After five movies playing a ruthless pirate, you might think an Oscar-winning actor like Geoffrey Rush would be tired of it. He is not. He relishes playing Captain Barbossa, the longtime nemesis of Jack Sparrow, because he believes Pirates of the Caribbean is the rare franchise that stands out in a world dominated by franchises.
“I think all the franchises battle with each other, to [try and] out-do each other,” Rush told io9 in Los Angeles last week. “I think we’re lucky in that we’re one of the few stories that are set on the open sea. Most of the others are very urban. Or they’re all about the apocalypse or the cataclysm of metropolitan life. There’s something thrilling about the adventures on the high seas that connects.”
When Rush was cast as Barbossa for the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, it wasn’t conceived as a franchise. According to Rush, the first versions of the script just said Pirates of the Caribbean on them; Ii wasn’t until Curse of the Black Pearl was added to later drafts that the actor realized the sequel potential. At that time, he was part of a very small group.
“On the first film, there was a certain cynicism about making a film about a Disneyland ride,” Rush said. “And we were very low on the list of the summer releases. [But] Jerry Bruckheimer’s a very thoughtful, very creative producer. He really looked hard for a spin on the pirate genre. And once the writers came up with the Curse of the Black Pearl, he thought, ‘I’ve got something that’s going to really excite all of you.’”
Rush returns as Barbossa in the fifth film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. He still relishes the opportunity, even after 14 years playing the role.
“It’s a fantastical world mixed in with a surprising reality for a Disney film,” he said. “In this film, you actually see swords go through people’s torsos. And the supernatural element has always been part of the romance of pirate folklore. The artistry behind that from the costume designer, the cinematography, the injection of a Nordic team of directors (Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg) bringing in a kind of new Euro angle to telling the story. That’s all been really exciting.”
But while Rush may be happy, Barbossa is not. In Dead Men Tell No Tales, he’s become the most powerful pirate in the world, but, lacking any real rivals, he’s gotten bored.
“He’s always been a transformational character because he’s a survivor,” Rush said. “He’s worked for a king. He’s become the wealthiest pirate. He’s taken his eye off the ball, he’s gotten lazy. I love in this film, I said to the directors, at the beginning, ‘I’d love to have a string quartet in my cabin. I don’t know how to spend my money, but, so much money, what do I spend it on?’ And I said, ‘That’s his iPod.’ He wants access to the best.” And that’s Barbossa’s first scene in the film: sitting in a room full of treasure, listening to his own person string quartet.
From there, Dead Men Tell No Tales takes Barbossa on his own epic, personal journey, which Rush refused to elaborate upon. However, he would say that no matter what you may think is happening in the film, you can never be sure that Barbossa isn’t playing another game altogether. “Whatever you think his involvement is with the rough and tumble of the plot, you have to suspect that there’s a wily, smart, super-plan in the back of his head,” Rush said.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales opens May 26.