Illustrious stage and film actor Geoffrey Rush was honored with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Montecito Award Monday evening.
Rush, who has had a number of significant roles and has given many notable performances in his career, said it was “thrilling” and he felt “very honored” to receive the award.
Rush — also known as Captain Barbossa of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and most recently as speech therapist Lionel Logue in the Academy Award-nominated film “The King’s Speech” — flew to Santa Barbara from Australia the day of the ceremony. Also present were “The King’s Speech” co-stars Helena Bonham Carter and Colin Firth, who received the Ensemble Award along with Rush that night.
The awards ceremony opened with a montage of clips from some of Rush’s roles in films such as “Shine,” “Intolerable Cruelty,” “Les Misérables” and “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.” Critic Pete Hammond interviewed Rush, who offered thoughts on his own career as well as insights on stage versus film acting.
After 20 successful years in film and numerous prestigious awards earned — including an Oscar for Best Actor for his breakthrough role in “Shine” — Rush continues to return to the stage, a topic that Hammond often touched on with his questions. Rush, who flew back to Australia after the ceremony to continue his run in a small production of “Diary of a Madman,” explained that the stage allows an actor to explore a character and refine his craft, and offered an apt metaphor.
“As an actor, you have to sharpen a knife,” Rush said.
Throughout the interview, Rush spoke with clarity, wisdom and wit. At one point, Hammond asked Rush to recount an anecdote about being “discovered” during a college play by the Queensland Theatre Company. Hammond was curious about the fact that Rush was completely nude during his part.
“I sort of like to think [the talent scout] saw I had a great future ahead of me,” the actor responded, which elicited uproarious laughter from the crowd.
Hilarity continued as Colin Firth took the stage to speak about working with Rush and to present him with his award. He shared his feelings of sadness when Rush had to leave the set four weeks into the shoot, as well as the practical joke played on him by others on set.
“I strode back to my trailer … and at that moment, I saw a strange pair of underpants,” Firth said. “Then I noticed, to my horror, that there was someone sleeping in my bed…. I peeled back the blanket and shrieked like a schoolgirl — this is Geoffrey! Or rather, somebody pasted Geoffrey’s face onto a mannequin…. This was some clever dog’s idea of grief counseling or something…. I can say he proved a remarkably effective therapist.”
Firth became more serious when complimenting the actor’s craft. He described Rush as helping him strive to reach a new level in his own work.
“I have great love and regard for this man,” Firth said. “The intellectual fire, and the humanity, and the vigor and aversions to cliché — all those tangential qualities and the constant search for truthfulness — those things you see in his work, you also get in his company.”
Rush was gracious when accepting his award and echoed many of the sentiments he shared on the red carpet.
“This award is so meaningful to me,” Rush said. “I have been honored in my own country for a career achievement event. This is so special to be honored this way in California, in America.”
Before Tom Hooper, director of “The King’s Speech,” took the stage to give the first ever SBIFF Ensemble Award to Rush, Firth and Bonham Carter, Rush’s speech took a didactic turn as he urged people to concentrate on the legitimate aspects of actors’ careers and lives.
“I just want to see an era where we call a moratorium on the use of the word ‘celebrity,’” Rush said. “I think the obsession with the meaninglessness of certain aspects of celebrity life is kind of ruining us, so I thank you for treasuring me as an actor.”
And we thank you, you DILF-y, DILF-y man. Good luck at the Oscars.