Geoffrey Rush Plays Barbossa in the new Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. A brilliant actor with an Acadamy Award for his performance as pianist David Helfgott in Shine, there’s no doubt, Geoffrey is very talented. Coming back for his 5th go at Barbossa, his character has had some major transformations. This interview is filled with spoilers, so if you haven’t had the opportunity to see the 5th Pirates yet, I suggest you wait until you do. He shares so many stories hopping back and forth from the first film to the last. I could have listened to him all day!
Geoffrey Rush Plays Barbossa
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales yet, you may want to come back to this interview after. There are some spoilers in this post and I encourage you to come back after you have seen the movie.
You play a different Barbossa this time around.
Well, it’s something that happened over the first four films, you know. I think in the first one before I entered into the story, Barbossa was described rather fearfully by the two pirates that are now my assistants. (chuckles) “He’s spat out from the mouth of hell.” To me, that was the key line. I thought, well, whenever I enter into this story, if you don’t see that, then he’s a liar (chuckles), you know. So, he was pretty much the dark villain of the piece. And, he had to break the curse. I think it was a great twist of the story that we were having to put all of the treasure back to reverse the curse, which I think I then enjoyed having all my senses back for about 30 seconds. Then I got shot.
There is a sort or poignant but rather ridiculous comic madman. (chuckles) And I thought that was fun. And I don’t know. Some months later, Gore Verbinski, who was the director in the first three, phoned me up and said look, it’s been such a success. And it was fun. It was just fantastic to think someone like Johnny was the king of the independent films here, great characters like Edward Scissor Hands and What’s Eating Gilbert Great and all of the things that he did.
In the beginning.
For him to create such a unique, unpredictable pirate — there’s nothing like it in literature or cinema before. And he got nominated for the Best Actor, which is just fantastic. ‘Cause these actual adventure films just don’t get a look in on that territory.
But I remember him telling me when we shot the first movie; he said, “We can’t be stereotypes. We’ve gotta create imaginative kind of people that an audience will get very engaged with. I’ve been toying with the idea of, you know, I like the British rock stars of the ‘60s ’cause the pirates always had sort of clear-cut identities. The real black beard used to have fuse wire burning in his beard that when people saw him, they thought he was the devil. So, that would go from ship to ship from port to port.” I said, yeah, but, well, with Barbossa I wanna make him very arrogant and very pompous and very superior and maybe a bit slightly (chuckles) self-diluted about how bright he is so.
Penny Rose, the Costume Designer, gave me this great kind of flamboyant outfit. I was a bit more like a glam rock star coming back. You know what I mean. And Gore phoned me up and said, look, we’re gonna go to Asia and everything. And I said, well, that’s great. You’ll all have a marvelous time.
It was really fun being in the first film. He said, oh, no, no, no. We’ll go to Asia. We’re gonna have a new sort of Asian villain that Chow Yun-fat played. But he said you’re gonna come back as a very secret surprise right in the end of the second film. I said, “Oh, right. How? I’m dead.” (laughing) He said, well, no, it’s gonna be voodoo. I went, “What do you mean? Movie magic.” No.
He said Tia Dalma needs you to get all the global pirates together to break the curse of the cheese hunter. It’ll become a big part of the story. So, I sort of became like a politician. And that was fun to play because he’s a control freak and he loves thinking he’s the most powerful person on the planet. And then I worked for the king. I liked that in Pirates 4. And I said, you know, I insist that I have a very elaborate wig and lovely makeup and a beauty spot.
The teeth were always the same. And then, unfortunately, when he put on the courtly makeup with his crusty skin, he didn’t look any prettier. (laughs) So that sort of shift has always been there. And I did it love it when I read the fifth script that he had become so wealthy. And I like that it brought out the vulgarity. Barbossa isn’t somebody with any sense of personal style whatsoever.
