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Geoffrey Rush wants to be committed
(CNN) -- Listen up, Nicolas Cage, Helen Hunt, Keanu Reeves, and any other hot Hollywood actor who can't seem to stop themselves from starring in movie after movie, no matter the quality of the project.
Geoffrey Rush has some advice.
"You look around now and people seem to be in three or four films a year," he says. "You go, 'Hang on. Why don't you conserve your energies? If you've got that capability, commit to a really well-investigated, thorough project.'"
Rush has been heeding his own advice for years. Sure, he's been in his share of movies, but only if it's a project in which he believes. It's paying dividends in the awards category, too.
Rush won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA (British Academy Award), a Screen Actor's Guild award and an Academy Award in 1997 for his turn as piano prodigy David Helfgott in "Shine" (1996).
Two years later, he received nominations from the Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for his role as the feet-over-the-fire, dentally challenged theater manager in "Shakespeare in Love" (1998).
That same year, he won a best supporting actor BAFTA for his role in "Elizabeth" (1998).
And following that two-year pattern, he's nominated again in 2001 for a Golden Globe. This time Rush is wowing critics with his depiction of the Marquis de Sade in "Quills." If the awards pattern holds true, he'll be headed to the Academy Awards again in March, and BAFTA might find it hard to deny him, too.
Rush brought superb intensity to the part, said Doug Wright, the screenwriter for "Quills."
"I think he's spectacular and volcanic," Wright said in a recent interview with CNN Interactive.
Rush, speaking on the phone from his home in Melbourne, Australia, is at the point in his life where he can recognize his own success. From his study overlooking "some rather glorious elms and a beech tree and a maple," he admits careers take time to take root and grow.
And sometimes, you have to stop and look at what you've accomplished.
"I took a big slab of time off this year -- about five months -- just to take stock of the giddiness of the last few years," Rush, 49, says.
'My outlet, my release'
Rush was born on July 6, 1951, and raised in the mountain town Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia. He says he comes from "a non-showbiz background." But one form of entertainment found him.
"I was very young, 6 or 7, and I saw the very tail end of traveling tent shows that would go around the country, just prior to television starting in the late '50s," he says. "I kind of got hooked by these canvas, proscenium arch theaters that were on the road."
By high school, Rush was running the drama club, directing and starring in classics like "Arsenic and Old Lace."
"But I never thought I would ever be an actor," he says. "It was just my outlet, my release."
By the time he'd enrolled at the University of Queensland, he had landed a gig with the Queensland Theatre Company in Brisbane. He loved doing stage work, but recognized the call of something else.
"I would always slip away to the cinema," says Rush, who recalls watching American actors like John Garfield, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall. "I always found something absolutely extraordinary about the fact that these actors were always kind of kicking hard at some new dimension they were doing on film."
The road to 'Quills'
After touring Europe, Rush moved to Sydney, where he found work with a summer repertory. He also found a friend, a young actor named Mel Gibson.
"We were all pretty certain then that Mel was destined for big things because he had made the first 'Mad Max' (1979) at that point and he had done a couple of other films," recalls Rush. "It kind of seemed inevitable."
While Gibson hit it big in the '80s with "Lethal Weapon" and other blockbusters, Rush took a bit longer to make an impression on movie screens. He was featured in a few films, including 1987's "Twelfth Night."
But it was 1996's "Shine" that introduced him to film audiences as a serious acting talent. Playing a chain-smoking, stuttering, abused, mentally ill piano genius is no easy task, but Rush managed it. He also walked off with an arm load of awards in the process, and his phone hasn't stopped ringing.
Now, there's "Quills," a fictionalized version of the final days of De Sade, the author of the late 18th- and 19th centuries whose art and life coined the term "sadism." The movie, penned by Doug Wright, uses Rush's character as a parable about free speech and the consequences of that freedom.
Along with Rush, who oozes a sort of growling, perverted genius, the film stars Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine and Rush's wife, Jane Menelaus. Along with two Golden Globe nods, including Rush's and one for best screenplay, the National Board of Review handed the film this year's best picture honor.
'Celebrated and twisted'
Rush says when he read the script and saw that it would be directed by Philip Kaufman ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being" in 1988, and "Henry and June," 1990), he had mixed feelings.
"I thought it was fantastic, but I thought I was completely wrong for it because I knew historically the marquis was older and grotesquely obese, which was certainly not me," says Rush. "Philip said, 'Look ... I want this wiry, lively kind of dynamic in the character.'"
Once he took the role, the wiry, lively Rush took his own advice. He committed himself fully to the project.
"I mean, we are talking about one of the most celebrated and twisted characters of Western tradition," Rush says of his role. "It gives you a sense of a do-or-die bravado."
That attitude has left Rush on the cusp of another Oscar nod. He'll follow it this summer with the release of "The Tailor of Panama," a film about a reluctant spy based on John Le Carre's novel of the same title. He also just finished shooting "Lantana," a murder mystery that co-stars Barbara Hershey and Anthony LaPaglia.
When he's not tending to his acting career, Rush says, he hangs out at home with his wife and two kids, alternately tending to his garden and his musical tastes.
"I've got kind of weird, eclectic tastes," he says. "I've always been a serious classical buff. But at the same time, I get into the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I think that's pretty hot. I play that for my kids and l say, 'Listen to how this can rock.' And they get it."
They're not the only ones.
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