Before winning a best actor Oscar for Shine, Geoffrey Rush taught physical comedy. Knowing how to trip with the best of them came in handy for his role in HBO's new biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (Sunday, 9 pm/ET), in which Rush had to re-create many of the slapstick savant's most memorable characters, from Dr. Strangelove to Inspector Clouseau. Sellers' old pal Blake Edwards gushes, "It's too bad the audience didn't know Sellers the way I do, so they could appreciate how [Rush] caught the man."TV Guide Online: Is it true you turned down the role at first?
TVGO: The script portrays Sellers as an abusive man. Were you put off by that?
At one point, they were writing a new draft because he was so unlikable, but that never hit me. I find people most interesting if they're flawed.
TVGO: What made you finally say yes?
I was filming Pirates of the Caribbean. I was working with a very big hat and a feather and a monkey on my shoulder, and I just felt a little cockier.
TVGO: From a dead buccaneer in Pirates to Peter Sellers. Was it difficult to make that transition?
Sellers and the Ghost Pirate belong in different places in my head. But Sellers would have done a lot with that monkey.
TVGO: Looks like Sellers is the perfect example of the sad clown. Would you agree?
I heard this Chuck Jones quote once: "Bugs Bunny is who we want to be. Daffy Duck is probably who we are." Sellers wanted to be Cary Grant, the quintessential smooth, sexy, interesting man. But he had problems and flaws and things — he couldn't succeed at it even though his career had all the trappings of fame. He was Daffy Duck.