Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Geoffrey Rush on Captain Barbossa, dirty fighting and the future of the Pirates franchise

Geoffrey Rush in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Geoffrey Rush in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Geoffrey Rush has a confession to make.

"I am more of a landlubber," he laughs.

For 14 years and five films Rush has played Captain Hector Barbossa, one of the most fearsome, wily pirates to ever take to the seas, in Disney's wildly successful Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.

Despite Rush's preference for terra firma he recalls his delight at discovering he was something of a natural seaman.

"When we were shooting the first few films we spent a lot of time shooting 30 miles off shore. Sometimes in fairly rough seas. I was surprised that my sea legs were pretty damn good."

Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem face off in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem face off in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

We're talking today because a new entry in the long-running series is about to sail on to cinema screens.

So what, I ask, is it all about?

"Revenge is the thrust of this story," Rush says delivering the sentence with full theatrics. "Javier Bardem plays this creepy character, Armando Salazar, who's been consigned to 25 years in an underwater purgatory in the Devil's Triangle. He and his crew re-emerge to the surface to take on Jack Sparrow. Jack in the meanwhile has hit rock bottom. His crew has abandoned him. His panache isdiminished by his ill fortune.

"Barbossa meanwhile has become extremely wealthy. He runs a corporation of many, many ships. He's the first person Salazar attacks so I get roped into needing to take out Salazar who is determined to take out every pirate on the planet."

As far as plans go, taking on Barbossa first does not sound like a particularly good one.

"Err... no," Rush agrees. "Barbossa's fundamental qualities have always been his narcissism and his ruthlessness. And he's still one of the great scourges of the sea. But he's taken his eye off the ball, gone a bit soft, because he's so wealthy. But he's dragged back into action and you realise he's the tough old seadog that he always has been."

It may just be the way Rush speaks, fully accentuating, emphasising and selling the drama of the film, but as he talks the wonderfully descriptive Pirates universe springs to life. The huge action set pieces are what get people talking, but the world these characters inhabit, full of creepy voodoo, supernatural curses and places with fantastical names like the aforementioned Devil's Triangle, is so realised and imaginative.


Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

"Over the course of the five films they've touched on so much of the folklore of piracy," Rush says. "The fear of going off the edge of the world, we've had feral mermaids and now we've got the Trident of Poseidon which is the big goal.

"I was watching a programme recently on the hunt for Atlantis. There were these deep sea divers in the Mediterranean who were trying to determine where this mythological story of Atlantis came from and if there was a reality to it. And they were starting to find stuff 500 metres down or whatever they were doing. They've got the technology now to go down with cameras and search, and they were finding artefacts from 3000-4000 years ago. They started to feel that there might be something to this Atlantis myth and Poseidon's Trident is part of that Atlantean mythology."

The trailers for the film declare Dead Men Tell No Tales is "the final adventure", but all this Trident business sounds like possible Pirates 6 material, I joke. It's a throwaway gag and I'm surprised when it catches Rush a little off-guard.

"Ahahaha," he laughs entirely unconvincingly before stammering out an answer. "Well.. I don't know. I don't know. You'd have to.. You'd have to.. I can't... I don't know. They don't tell us anything."

He parries with a gag of his own: "You could phone [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer - he's on 1-800-JerryB. He'd probably take reverse charges and you can ask him direct."

He chuckles at the joke and I promise to flick Bruckheimer a text as we move back to the new film.

After all this time playing the shifting Barbossa, how does Rush feel towards his scoundrel of a character?

Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem face off in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem face off in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

"It's a bit sad but I'm kind of in admiration of him," he says.

"I remember on the very first film, we had a wonderful sword master who came in. I love the study of it because I'm not a natural swordsman. I always work for six to eight weeks beforehand to learn the speed of the routines. We had a wonderful guy called Bob Anderson - he used to work with Errol Flynn back in the day and he choreographed Princess Bride, so he's the maestro of sword. He said to me, 'how old are you?' and at the time I was in my early 50s. He said, 'if you're a pirate in your early 50s and you're still alive it means you do dirty fighting. You're a cheat. You will kick sand into their eyes, you will throw things at them, you will slash. You need to be brutal and savage and cunning with your swordplay."

That's all the fun stuff, isn't it?

"It is in a way," he muses. "But it's a bit of a fantasy."


LOWDOWN
Who: Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa
What: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
When: In cinemas next Thursday

- NZ Herald

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