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MetFilm School London Summer Open Day

Metfilm School

A Masterclass with Geoffrey Rush & Stephen Hopkins

By Elise Czyzowska

25 August 2023

Two months ago, MetFilm School had the great pleasure of welcoming Oscar, BAFTA, Emmy, and Tony-winning actor, Geoffrey Rush, to campus. With a long history on both the stage and the screen, Geoffrey is known for his roles in The King’s SpeechShakespeare in LovePirates of the Caribbean, and Shine, for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Joined by his long-time collaborator – and the Emmy-winning director behind Rush and 24 – Stephen Hopkins, the pair took a short break from working on their upcoming MetFilm Production project (a biopic of Lionel Bart, the creator of the musical, Oliver!), to chat with our students.

Here are our top takeaways from the session…

Acting for Stage and Screen

After opening with a booming ‘Hello, Ealing!’, Geoffrey began the session with a slideshow of memorable photos from throughout his career. After 25 years as a theatrical actor in Australia, it was in his 40s that he transitioned into film.

‘It’s two very different types of acting, theatre and film’, Stephen added, ‘and Geoffrey balances the two very well’.

Despite their differences, his stage and screen roles do share some similarities, such as his tendency towards ‘eccentricity’ and ‘extremity’:

I’ve always loved, especially when I was young, using aged makeup to find the shape of a character. I always liked to have a silhouette that just cuts through the design.

Geoffrey RushActor

While with the State Theatre Company of South Australia, Geoffrey took on many of Shakespeare’s more comedic roles, from Oberon (and Theseus) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale and Aguecheek in Twelfth Night.

These comedic characters helped, especially in his biographical roles (Peter Sellers, Lionel Logue, Albert Einstein), because they allowed him to practice ‘finding something imaginative in the corporeal’.

As Stephen added: ‘It’s never about mimicking a person. It’s about finding out who they are‘, and the themes that you can see in their life and career.

Geoffrey Rush and Stephen Hopkins at our London Masterclass

Finding the Character

In finding out ‘who’ your character will be, Geoffrey looks for anything that might help – from finding the costume, to doing a great deal of research (especially for biographical roles).

However, there is only so far that this attention to detail can take you: the character itself should never be restrained by accuracy, as Stephen explained with the pair’s 2004 collaboration, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers:

You know, I never met Peter Sellers – so we’re going off a lot of different people’s perspectives on him. Really, you have to figure out what the character means to you – and if some people don’t like it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

[…] For me, Sellers could be summed up in the idea that he wanted the world to be an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ party at all times. He refused to grow up.

Stephen HopkinsDirector

A packed crowd at the June session!

Looking beyond Geoffrey’s biographical roles, there is the iconic Captain Hector Barbossa from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

‘I’d done a lot of smaller, indie films before that,’ Geoffrey mentioned, ‘so that was big for me’. With the vague description of his character as ‘spat out from Hell’, and through conversations with Costume Designer Penny Rose, the pair decided that ‘the arrogance and the vanity’ of Barbossa could all be found in one key accessory: ‘a massive fuck-off hat’. With this, the character found its’ form.

(For those with a keen eye, you’ll find on rewatching the franchise that Barbossa is rarely seen without his hat – ‘even when it fell off in one scene,’ Geoffrey laughed, ‘I made sure to go find it in the water!’.)

An iconic moment in the Pirates franchise… the return of Captain Barbossa

The Physicality of Acting

Throughout the session, the physicality of Geoffrey’s acting came up a number of times.

When playing the indebted Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love, for example, Geoffrey pictured the character always gazing up at Shakespeare – in adoration, and in subservience, given his financial ties to the playwright.

To make this even more apparent to the viewer, he spoke with Costume Designer Sandy Powell, finding a tight hat which would force his head to tilt upwards.

Being aware of how your character physically interacts with the world also lends itself to a point that Stephen made during the session, which is that ‘really good actors understand filmmaking’.

Drawing on his experience with actors such as William Hurt, Gene Hackman, and of course, Geoffrey himself, Stephen explained that when an actor can read a script and understand not only where they are in any given scene, but also why, ‘it always leads to a better performance’. And the same is true for great directors – ‘I’ve taken many acting classes,’ he added, ‘so that I can incorporate that knowledge into my role’.

Watch Geoffrey Rush in the trailer for Hopkins’ The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

A final example of the importance of physicality came when Geoffrey spoke about being approached for the role of Albert Einstein in National Geographic’s limited series, Genius:

I spoke to my daughter, who’s a photographer, and I asked her, “Can you get a photo of me, and one of Einstein, and put them together – 20% him, 80% me”. In a way, I think I was road-testing a prosthetic me, to see if I could really do that role.

Geoffrey RushActor

Just as he loved the aged stage make-up for how it created a statement out of his character, Geoffrey still relies on the physicality of each potential role to guide his decision. It was what led him to accept Einstein, and what, similarly, led him to turn down the role of Donald Trump in a political drama – ‘he’s a potato, I’m an asparagus!’.

‘You have to be honest with yourself,’ Geoffrey reiterated. ‘Ask yourself: am I going to be special in this role?’

‘20% him, 80% me’: the Einstein-Rush photo that Geoffrey’s daughter created

Final Advice from Stephen Hopkins

When closing out the session, Stephen Hopkins gave one final – and important – piece of advice for our students:

We’re in an industry which can be brutal and gruelling – it can be very joyous, and very exciting, but there’s also moments when you feel anxious, or something doesn’t work, or you get rejected.

You have to remember why you wanted to do this. Make sure you don’t forget the moments you enjoyed.

Stephen HopkinsDirector