I’m a huge fan of Guy Pearce. If you’ve seen his work in such films as Memento, L.A. Confidential, The Hurt Locker, Animal Kingdom, The Proposition, and The King’s Speech (he play’s Colin Firth’s brother), I’m sure most of you agree that he’s a hell of an actor.
Anyway, I recently talked with him on the phone and we discussed how he got involved in The King’s Speech, what’s the last few years been like for him, and he talked about a few of his upcoming projects like Luc Besson’s sci-fi action-adventure Lockout (Besson produced it) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – which was produced by Guillermo del Toro. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview:
Like many of you, I hadn’t heard anything about Luc Besson’s sci-fi action-adventure Lockout before talking to Pearce. He told me the film is:
“a rescue story, it’s set slightly in the future. I play a sort of special-operations guy who was sent on a mission to rescue the President’s daughter from a prison. She’s gone to visit the prison, something’s gone wrong, she’s been taken captive. And the prison is actually in orbit, so it’s gotten to the point where there’s no more room for prisons anymore on Earth, so they’re now creating these space stations—prisoners are sort of exiled in them out in space, and are basically just floating around the earth in orbit. It’s a Luc Besson-produced film. The two Irish guys who directed it have got wonderful sensibility when it comes to visual effects and the sort of thriller genre. They wrote a really powerful and interesting script that’s actually also quite funny. My character is quite irreverent, he really can’t be bothered going out there and rescuing her. He’s only doing it to save his own ass because he’s about to get thrown in prison for something else, he’s discovered that his friend and old partner is also out in this prison so he’s really out there to save him not her, so he’s got quite a sort of attitude. So quite a different role for me as well, a bit of an action hero kinda guy, but not your typical one (laughs). And it was quite an action-oriented film, so I had to be in fairly good shape and try and match it with a lot of prisoners who felt that it would do them more good to have the President’s daughter in their hands than mine. So you know, as I said a bit of fight.”
If you have the time, I always recommend listening to the interview. However, the full transcript is below.
Collider: Are you enjoying doing press after the movie has come out?
Guy Pearce: Well yea. It’s funny. I was a bit late getting onto the movie itself and a bit late to getting involved with the press too because I was away on another job. But it’s nice to finally… get involved. [Laughs]
Pearce: Well, it’s fantastic. Not unlike The Hurt Locker. It’s slightly embarrassing to sort of try and receive any of the accolades because really I had quite small roles in both. But I’m certainly to be a part of them, definitely. And speaking of Social Network, what a film that is. What a performance that was. Jesus.
This is that magical time of the year where we all get to see great movies.
Pearce: Yea. I agree. And look, I think The King’s Speech is great as well. I really am so impressed with Tom as a director and what Colin and Geoffrey and Helena have done, but Colin particularly. It’s really such a special performance and I think that, on the back of what he did in A Single Man… for those who sort of see Colin as Mr. Darcy from Bridget Jones, will be most impressed with him as a performer. He’s just a delightful guy and so great to have worked with. I feel honored to have been his on-screen brother.
Obviously you sign on; you hear what it’s about. When you first got on set, were you involved in a lot of rehearsals or were you not?
Pearce: Yea, I was there for the first read through and then we worked our way through the script and got to rehearse and tidy up any bits and pieces that we didn’t necessarily understand or didn’t think necessarily worked as well or whatever. There were all sorts of various bits and pieces we were involved in. And for me it was great because I came into it sort of late, so any of that work for me is always valuable; to rehearse with the other actors. I’m a bit of slow off the mark so it takes me a while to really understand exactly what it is we’re making. Particularly in the style of the time of the film. So just to spend a bit of time with Colin and Tom and get to sort of see how he was portraying the character as well as having the time then to read and look at the various bits of footage and the various recordings that were made available to us–it was all really helpful.
The movie came out so tremendously; could you sort of tell in that rehearsal, ‘I think this is going to be something special?’
Pearce: Well no more than you… I mean not in the same way that you can now retrospectively. You know? You work on things and you have such faith in them while you’re making them that everything feels special–in a way. Some feel more special than others and this definitely felt more special than other things I’ve worked on. [Laughs] Particularly the relationship between Geoffrey and Colin seemed so nature and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is great chemistry. It’s really going to be fantastic on screen.’ So, yes to a certain degree. But you also can’t really tell. You can have a great time on a film and the chemistry can seem great but then you look at the finished film and it just doesn’t quite gel… something doesn’t quite work. But you never really know what the director has got in his mind as far as the scene visually and art direction wise, etc. Even if you do, sometimes there’s a side of things that don’t necessarily gel the way people intend. So there a bit of a mystical entity, film. You never quite know, really.
