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Geoffrey Rush Interview: Oscar Winner On Returning To The Festival Fray, Playing Groucho Marx & Winning His Defamation Suit: It Was Bruising For Everyone Involved

Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush is at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) this week to receive its Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the closing ceremony on Saturday (July 10).

The trip marks the Australian actor’s first high-profile outing in four years, when he began a defamation lawsuit against Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Rush brought the case following a report he had acted inappropriately towards an actress. Also in 2018, the actor denied a separate allegation of misconduct during a 2010 theater production.

So far, Rush’s stay in Karlovy Vary has gone well with the veteran thespian getting a rousing welcome on Wednesday at a packed screening of 2011 hit The King’s Speech, which is playing alongside Shine (for which he won an Oscar)and Quills as part of the tribute.

Talking to Deadline in Karlovy Vary, Rush takes a question on the events of these last five years with good grace but makes it clear it is not a subject he wants to broach in-depth.

“It was bruising for everyone involved, I think, on both sides. It was an overblown and kind of bloated tabloid event [the defamation case] and the court found the result in my favor and I don’t like talking about it,” he says.

Rush’s lawyers said in 2018 that the defamation case had led to him “eating little food, having difficulty sleeping and feeling anxious in public”. It also “irreparably damaged” his career, they stated.

“It warmed me up for isolation because, in Melbourne, we were in isolation for a very long-time,” Rush told us this week, alluding to the Covid-19 lockdowns that hit soon after Rush won a record $2.9M pay-out from the newspaper and its publisher Nationwide News in November 2019. The ruling was upheld on appeal in July 2020.

“I lived a hermetic existence in some ways and with that kind of thing, especially with Covid, you get more reflective, everybody did, people changed.”

Rush’s return to the festival circuit comes as he gears up for his first lead role since the 2019 drama Storm Boy. He is set to play Groucho Marx in Israeli-American director Oren Moverman’s upcoming production Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho’s House.

“It’s mostly been wrongfully announced as a biopic. It’s not. I would call it a tragic comedy about mortality. It’s about his last three years of life. He has been working since he was 15 in 1905 until the 70s. He started out as a  Vaudeville singer, then became a Vaudeville clown with his brothers, got into film, then became a radio star, and then a television star, and then you know, he decays,” reveals the actor.

“There’s just so much to cover. You’ve got to consider that he’s an immigrant Jew from Germany. He’s not from the shtetl. He’s worked in theatres all over America. He’s been a star on Broadway. He is a notoriously bad father, family man, and husband. His life is ridiculously documented.”

Rush pushes back on suggestions that it represents a comeback after his four-year acting hiatus.

“I’m coming back to working, but I don’t want to see it in that way. I signed on for this film in August 2020. That was what happened with Shine. I trod water for three years before it was made. You go, ‘hope this idea doesn’t fade or go off the boil’,” he says.

“I’ve struck up an amazing rapport with Oren Moverman. We’ve just zoomed a lot, talked about Groucho, and he always says, “If you have any ideas let me know’.”

The actor reveals he has been offered other parts over the last few years but that none of them felt right.

“Everyone thinks my career was over after that case, but I got offered roles, but weird things, like playing a judge. I don’t want to talk about what the films were, as these are really good people. I said I can’t play an American judge and I was offered the role of a famous president. I like to think I am a chameleon but no.”

Rush says it is too early to say whether he will ever return to the stage, which was his first love.

“In the realm of self-reflection and meditation I’ve asked myself. ‘Has my Mojo disappeared?’ I was always a very physical and very driven actor. And then, you know, not doing it for four or five years, you suddenly go, ‘I feel rusty.’”

Czech Connection & Corsage Praise

Rush has never attended KVIFF before but has spent plenty of time in the Czech Republic thanks to roles in Bille August’s Les Misérables, Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer, and most recently National Geographic’s series Genius, which all shot at the Barrandov Studios outside the capital Prague.

“You could say I have a connection,” he says. “I’ve worked on three different projects here since 1998. I could never have predicted that outside of Britain and America, the Czech Republic would be a place I would come to know quite well.”

In 2016, he even visited Karlovy Vary in an unofficial capacity during the shoot of Genius to do a recce of the historic spa town for his wife Jane Menelaus for a drama she wrote on spec about the celebrated 19th-Century British actress Fanny Kemble.

“She belonged to a big theatre family and went on to become a big star in America. Her sister was an opera singer, who performed all over Europe, including in Carlsbad [another name for Karlovy Vary]. I came to see what it looked like, to see whether it would be possible to film, or whether it had changed too much.”

In between attending tribute events, Rush has found time to attend a screening at KVIFF of Austrian director Marie Kreutzer’s quirky costume drama Corsage, which reframes the life of 19th-Century Empress Elisabeth of Austria, more popularly known as Sisi.

Rush heaps praise on the film, which world premiered in Cannes Un Certain Regard in May, and the performance of Vicky Krieps in the main role.

“The cinema was amazing. It was huge and packed with young people. It was a film that was ambient, not driven by intense narrative, but the story was huge. This is nothing like the chocolate box musical I remember seeing posters for in Vienna years ago,” he says.

“Vicky Krieps is electrifying on screen. The inner life is so detailed and the director, Marie Kreutzer has a song by Rolling Stones being sung by a guy playing a violin like a ukulele. And it doesn’t jar. It’s just fabulous.”

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