on a new role what do you have to draw on to make the character really resonate?
G – I think ultimately now I believe that it’s some tiny part of a autobiographical nature about yourself that you dig into and amplify and allow out in a what if imagined scenario. What if I was an alcoholic father in a house in Brisbane in the 1950’s (referring to Swimming Upstream)? What if I was a pirate (Pirates of the Caribbean)? It’s a bit of a cliche but you have to look for your own inner pirate. And you’ve got to generate it from something that’s based a little bit on repressed bits of your own personality you don’t even dare let out in your normal waking life!
R – At the Queensland Theatre Company you were learning by doing, what else was influencing the actor you were becoming?
G – The Hungarian writer, Arthur Koestler had written a book The Act of Creation. And it had a big impact on my thinking. He basically analysizes human thought and divides it into three sections. He talks about the jester and humour, then he talks about the sage, the scientist, then he talks about the artist. And he has this whole developed theory where he says for example in humour you have two sets of unconnected ideas that in a person’s mind instantly sets up all the ramifications. So like when you tell a joke. You’ve got one set of values in the story-line of the joke and the other set and then suddenly they kind of smash into each other. And intellectually you make a very quick appreciation of the surprise clash but you laugh! And I thought this is the first time I’ve read anyone who’s given me a sense of being able to deconstruct what makes something funny without killing it. You know there’s the famous George Kaufman quote, who wrote for the Marx brothers and wrote all those brilliant American plays in the 30’s, and he said it’s always dangerous analyzing a joke. He said that analyzing a joke is like dissecting a frog. You may find out what’s inside the joke but you end up with a dead frog!”
On going to Jacques Lecoq International School of Theatre:
“G – It was an absolute revelation. There was something just wonderful about being 23 in Paris. The school is not anti-intellectual but it never approaches the idea of performance by sort of… you don’t study the texts or you don’t read books about how to do it. You’ve got to discover what direction you’re going to take your creativity in. The first year of the school is a very lengthy journey into the discovery of the expressiveness of the human body through the use of the neutral masks so that you’re not trapped into the psychology of a character. That you’re finding ways of expressing and identifying with physical phenomena like seasons or material or the precision of the stealth of a cat. And the minimum amount of movement it needs because its functioning in a very real environment of being on alert or looking you know. Then the second year he culls the 90 students down to 30. Pretty much a study of Greek chorus and buffoons, Commedia dell’arte with the three quarter speaking masks. Trying to find a contemporary energy to those archetypal characters of pantaloon and harlequins. And then ultimately the most personal mask is just the little red nose of finding the vulnerability and openness of your personalised inner clown. Which is really just finding everything that’s wrong with you and letting that become absolutely your key strength.
R – We’ve seen you in some fabulous hats Geoffrey, how important are hats to you when it comes to creating a character?
G – Hats are very important I think. This goes back to Buster Keaton. I can’t remember the film, I think it’s Steamboat Bill Junior and there’s this beautiful, very droll sequence where Buster Keaton tries on several different hats. And each one is funny just by the nature of the shape of it. I think it gives you a sense of the brain of the character.
R – Have you ever been asked to work with a costume that you just know is wrong for you? And what do you do about it?
G – If you’re in period films, like for example with Quills. I discussed with Jacqueline West. And I said the tricky thing is we’ve got to get away from the Captain Cook look. The curls, they’re sort of predictable, and a cliche. And she said I’m working on something. And she came up with this double pony tail and it had the rolls on top. And the moment I put it on he looked more rock ‘n roll than he did like he was trapped in the late 18th century. And somehow with the buckles on my shoes and my rather thin calves and that sort of silk almost Garry Glitter – he’s been locked away like an old rock star up in the attic for thirty years and he’s now out of date. He looked like a goat. They were like little horns. And I thought this is perfect. And it helped me develop a kind of walk. He must keep his feet close together as if he’s constantly on a rocky precipice that he’s become very familiar and very comfortable in negotiating.
R – What gave you the key to playing Lionel Logue (in The King’s Speech)?
G – The moment I saw the bow tie I went that’s great. It was a slightly dapper quality which is useful because it didn’t instantly define him as being a stereotypical Aussie. But most importantly he had this little rather decorative quiff of hair that suggested something dapper and distinctive.
R – You’re career had developed in the theatre with very little screen work, but that changed in a big way with the film Shine. How did you first hear about that role?
G – One of the women in Shanahan’s, as in the agency, phoned me up and said you must come in and read this screen play. She was weeping. Agents never weep! And she said you’ve got to come and read this. It’s an amazing part. It’s based on a true story and I think you’ll find it really, really intriguing. And I went in and read it. And I thought God who is this guy? This is extraordinary. It was what you call a good read. Jan Sardi’s script you got it in a sitting. You know the feeling of the stage directions, the dramaturgical structure of the scenes, the flash backs, everything. Very, very vivid. And curiously enough I went back to Melbourne at the end of that season and that very weekend I was going through the Melbourne Age and there was David Helfgott appearing at Mietta’s and I thought this is interesting. It’s a sign. So I went along kind of anonymously and just watched and took a few notes. During that time I bubbled away listening to a lot of interview tapes Scott had done with David Helfgott to really absorb the nature of his speech patterns. In fact I wrote out all of the interviews with all of their repetitions and overlaps and word plays and tangental thoughts and so forth because I wanted to see what they looked like as script.
G … I never look at the daily’s or the rushes. You have to trust that you’re achieving, becoming alive enough.
R – Have you ever had to work with an actor that made life really difficult for you?
G – I think the most difficult co-star I ever had was the monkey in Pirates. Tara, with a Californian accent is “terror”… by name and by nature! We shot my entrance scene where the monkey swings in and lands on my shoulder and we’re a pair. It’s instead of a parrot I’ve got this grimacing little beast, who was trained completely to work with the trainer off camera and have no relationship with me whatsoever because if we bonded “terror” would just spend all of her time picking out things out of my hair. She’d groom me. If I suddenly yelled and took my sword out she’d leap up into the rigging wondering what have I done to offend Geoffrey? She also wore a little diaper because they have ‘squizzes’ at the drop of a hat!… Anyway we shot the very first scene, which is a big dialogue scene where Elizabeth Swan is brought on board the Black Pearl. And it’s major dialogue, challenging dialogue between us. And seriously plot driven. We’d done the wide shots, the monkey had been pretty well behaved. And when we moved into the tighter shots, the big Isaac Singleton Jr, who was this 6’8″ black man was the bosun, was standing much closer to us just to fit his shoulder into the frame. And the monkey wasn’t used to that proximity and it was disturbing her all the way through the scene. And Ursula who was this very nice woman who was the trainer, said I’ve got an idea. I’ve got a little water pistol and I’ll go (squirt, squirt) because as soon as she feels the water she’ll look at me which would look like she’s looking at Keira Knightly. And we said okay let’s give it a go. So I was ploughing through all this dialogue and in between all my dialogue Ursula’s going Tara, Tara, over here, hello, hello (squirt, squirt). And the monkey would (look towards Ursula)! And it looks like she’s actively listening… I thought this is going to be a nightmare and we’re going to have to post sync this entire scene because it’s going to be full of mistakes… But somehow we got an absolutely clean take, and it’s what you see in the film. The monkey looking like a better actor than I was. Highly alert, deeply engaged, and brilliant eye contact!
Please remember I have only transcribed partial sections of the interview. The bits I found quite interesting and helpful to aspiring actors, in particular on acting technique and character development.
Below is the link to view the SBS on Demand Creative Minds episode featuring Geoffrey Rush:
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