Born in Toowoomba, Queensland in 1951, Geoffrey Rush enjoyed an active stage career and very minor celebrity until his filmic breakthrough in 1996’s Shine, which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor. He’s now the subject of the Arts Centre Melbourne’s latest in a series of exhibitions celebrating iconic Australian performers.
“Geoffrey Rush is one of the greatest character actors that there is today,” says Margaret Marshall, curator at the Arts Centre. If there is a logic behind what roles he chooses, she says, it’s about “always moving on, maintaining a diverse repertoire, not wanting to be typecast.”
She give the example of US TV movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, for which Rush won an Emmy. He created not just a convincing imitation of the late British star, but of 38 of the characters he portrayed. “I’d call that the ultimate in character acting.”
Rather than present a chronological survey of his career, the exhibition of costumes, posters, photographs and annotated scripts (many drawn from Rush’s personal archives) looks at the different character types he’s played. The largest category is ‘Clowns, Fools and Ratbags’. Rush trained at the Jacques Lecoq school of mime and movement in the mid-1970s and it defined his intensely physical approaching to acting.
“We’ve called it The Extraordinary Shapes of Geoffrey Rush because Geoffrey often looks at characters and finds the key to the personality through shapes,” says Marshall. “Wigs, hats, a way of walking, a certain posture, the silhouette are the key to getting into character.”
Image: Geoffrey Rush as King Berenger in 'Exit the King', 2009