Geoffrey Rush might well have been an Elizabethan courtier in a previous life. He's
certainly dressed for success playing two distinctive characters in a similar era.
"Yes, it's a bit strange donning the garb", Rush says laughingly from Los
Angeles where he's midway through shooting the larger-than-life Universal action comedy
Mystery Men. Though both Elizabeth, co-starring the celebrated Cate Blanchett, and the far
funnier Shakespeare in Love, were released in the US reasonably close to each other, Rush
got sent the Shakespeare script quite some time after finishing filming Elizabeth.
"I'd actually been home for several weeks when the script came to me."
"I knew I had to do it."
Rush has been in high demand since winning his shiny Best Actor Oscar, so though his
onscreen comedic talents were well hidden, it was Miramax that made him the offer he
simply couldn't refuse. "It only took four pages and I was laughing hysterically; I
knew I had to do it."
The film is set in 1593 and William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is on a cold streak.
Not only is he writing for Philip Henslowe (Rush), owner of The Rose, a theatre whose
doors are about to be closed by creditors, but also he's got a nasty case of writer's
block. Shakespeare hasn't written a hit in years. In fact, he hasn't written much of
anything recently. Thus, the Bard finds himself in quite a bind when Henslowe, desperate
to stave off another round of hot-coals-to-feet application, stakes The Rose's solvency on
Shakespeare's new comedy, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter. The problem is, Romeo is
safely locked away in Shakespeare's head, which is to say that not a word of it is
Meanwhile, the lovely Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) is an ardent theatregoer -scandalous
for a woman of her breeding - who especially admires Shakespeare's plays and, not
incidentally, Bill himself. Alas, she's about to be sold as property into a loveless
marriage by her mercenary father and shipped off to a Virginia tobacco plantation. But not
before dressing up as a young man and winning the part of Romeo in the embryonic play.
Shakespeare soon discovers the deception and goes along with it, using the blossoming love
affair to ignite his muse.
"it was fun." on Shakespeare
As William and Viola's romance grows in intensity and spirals towards its inevitable
culmination, so, too, does the farcical comedy about Romeo and pirates transform into the
timeless tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet.
Having already donned Elizabethan garb as the much darker Walsingham in Elizabeth, Rush
freely admits he had to think about revisiting the era in Shakespeare in Love. "But
that only lasted a fleeting minute or two. It was so beautifully written and so
deliciously funny, I couldn't resist doing it." In fact, Rush hastens to add, doing
this second Elizabethan - set piece, reminded him of the good old days in the theatre
"where one would do repertory. On the one hand, there you'd be doing a classic
tragedy, and the next night a farce. That's what doing these was like, and it was
Rush steals the film from the likes of Paltrow and Fiennes, delivering a Cockney, comic
performance that had critics raving, a Golden Globe nomination and even a possible Oscar
nomination. "I've just been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, which I'm
excited about, because it's solely your peers voting. The Oscar buzz is more about the
film, and I think Miramax is doing an amazing job here promoting a difficult film."
Difficult, he says, because costume dramas are notoriously tough to market to a mass
audience, "and when you add Shakespeare to the mix, people tend to start running a
mile away. That isn't the case here."
"a surreal, very out-there film" on
Rush is having as much fun working on the high-budget Mystery Men, in which he plays
the villain in a satire on superheroes. "When you're working with such people as Bill
Macy, Janeane Garofalo and Ben Stiller, you're really kept on your toes. This is a
surreal, very out-there film, and a lot of pressure, let me tell you."