It seems like the last year or two you’ve been working nonstop. What’s the last two years been like for you as far as jumping from project to project?
Pearce: Well it’s been great, particularly the last year has been really great because I’ve really gotten to do some lovely project. The year before I got to do Animal Kingdom as well, which was great. But a lot of the things that I’ve done in the last couple of years have been like a short time period on the job for me. You know it’s not like I’ve been there for the whole three or four months working, slogging it out everyday. So, in a way, even though I’ve done a lot it also feels like I haven’t done a lot (laughs). You know I’ve sort of popped in for supporting roles in things, and that’s been really delightful. As I say, particularly in 2010—well King’s Speech spanned the end of 2009 and into 2010, so there was that. I got to work with Nicholas Cage at the beginning of the year as well, I got to work with Kate Winslet and Todd Haynes on a miniseries in New York in the middle of the year. I then went home to Sydney and—well to Australia, I live in Melbourne but I did a film in Sydney which was a beautiful little story. And funnily enough the last three or four months I did actually work on a leading role in something called Lockout in Serbia, so I’m sort of feeling quite exhausted from that. So it’s been a big year and a half really, but I think if I was doing things like Lockout where I was working sort of every day for three months, I wouldn’t be able to do four or five jobs a year, I think you’d be mad to sort of do that.
I was gonna ask you specifically about Lockout, I don’t know much about the project other than it’s sci-fi. I wanted to know if you could sort of talk about who you play in it, what’s it about?
Pearce: Yeah it’s kind of an action-adventure story. It’s a rescue story, it’s set slightly in the future. I play a sort of special-operations guy who was sent on a mission to rescue the President’s daughter from a prison. She’s gone to visit the prison, something’s gone wrong, she’s been taken captive. And the prison is actually in orbit, so it’s gotten to the point where there’s no more room for prisons anymore on Earth, so they’re now creating these space stations—prisoners are sort of exiled in them out in space, and are basically just floating around the earth in orbit. It’s a Luc Besson-produced film. The two Irish guys who directed it have got wonderful sensibility when it comes to visual effects and the sort of thriller genre. They wrote a really powerful and interesting script that’s actually also quite funny. My character is quite irreverent, he really can’t be bothered going out there and rescuing her. He’s only doing it to save his own ass because he’s about to get thrown in prison for something else, he’s discovered that his friend and old partner is also out in this prison so he’s really out there to save him not her, so he’s got quite a sort of attitude. So quite a different role for me as well, a bit of an action hero kinda guy, but not your typical one (laughs). And it was quite an action-oriented film, so I had to be in fairly good shape and try and match it with a lot of prisoners who felt that it would do them more good to have the President’s daughter in their hands than mine. So you know, as I said a bit of fighting and action-oriented stuff, which was fun but exhausting.
Totally. I’m actually a big fan of the Luc Besson action—I call it the “Luc Besson action genre”
Pearce: Well he’s got a great sensibility obviously, it’s different to the typical American sensibility and I think that’s what appealed to me, as well as the fact that he and the two Irish guys wrote the script so it’s kind of got a different sense of humor about it as well. And their visuals are amazing, so I’ll be very curious to see this all put together. A lot of it for us was in studio, it was on green screen, so we won’t really see how it looks until it’s all put together.
When you do a project like that, that takes a lot out of you that’s three months or longer, do you immediately wanna jump into other projects or do you always try to sort of take a break and recharge?
Pearce: I just wanna jump into a swimming pool and float about for a month in the sun and just kinda go, “what the hell was that?” (laughs). And I think because I’d had a big year as well, I mean I was only home for six weeks of the year. I’ve learned from the past that it’s important to recharge and get time in-between jobs, and if I can’t get time in-between jobs then when I know I’ve got some time coming up at the end of a job, really try and take advantage of that. And do very mundane things at home and putter in the garden and spend time with family and make music and, you know, play with the dogs. Just get back to being me, because that’s necessary for one thing, but them I’m in a much better position to then start looking at work for the following year or the following amount of time, I’m able to be objective about what I like and what I don’t like. If I’m exhausted, physically and particularly emotionally, I can’t tell what’s good and I can’t tell what’s bad and I’m useless. So, like any artistic pursuit I suppose, you really need to step away from it—I find I really need to step away from it, to then be clear about what I’m interested in next.
You’re also in another project I’m really looking forward to called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
Pearce: That’s also a bit of a side-step for me, I mean doing a sort of thriller/horror film, it’s certainly not something I’ve done before. Again, another great producer Guillermo del Toro, working with a director who’s made—again like these Irish guys on Lockout—who’s made a very interesting short film, Latchkey’s Lament, which is really fascinating, it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, it’s really worth having a look at. So a very similar experience really, where you’ve got a producer who is a director themselves, a great eye looking for great young talent, they find somebody who’s made a fascinating short film and they all get together either writing a script or, in the case of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, it was made as a TV movie in Canada back in the 70’s. But they reworked the idea and changed various aspects of it, and under the sort of guidance or producorial efforts of Guillermo del Toro or in the case of Lockout Luc Besson, venturing into their first major sort of film. So interesting experiences, and as I said both of them quite different for me really. Great to work with Katie Holmes and young Bailee (Madison) who’s the lead girl in the film. Again, visual effects, working with things that aren’t really there, and you look at the film later and think “Wow that looks great, I didn’t realize it was gonna look like that” (laughs).
Well for people who haven’t actually seen the original from the 70’s, could you sort of talk about your character?
Pearce: Well, slightly different from the film in the 70’s, but really I’m the dad who’s not the great dad. I’m very busy with my ambition and what I’m sort of caught up in at the time, which is restoring a big ol’ house, really trying desperately to get my architectural career back on track. Working on it with my now-girlfriend who Katie Holmes plays, and my wife who lives on the west coast of America says, “It’s time for you to start looking after our daughter now” and sends our 8-year-old daughter across to me, which is incredibly bad timing for me. And really then the story becomes the girl’s experience in the house, which we discover is haunted on some sort of—not really haunted but, it is haunted but not in the way we think with ghosts, etc. And I think it’s a reflection on the lack of love and attention she’s getting from her family, and Katie Holmes is the one—the girlfriend, the potential step-mother—is the one who really bonds with the girl and tries to connect and I’m just off being busy and being a terrible dad really.
How are you with preparing for a role across the board? ‘Cause I’ve heard about like Daniel Day-Lewis and he really goes under water with his roles, and some other people are a little more nonchalant. How are you as a performer for getting ready for projects?
Pearce: Well I’m definitely not non-chalant (laughs). I have to leave nonchalant at home when I’m working on something, otherwise I just don’t feel like I’m committed, and I’ve gotta be fully committed. Having said that, I’m probably a lot more relaxed about my commitment to work than I have been in the past, and I definitely don’t mean nonchalant, I just mean less anxious and probably a bit more confident about my process, and I’m able to lead my life as well as make a film. My wife and my friends and people around me know that I do tend to distance myself a little bit during the making of a film, but I have to you know, it’s a natural part of the process for me because you are indulging in the headspace of somebody else, you are investing in the psychology of somebody else and you are becoming somebody else, and so there isn’t enough room for you and that somebody else. And I think that depending on the role, depending on what it is you’ve gotta do, and that can range from naught to ten as far as intensity or the actual amount of work you’ve got to do, you know a number of ways to sort of cut the pie, so the moments are completely different on every film, that will then determine naturally how much you do have to sort of distance yourself from your friends and family. You know, so it just depends on the job.
Have you already started thinking about what you might be doing down the road in 2011 or is it still too early to tell?
Pearce: I’ve started thinking about it, and I’m starting to read things, in fact I’ve read a couple of things last year that I know are floating around for this year, but I’m not quite ready yet to seriously think about it (laughs). Even though I know in next couple of weeks I will start to think more seriously about it, I think now that I’m in LA it’ll naturally occur, but I’m still vibrating from the last job so I need that to sort of die down a bit.
When people meet you, and they see you at Starbucks or the supermarket, what are the one or two films that everyone always wants to talk to you about?
Pearce: Generally it’s Memento, [The Adventures of] Priscilla or LA Confidential. Or The Proposition. Depending on where you are, or depending on where I am, there’ll be things out of the box that’ll be kinda surprising; people might talk about Ravenous or might talk about Death Defying Acts or First Snow or A Slipping-Down Life, but generally it’s those first ones that I mentioned. Or Count of Monte Cristo, you know people quite often mention Count of Monte Cristo. But I think Memento’s the one that people really kinda go, “Oh man that film really twisted me inside out man!” which is great for me, it’s a fantastic film and an honor to have been a part of it, so [I’m] always happy to talk about it. It’s fascinating too because people—it’s interesting discovering what people’s take on that film is.
There’s a lot of films you just mentioned that I really love. Again I really enjoy your work. I have to ask you though, you had a great partnership with Nolan on Memento, are you sorta ever saying to him “If you wanted me, I could maybe help out on a Batman movie too?”
Pearce: (laughs) Look I’m sure if I was right for something, he would come and talk to me about it. