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Geoffrey Rush on Heartland's Red Carpet



Bursts of camera flashes illuminated a Heartland backdrop at the Saturday red carpet closing night. Ropes tethered off media crowding forward to speak with Oscar and two-time Golden Globes winner Geoffrey Rush, a star in the yet-to-open film The Book Thief. Rush made his way down the red carpet, joking with Director Brian Percival and keeping a sharp eye on young Sophie Nélisse.

Rush and Percival made their way down the carpet, seeming in no hurry and simply enjoying the opportunity to speak about what they loved most--the transformative power of film.

Producer, Karen Rosenfelt - EMILY TAYLOR
  • Emily Taylor
  • Producer, Karen Rosenfelt

"I have never been to the Midwest before," said Rush, leaning in as if he were telling a secret.  He corrected himself saying he had been to Chicago. "But that's not the Heartland," he said laughing. Rush, like so many in the film world, knows that if it can make it in the Midwest, it will work in any theater.

Downton Abby's own Brian Percival had a different feeling of the Circle City. "We got in quite late last night," said Percival. "I got the [Heartland] program, and I'm flipping through it, saying 'awe, we should have seen that, and that one!' We have got to try and come back next year to see some of the films."

The story of The Book Thief really is inspiring. In short, it details a young girl, played by Nélisse, who is stealing books that are being burned by the Nazis. She learns to read from her teachers, her father (played by Rush), and a Jewish man they are hiding in the basement played by Ben Schnetzer. Nélisse is entranced by the power of the written word.

Director, Brian Percival - EMILY TAYLOR
  • Emily Taylor
  • Director, Brian Percival

"For us it was not a war movie, not a Holocaust movie, but a movie about ordinary people doing extraordinary things and walking away with the strength and the power of the word," said Producer, Karen Rosenfelt.

Everyone on the carpet eagerly spoke of a love for the story.

"When I read the screenplay, it stayed with me for days," said Percival. "I think really it is about human spirit.  No matter how bad the world can be, if you have belief in yourself, you can get through it."

The film is based on a bestselling novel. Percival had a lot to live up to as a director. We asked him what it was like making a visual representation of such a complex book.

"It's great because you have a 580-page Bible to refer to," said Percival. "My key to the film was to come at it from the angle of the characters, and not just replicate the shots [the author, Markus Zusak] described."

Star,  Sophie Nélisse. - EMILY TAYLOR
  • Emily Taylor
  • Star, Sophie Nélisse.

"It's a story that has been told in many forms," said Rush pausing to adjust his famous thick-rimmed glasses. "Whether it is through social history of commentary or all of the ramifications of the Holocuast. There's something about seeing the implications through the view of a 10-year old girl."

The Book Thief and its makers are exactly what Heartland wants to bring its audiences--films that make a positive change in the viewer, and can change the way they see the world. Heartland, believes so much in their mission that they are one of the few festivals to give monetary prizes in each category, $112,500 all together. In addition, a few notable awards were given for being a "Pioneering Spirit." Rush and Nélisse were given this award for their work in The Book Thief.

If you have never heard of Nélisse, make a mental note. She is probably going to be a household name as an upcoming child actor. Before taking on the film, Nélisse was training for the Olympics in gymnastics--something she had been pursuing since she was four years old. She told Sky Blue Window that after reading the script she simply could not stay away.

actor,  Geoffrey Rush - EMILY TAYLOR
  • Emily Taylor
  • actor, Geoffrey Rush

"The message, it's really uplifting," said Nélisse. "She sees things in a light, when she has so little."

For this rising star perhaps, trading in an Olympic medal for an Oscar could be a trade worth making. Nélisse has been a natural actress from birth. We asked her what the first book she remembers reading as a child. She told about memorizing Aesop's fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, so she could pretend to know how to read. These days instead of learning the words to beloved children's stories, she spends her time memorizing scripts. Sometimes with help from some pretty interesting instructors.

"[Geoffrey] is a great teacher," said Nélisse. "Working with him was a lot of fun."

She told about being on set during down time and Rush taking a spoon and a napkin and transforming them into a magic trick. Unfortunately, he didn't have time to demonstrate.

  • Emily Taylor

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