And Penny Rose offered me a costume, and I said this is great. He wouldn’t care if he mixed checks with stripes. And what else does he spend his money on? I love the fact that the wooden leg — I said this is a great way to show how ridiculously wealthy he is. It’s a bit like Saddam Hussein having gold everywhere on the bathroom taps and probably shaped like fish or something (chuckles) ridiculous. And then the extra bit where they brought in a sort of deep secret from even before the first film started that there was something that Jack and Barbossa knew about.
I probably needed to go through therapy to un-repress that memory, but he had obviously blocked it out. I looked back at all the other films and just looked at it in the light of if that secret had been there, it’ll all still make sense, you know. The obsession for the grandeur of his own persona is someone masking this guilty secret that he has. And I think — ’cause you can’t talk about this. This is all a surprise to the audience.
I had a guy interviewing me yesterday; he was tearing up while we were chatting. He said I just went the last 25 minutes of the film sobbing. Oh, grow up. (laughs) I just like the way thematically in the whole film. It’s all to do with parenting and, you know, it’s Will Turner and his son. And, you know, I didn’t just have a monkey’s substitute child. Or that could’ve been powerful, but, you know, I’ll get a monkey because I’m lonely.
And Kaya is such a gorgeous actress, and she’s got a very feisty, natural funky quality. My daughter worked on the film in the costume department, and they’re the same age. And I don’t know if Skin’s shown here in the states. It was very popular teenage series in the UK, and Kaya played one of the main characters in that. And I love the fact that she’s, you know, extolled as being this really brilliant, female astronomer.
And the fact that she, for all of her rationale, empirical, scientific aspiration, she still has to deal with the fact that somebody like Salazar existed as well, who’s supernatural. You know, that’s always been a part of the series. That was a long answer, wasn’t it?
It’s a good answer.
You and Johnny have a great back and forth. Was that natural, or did you have to work on that?
The scripts are always pretty good. We’ve sort of decided now that the black pearl is our mutual girlfriend and we both want her. Then chances are that Jack Sparrow will end up with the ship, which he does, but that sense of harmony’s never always gonna stay there I think that if there is any kind of sequel. I don’t know. I’m dead. Again.
So you’re not gonna come back?
Well, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind coming back as a ghost.
That sounds good.
Like Hamlet’s father. You know, I’ll come back and just annoy Jack Sparrow (laughing) with a lot of advice from the other side. I don’t know. They haven’t talked about that, but I think the film might be very successful.
Did you actually have to walk with a peg leg?
No. Well, you know, I think back in the days when Robert Newton played Long John Silver I think he did with the leg strapped up which would’ve been painful.
So, I went down that path and talked to a prosthetician who specializes with amputees. You know what I mean. And the engineering they do now — if you see people that have a leg from the knee down, it’s molded beautifully in titanium or whatever. And I saw something the other day with — they’ve now got a machine where the feet kind of ripple for a movement like a real foot.
It’s amazing engineering. But he said it takes these people maybe 12 to 18 months to really get all their musculature and their core muscles to train it to be a good part of you. And when I had it strapped up, I couldn’t stand up. I mean it was just impossible. And I said you know what? I’ll act the leg. Because I wore a blue screen stocking that I made sure that we made the heel of it like
And there were shocking bits. Do you remember in the fourth film Jack and I are both tied up in trees and you think this is one of the situations where Jack Sparrow he will not or cannot get out of this scenario.
They’re surrounded by Spanish guards and everything, and I suggested the idea that I said, well, we’ll be trapped. We’ll just wait and see what happens. And I said to them can I unscrew the leg and take it off.
And I had rum inside the leg, (chuckles) and was using it, which was kind of nice. At first, I said it maybe, yeah, I’ll take it off and it’ll sort of spring a weapon or something like that, but rum seemed good. But they made up the end of my knee to look like kind of pulpy, like a wound that had never really heal, it should be pretty ugly. They would saw it off. Well, he actually took his own leg off to escape from Black Beard’s ship. So, I quite like that there was that ruthlessness that he would damage himself to stay alive.
I think we’d all love to hear about the monkey a little bit.
The monkey’s great. The monkey’s trained not to have a relationship with me because if it did it would just try to groom me.
