Facing Up to The Man of Many Faces

ROBERT DEAR/AP

Peter Sellers pictured during filming for his new 1963 movie Dr. Strangelove.

As actors go, Geoffrey Rush must be among the bravest. The Australian actor, 53, has dared to interpret controversial historical figures from Leon Trotsky to the Marquis de Sade to Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster. His portrayal of mentally ill pianist David Helfgott in the 1996 movie Shine won him an Oscar, which Rush collected in front of the musician himself. But when Rush was asked to play the legendary British comedian Peter Sellers, he says, "enormous waves of fear rippled through my body." He refused.

In saying no to The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,...

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