TORONTO—Geoffrey Rush knows how to close the deal.
It’s a skill he may have learned from playing Sir Francis Walsingham, the Karl Rove-like consigliere who serves as the monarch’s right hand in 1998’s “Elizabeth.” So when the time came three years ago to discuss a hot script for that film’s sequel during a serendipitous meeting at a Los Angeles hotel with its director, an eager Shekhar Kapur, and star, a reluctant Cate Blanchett, Rush got straight to the point.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Mollà
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 12 Oct 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 23 Oct 2007 (General release); 2007)
“Cate’s standpoint was, `Well, I’ve played that role, and I don’t know if I can bring anything new to it.’ And I suppose from a theatrical perspective—because Cate and I had worked together in the theater—the argument I used was, `Look, I think the script is fantastic. I actually think the script is stronger and more textured and more layered and more resonant than even the first one,’” Rush said in an interview last month at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“And I said to her, `You know, think of this as a theatrical project. Roles for women like this just don’t come along that often. This is almost unheard of in contemporary cinema. And for that reason, you should really take it on.’”
Ultimately, Blanchett was convinced based on the idea that her character undergoes another major transformation in the second film, much as she does in the first. For Rush, 56, the opportunity was also there to redefine a part that he had already played once. He describes Walsingham’s relationship to the queen as moving from more of a mentor/student pairing in the first film to more like a middle-aged married couple who now have an over-familiarity with one another.
Exploring that changing dynamic was one of the challenges that drew him to the film. But getting to shine a spotlight on Walsingham, who Rush considers on par with Winston Churchill in terms of their historical significance, was another major perk.
“There are new biographies out about him, and people are now starting to say, `Why has Walsingham become history’s forgotten figure?’ Rush says. “He literally within two generations changed and solidified England from being a Catholic country to being a Protestant country, which is no easy feat.”
As for Rush’s career path, he’s settled into a series of meaty supporting parts, from playing a Moussad operative in “Munich” to the feisty Captain Barbossa in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films to his current role in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” He won an Oscar in the lead acting category for 1996’s “Shine,” but being labeled a “character actor” isn’t something that bothers him.
“I think if there are definitions, that’s the category I would come under. I think most actors like to think that they are people who play characters. But by definition there are various schools of thought. There are movie stars and there are film actors. They do different kinds of things,” he says, noting that he most certainly falls into the later category.
A strong supporting cast is important to any film. They are the players who move and shape the story with minimal screen time. It’s a role that Walsingham, a man who didn’t need to be seen to be influential, would no doubt appreciate.
Want to know more about Sir Francis Walsingham, the man credited with laying the foundation for many of today’s spy organizations? A couple of recent biographies explore one of England’s largely overlooked figures.
“Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England,” by Robert Hutchinson (St. Martin’s Press, $27.95)
“Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage,” by Stephen Budiansky (Penguin, $15)
“Francis Walsingham, Spymaster,” by Derek Wilson (Basic Books, $25.99)