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Standing Ovation

Charlie Hofheimer on Geoffrey Rush in 'Shine'

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Charlie Hofheimer on Geoffrey Rush in 'Shine'
Photo Source: New Line Cinema
Geoffrey Rush in "Shine" is one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen. He completely disappeared into the role and manifested the oppressive parenting of this real-life pianist, David Helfgott, who suffered from mental illness. It's a trap performance because he's got a stutter. When you've got a specific disability or physicality like that, it can very easily feel canned or self-conscious. Rush has the ability to pull it off with such authenticity, so it's not preconceived or contrived. He's found the skin of the character and is basically living in it. You know just from seeing it that no two takes were the same, that it was a visceral and immediate experience for the actor.

Another element of his performance that I love so much is that you see him age. He goes through a lifetime. There is a second actor [Alex Rafalowicz] who plays him as a child and a third [Noah Taylor] as a teenager. But even from the time that we pick up with Rush through to the end of the film, the specific idiosyncrasies evolve with age in an honest way. For instance, once he falls in love, that influences and in some ways calms his stutter and transforms him from being tortured by it to accepting it.

The single scene that jumps out at me is the one where Helfgott walks into a bar and the entire crowd is laughing at his desire to sit down at the piano. He begins to play "The Flight of the Bumblebee," and the patrons are just stunned by his talent. The moment is important to me because by that point I've fallen in love with the character and I'm on his side. His winning over the crowd by his brilliant playing fills me with joy. It's not necessarily the pinnacle of the performance, but the true testament of his work is just how invested in Helfgott's success you are by that moment and how much you feel allied with this character who is socially isolated and has no one. You feel connected with him despite this great distance between the world and him. That moment affected me, but for me it was the totality of the performance that impressed.

There was a complete submersion. Helfgott was in every cell of his body, from the pitch and tenor of his voice to the tension in his shoulders to the halting of his walk. He even was able to carry over the relationship between the younger version of himself and the father [Armin Mueller-Stahl]. It's one of those invisible transitions in film from actor to actor. Rush must have studied the earlier scenes with Alex Rafalowicz, Noah Taylor, and Armin Mueller-Stahl and the father-son dynamic they portrayed, because it was there in the way he carried himself and conveyed the adult version of the character.

Charlie Hofheimer is appearing on Broadway in "The Lyons" and has a recurring role on "Mad Men." He has also appeared on "The Good Wife" and in the films "The Village," "Black Hawk Down," and "Music of the Heart."

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