Playing the Marquis de Sade, the star embodies the kooky genius of his namesake

By Jeff Gordinier
Updated December 22, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, God rules the universe, but Satan gets all the killer lines. Same goes for Quills, Philip Kaufman’s hot-blooded film about the imprisonment of the Marquis de Sade: Pious captors may snatch away de Sade’s freedom, his ink, even his clothes, but the kinky French aristocrat — portrayed by Australian actor Rush as if a quadruple dose of Viagra were throbbing through his veins — swipes the spotlight every time. Rush, as the demon daddy of sadism, is loud, proud, blasphemous, and lusty. When Kate Winslet sashays into his cell, her bosom barely contained by a corset, it feels like a fly has fluttered into a spider’s web: Rush looks hungry. Since his Oscar-winning breakthrough as the cracked pianist in ’96’s Shine, Rush has become Hollywood’s most reliable chameleon. Try to pin him down and you’re apt to get confused. But, as Mick Jagger once put it, confusing you is just the nature of his game.