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It's okay if you don't recognize Geoffrey Rush when he's not in pantaloons. Thanks to his role as Captain Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and memorable frilly-collar turns in Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love, he's used to period costume. Rush's threads are a bit more modern in The King's Speech, in which he stars as George VI's personal speech therapist; it's set in pre--World War II Britain, when the monarch's stammer wasn't compatible with the "keep calm and carry on" addresses he needed to make.
Industry buzz already pegs Rush as an Oscar favorite; it would be the Australian thespian's second golden statue. For now, calling from the set of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Rush is happy to ponder swashbuckling and skulduggery.
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Is this the first time that a speech therapist has been a movie hero?
Once the posters come out, I want to go around with a big, black Sharpie and just write therapist on them, so that it's called The King's Speech Therapist.
As an Australian, how do you feel about the monarchy? Could you be buddies with a king?
My connection to the vast history and heritage of the royal family I got through Shakespeare. A massive historical cycle, you know. I've always been intrigued by the extraordinary history. How the crown is passed from one generation to the next, sometimes through murder, sometimes through skulduggery.
Skulduggery is always good.
As an Aussie, I suppose I lean towards a republican movement. Not in any kind of aggressive way, you know, because you know the monarchy has its place in British society. But since the European settlement [of Australia] it's been 220 years—it wouldn't be bad to cut the apron strings, create a sense of autonomy in the way your country did.
It's been such smooth sailing for us ever since.
You know, the Americans still have this extraordinary fascination with things like the pompous ceremonies of the royal family. But in The King's Speech [it shows] the vulnerability and dysfunctionality with those families.
Back to the Bard: Your character in The King's Speech is obsessed with Shakespeare. You've performed some of his plays, you were in Shakespeare in Love—do you think Shakespeare is perhaps a bit overrated?
No, no, no, I would never forge into that territory. There's a new book on Shakespeare scholarship seemingly every year and the argument goes on—did he write the plays? There are the Oxfordians, there are the Stratfordians, there are all these camps. I have a feeling [he] was a pretty freakish, rather brilliant glover's son from Stratford.
You already have an Oscar, a Tony award and an Emmy award. You're just one Grammy from getting your EGOT—Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony. Are you going for it?
Well, it's a tricky one because I'm not a singer. I don't know the statistics on that—it's only a handful of people that have gotten all those.... I'm not egomaniacally ambitious to think I must enter that.
What's happening in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie you're shooting? What pirating is left for them to do?
That's a good question. The first one was a very adventurous, swashbuckling account of life on the high seas at that time. And then the writers very boldly went into grand folklore and mythology by bringing in the kraken, the sea monster, and sea gods and goddesses....
They don't seem to actually pirate a lot. They don't do their day job, robbing other people.
Well, it's all the way we perceive piracy. It all happened 400 years ago, and it only became part of the folklore 150 or 200 years ago. So the mythology has become part of what we accept. Before that, they were thugs. Drunken thugs who killed people and weren't terribly swashbuckling. But the great thing about the fourth film, I would have thought they had used up every inch of folklore, every fable...
Everything but mermaids.
But see, now they've got mermaids in it! It's going to be terribly exciting.
The King's Speech opens Fri 26.