One of the greatest surprises in the new and good "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," is how much meaty material Geoffrey Rush, who has played salty pirate Barbossa since the first film, gets. Barbossa, who has sparred gloriously with Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow since the beginning, gets additional dimension in this fifth installment. (He also gets to tangle with Salazar, an evil, ghostly pirate played by Javier Bardem who is hell-bent on finding and killing Sparrow, something that Barbossa can sympathize with.) Barbossa has always been one of the more fluid characters in the franchise and where he goes here is a huge thrill.
Just as huge a thrill was getting to talk to Rush about the new movie, his thoughts on the entire franchise, and what it was like getting inserted into the original attraction.
Moviefone: When you made the first movie, did you ever think it'd be this huge franchise?
Geoffrey Rush: Well, it's been 15 years ago. We started in September 2002. But I did read the screenplay and of course on the last page I get shot. So I thought, Well this has been a nice, big, bold swashbuckling [adventure]. Someone describes Barbossa before he enters as being "spat out from the mouth of hell." And I thought, I've got to bring something to that. I've got to make an entrance, which is of course the first confrontation with Elizabeth Swann. But you know I love the spirit of that film. When they first wrote the script Jerry Bruckheimer said, "There's an element missing. It's just another pirate movie." When they came up with the curse, with these pirates that you realize, by the moonlight, are undead. That gave it a really great quest to reverse the whole idea -- we had to put all the treasure back. I thought that was a nice spin on it.
After that, Gore Verbinski phoned me after the film was such a smash. We were very low down on the list for films that people were going to see that summer. People were very cynical like, Basing it on a theme park ride, that's going to be very interesting, isn't it? But it went gangbusters. And in that rare phenomenon, because he's such a remarkable actor, Johnny had been king of the indies with "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" and "Edward Scissorhands," he's always created fantastic and rather magical types of characters, he got Oscar-nominated for Best Actor, which is a great triumph for a film that is primarily a comedy adventure film, which rarely get a look-in for that type of film.
When they decided to shoot 2 and 3 and make it a trilogy, I liked that the writers went very Wagnerian and looked at all the mythology and folklore and all of the fears of the pirate world, you know going over the edge of the waterfall and turning upside down and fighting the Kraken. I thought all of those set pieces were very imaginative and potent. Good to play in. And he said, "We're bringing you back with voodoo." It wasn't just movie magic, there was a great plotline with Tia Dalma who needed all the great pirate lords and it went global and Chow Yun-Fat was playing a new villain and Barbossa made a surprise entrance. And he seems to keep evolving. He was a politician getting the G20 of world pirates together for a big meeting.
Then I worked for King George II in the fourth film and now I'm a corporate CEO, a rather obscenely wealthy pirate with a vulgarity to his style. For all of his narcissism and vanity, there's a lot of self-delusion I think in Barbossa's brain, as to what his station is in life.
It's amazing how the character has changed from movie to movie. Do you always find new things to play in Barbossa?
Yeah. He's got those different types of personas that he gravitates towards because he is a control freak. So all of that has been very good. And in this last film they have planted something that obviously happened decades ago, because we're all much older. I didn't think Barbossa could get any crustier. He's the oldest pirate on the sea, which is fun to play because he probably has to be the most ruthless and the most lethal. Now he's got a wooden leg and a crutch which he could also fight with.But there's a new villain on the scene, Salazar. What was it like shooting with Javier Bardem?
He's great isn't he? Again, in that whole series of very, very good character actors who have jumped at the opportunity to be a big part of this five-chapter saga. We had Bill Nighy in there as Davy Jones, which I thought was a groundbreaking piece of cinematic magic, being able to create him as that underwater creature. And similarly, with Salazar, Javier treats the role very seriously.
I did a lot of press with him as we were touring through Shanghai and Paris and it was fascinating to hear him talk about what made him so vengeful and so mercenary, to have this dark obsession to annihilate every pirate on the face of the earth. And he said there was a code of honor in the Andalusian, Southern Spanish Naval world and for that to have been besmirched by a pirate has caused him over 25 years in purgatory in the Devil's Triangle, he's come back full of rage and full of pain. It's a very classical, very inventive and very imaginative actor's approach.
And you guys are so great together.
Well, it's the meeting of two villains, both of whom would really just like to wipe each other out in the first scene. But Barbossa's always got an ulterior motive and you find out Barbossa is in it for the big bonus of getting the trident of Poseidon himself. He also has to quickly talk his way out of not being killed by Salazar at any given moment. We talked about keeping that as knife's edge as we possibly could.
How much did you know about the ride before you signed onto the movie?
I had been on the ride maybe in the late '90s, when I was first shooting some stuff in America and my kids were quite young at the time. So we had been to Disneyland. The ride is an engineering marvel. I still can't quite understand how they get all the water levels right. You really get lost down there. You get drawn into a mesmerizing and rather enchanting world. It was all that great Animatronic stuff that Walt Disney invented in the 60s. I can't remember what year it was, maybe 10 years ago, no one wanted to tamper with what made the ride such a pleasurable experience for families to enjoy but I love that they managed to slip a bit of Jack Sparrow in and put Barbossa up on one of the boats.
How does that feel? Did you ever imagine you'd be in a Disney ride?
No. And I said to my agent, "Do I really get a good fee for this?" He said, "No, you do it for the pleasure and honor of being a part of the ride so that one day your great-grandkids will go there and go, 'That's great great-granddad Geoffrey.'" [Laughs]
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" opens everywhere Friday.