Geoffrey Rush, Australian of the Year 2012, plans to promote local industry

27 January, 2012 by Brendan Swift

Academy Award-winning actor Geoffrey Rush plans to use his Australian of the Year award to encourage more people to watch local theatre productions and films.

Prime minister Julia Gillard presented Rush with the prestigious award yesterday in recognition of his 40-year contribution to the industry, as well as his support for young actors and remaining grounded in the local community.


Screen industry veteran Peter Fenton, who was chief mixer on more than 150 films, was also awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his services to the Australian film industry as a sound engineer.

Rush, the third actor to receive the award after Robert Helpmann and Paul Hogan, later told reporters: “An empty theatre or an empty cinema, metaphorically, is not a great place for a culture to be in and I want to try and encourage more people to take a punt and go and see what’s made in this country.”

Earlier this week, Screen Australia released data which showed Australian films captured just 3.9 per cent of the $1.09 billion local box office.

However, Rush told the ABC that he didn’t believe the local industry was struggling, likening it to the wine industry, which continues to produce quality product although some years are more significant than others.

“Last year we took a slate of films to the Toronto Film Festival to see what the international world thought of the portrait of Australia and the range of films was phenomenal and I’m hoping that I can find ways to expand that awareness so that people trust and start to seek out what Australian films have got inside them.”

As well as winning an Oscar for his performance as pianist David Helfgott in Shine, Rush’s performances have also been recognised with a Tony, an Emmy, three Australian Film Institute honours, three British Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, and four Screen Actors’ Guild Awards. Last year, he was also presented with a Helpmann Award.

He was born in Toowoomba, Queensland in 1951, and raised in Brisbane. He completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland and made his professional debut at the Queensland Theatre Company in 1971 where he worked as an ensemble member for three years. He spent the next two decades working in the theatre and also studied at the prestigious Jacques Lecoq School of Mime, Movement and Theatre in Paris (his physical prowess can be seen in a cameo role in Australian ‘80s musical StarStruck).

Last year, he received his fourth Academy Award nomination for his performance in The King’s Speech, and he recently appeared in Fred Schepisi’s The Eye of the Storm (he executive produced both films). He remains active in the theatre, starring in the revival of Belvoir’s The Diary of a Madman and in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

He is president of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts; patron of the Melbourne International Film Festival; of Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre Foundation distributing bursaries to young performers; and of the Spina Bifida Foundation Victoria. He is an Ambassador for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and UNICEF Australia.

View Geoffrey Rush’s acceptance speech here.

Contact this reporter at or on Twitter at @bcswift.