It would be looking for things to eat in my wig. (laughing) They are very loyal to their owner if trained correctly. I pulled a sword or, somebody yelled fire or whatever, the monkey would just go — they’re very head strong. So would lead the way and do all that sort of stuff. The monkey is completely in the hands of the trainer. And the trainers are brilliant. They’re able to sort of throw in all the instructions in and around the dialogue.
Tara the monkey.
I remember on the first film we’d shot the first meeting with Elizabeth Swann and I’d come down with the monkey on my shoulder, and we had a big dialogue between us. And suddenly when they came in for the close shops, the boson was this massive, deep, black-skinned guy called Isaac Singleton Junior. He was this gentle giant but from somewhere like Louisiana I think, and he hadn’t been there in the earlier shots. And the monkey was kinda going I don’t like this person, and I thought, oh, what are we going to do, ’cause we’ve shot some of the dialogue and close-ups and everything.
And the trainer said I think it’s okay. I think that this was Ursula. Tara was the name of the first monkey. (I think I laughed loud) She priced herself out of the film for the second film. The owner of Tara wanted this part of the Caribbean 2? Oh, a million dollars. And they went no, no, we’ll get a cheap monkey. I don’t know. She had this idea of just squirting a water pistol onto Tara’s chest. She had a little vest and everything. And Tara would go ttt (water gun noise). Well, so everything looks like she’s looking at Elizabeth Swann listening to the dialogue. And then I’d say to Keira don’t say any of your lines. I know what I’m questioning. We’ll make sure we get my side of the shot. Then when we’re shooting over the shoulder, we don’t need the monkey over there.
Ursula’s sort of down on the ground going Tara, Tara, Tara, tttt. And I’m going, oh, you know, Mrs. Swann, you’re doing — tttt (water in his eye), “Oh, sorry, Geoffrey.” It was hilarious. It was hilarious. And I thought we’re gonna have to dub all of that scene, but we got it done in and around — it’s very funny. There was one scene where we’re going into the scene and Ursula — she was quite an attractive blonde woman [CHUCKLES] — was down lying on the floor between my legs in the boat sending all of these commands out to Tara. [LAUGHS] But anyway, Tara got the flick. And then Pablo and Chiquita came.
Chiquita and Pablo.
Chiquita was slightly smaller and she was better for fitting under the hat of someone. Pablo was slightly bigger. And he was supposed to do all the stunt work, you see. There was one scene where the monkey had to swim from one boat to the other, and Pablo got on the edge of the boat and just froze and thought, you know, there’s no way I’m doing this. So Chiquita got on, “I’ll do it.” No, she jumped in and swam. They were a good team. But was lovely was that they would always be eating — they’re getting peanut rewards or little bits of dried banana and stuff like that.
And I used to love it. It was very comforting, ’cause I’d feel them on my shoulder going, eee eee eee eee eee eee ehuh-eee eee. You know, making all those little noises. And you just get very warm soft, aromatic, peanut breath (laugh). So, every time I had the monkey in the scene there was a real kind of a connection. So anyway, when we shot on the Gulf Coast on the last one, I was in having a costume fitting. They said, oh, Pablo’s having his costume fitting, ’cause they were the little pants and everything and this little frilly shirt.
Like no time passed.
And he came in and then because I thought he wouldn’t remember me, this has been five years or something. He looked across (chuckles) the room at me and went running to me. And it was so sweet. We’re baaaack. This is greeeat. And doing all this sort of stuff. And I said to Martin, would he remember me over five years? He said, yeah, he’d remember the smell of your ear wax. (laughing)
How affectionate is that? I think Kate Winslow had said that when we did Quills together. (laughing) Not sure. But it was so sweet. And then he came down to me at the end. He’s always on a little lead and everything. He gave me a painting that he did. It’s really amazing. And it’s framed. And it’s an ogre background and it’s got these mad, green spreads. I call it abstract simian expressionism. And then there’s some yellow over on this side. It’s really quite artistic. I don’t know what that is. That could’ve been the contents of the diaper that he wears.
Check out my other Pirates of the Caribbean posts from the #PirateLifeEvent.