‘PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES’s Geoffrey Rush would like to be the face of a skincare line. Yes, really!

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Geoffrey Rush in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

It makes THE TEN COMMANDMENTS look like it was filmed in a fish tank.

He’s won an Oscar. He’s conquered both stage and screen. He’s a recognizable presence in any film. But what really matters most to actor Geoffrey Rush are the subtleties he’s able to bring to the wide array of iconic performances. His antagonistic character in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise being no different. “Captain Barbossa,” is perpetually bothered by the existence of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) so much more than usual in the fifth film of the franchise, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. In the Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg-directed chapter, Barbossa is busy securing his seas and track down Sparrow when he’s confronted by a ghost from his past – one that winds up spotlighting a new facet to the character.

Rush enjoyed playing that new tone, he mentioned at the film’s recent Los Angeles press day.

It was nice having that added dimension to the character that there was a secret back when Jack and Hector were frat boys together. I looked at all the other films thinking if that was there – if that would make sense. It’s a repressed memory. Maybe that’s where the monkey came into the story. Subliminal, re-channeling guilt or something? His basic qualities are so narcissistic and vein. It all made sense – the idea that there could possibly be some vulnerability, a glimmer of doubt, maybe a few run out tears.

The climactic third act takes place on what’s essentially the bottom of the ocean. Though it involved loads of CG and special effects, it still required to have Rush dangle from an anchor suspended about 50 feet in the air. He was excited to take on that challenge for one reason alone: to look cool for his daughter.

My daughter was working on the film in the costume department. She came in, and said, ‘Dad! I’m so proud.’ This is a benchmark CGI film. We had the rocks and black sand anc coral and everything and a few drips of water so the visual effects people knew where they could put in all of that. It makes THE TEN COMMANDMENTS look like it was filmed in a fish tank. They said, ‘Do you feel okay? You’ll be in a harness.’ You are on a very dangerous, industrial workplace, but I was 15 or 20 meters up on the anchor and it impressed my daughter. There was something really cool about that.

Despite being a talented and insightful actor himself, Rush was enamored with co-star Depp’s astute ability playing the irascible, inebriated Sparrow.

When we were first talking about it, [Depp] said, ‘They’re in the sun and they drink a lot of rum because the water is off.’ He liked the idea of the British rock stars like The Rolling Stones, the branding of pirates. They could declare from ship to ship and port to port what their identity would be. I think with Barbossa, there’s this grandeur of the hat, the pomposity of the old fading glam rock star – a bit of Adam Ant, I don’t know. Johnny was playing around with him and he’s a great clown. He said, ‘Jack Sparrow has his land legs and his sea legs. I just want to play with the idea that he never gets them right.’ That’s kind of genius. That’s giving you an imaginative hook that means you’re going to invent something no one’s ever seen before – certainly the Disney executives had never seen it before. They were sitting there worried after three days, saying, ‘Where’s the Errol Flynn character?!’

After co-starring in four out of the five movies in the series, it’s the sense of embarking on a new adventure that keeps Rush returning.

I always see new dimensions for the character – that he’s shifted into being a politician, or working for the King, or becoming the kingpin pirate. There’s always great variations of the scraps that Jack and I get into because he’s such a free-wheeling, existential guy and I’m the control freak who wants to be the boss. And we’re still fighting over ‘The Pearl,’ who kind of regard as being the beautiful girlfriend that both of us think should belong to them.

I was a repertory theater actor. You don’t get that in films. There’s a team – a part from Johnny and myself and Kevin McNally and Marty Klebba. The monkeys have been in four of the films. Penny Rose, the costume designer. The camera operator. The focus puller. You go back to 400 people! We’re all buddies now. We really enjoy getting back together. They give us shabby locations like Hawaii, and the Bahamas. It’s hard work, but there’s a sense of adventure – and great actors. It’s not too shabby.

And yet there’s still one dream Rush still has yet to make a reality.

Like my colleague Cate Blanchett, I’d like to become the SK-II guy. Do a “before and after” moisturizer franchise. I’m sick of seeing Charlize Theron in airports. I wanna see me up there, looking amazing!

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES opens on May 26.

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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.