20th Century Fox releases The Book Thief limited on November 8th, 2013 and nationwide on November 15th, 2013.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What's so appealing to you about playing roles in period pieces?
Geoffrey Rush: Probably, out of a theatrical background, the classical repertoire is still alive in the world of theater. The classical repertoire tends to take stories on a very big scale of great extremities. When I started in films in a more serious way in my mid-40's after the door opening for me from Shine, I happened to do Les Miserables and two Elizabethan films. I though thought that doing two Elizabethan films seemed like career suicide, but loved do doing them. One was a comedy by Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love, and the other was Elizabeth a fresh look at the rein of Elizabeth I, and I played the kind of character that I never really played on stage and certainly hadn't done on film. They were the most interesting scripts for me. Now having mentored Elizabeth I, I've also mentored George VI. I was a sidekick to George II. I'm aiming for a box set of royals. There always is something a little bit more mythological by default when you're doing a period film because you're probably evoking themes that are meaningful to a contemporary audience's mind. The intrigue of watching our ancestors having dealt with universal problems in other periods of history makes it a little bit more fascinating.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Where in the spectrum of pessimism and optimism do you find yourself? Do you think that world peace is just an illusion?
GR: Every time I read the first page of Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, I think to myself that it's as powerful and fascinating back then as it's interesting now: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." You've got this constant dialectic and you can see it either way. They're both going to argue with each other. I'm not a half-glass empty person. I love that Robin Williams joke where he says that he's not the kind of guy that sees the glass half-full or half-empty, but I just wanted to know who was it that pissed in my glass. [laughs] That's a good line. I would like to be extremely optimistic, but in the back of your mind you're always going, "I think I can tip equal winners on both sides of those scorecards." Something like The Book Thief goes, "Yes! You can think optimistically!" despite the darkest chapter of European history that we're looking at in this story. Halfway through the shoot, we had some pretty big pieces of the jigsaw on the table. I said to director Brian Percival that every day I was reminded of when I first read the novel. I didn't want any of the characters to die. Audiences who saw the film are engrossed in the details of the characters' lives whereas with the novel you engage more with the bigger picture and the depth of ideas because it's such a rich piece of literary story-telling.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that The Book Thief would work in black-and-white?
GR: Because color is so important in the book--death sentences people almost in synesthetic way through color and strange metaphors. You could CGI all of that sort of stuff. If you wanted to do a literal transformation of the words into a cinematic language, you could do it in black-and-white, but director Brian Percival's initial response was that it's great in the novel, but in the film we have to get to know these characters. If a directorial voice starts to get in the way of that, then you're looking at the pictures. The color palate at the beginning films superficially like conventional storytelling, but I look at the mise en scène and with the clouds, smoke and snow, there's a lot of white on that screen. It really etches the figures which makes the red flags all the more chilling when you get that as a very specific color that cuts into the film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: If you could travel back in time to the Golden Age of Cinema, which roles would you like to play?
GR: My fantasy could never stretch that far because when I grew up in Australia we had no film industry at the time, but I had seen lots of movies. I would never think, "Oh, one day I could work on a film." I thought a lot about this while I was reading The Book Thief novel: I have a pretty detailed emotional recall of my child and adolescent years. In my teenage years, I had a secret passion for silent films because there was a popular British show called Mad Movies hosted by a guy named Bob Monkhouse who was sort of a comedian. He was part of a satirical show called It's a Square World. He sort of was a surrogate goon at one point. In Mad Movies, it wasn't just Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton; he would highlight all of the crazy little character guys from the 1910's and 20's. I was kind of building up this encyclopedia of knowledge. Somewhere during that era, I wouldn't have minded to being in a Fatty Arbuckle short. There was something pretty hype-real about the hand-cranking and the physical timing.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What film would make a good double feature with The Book Thief?
GR: I wouldn't go as overt as another film about literature or coming-of-age. I think I would put it in with a Seth Rogen comedy: This is the End. [laughs]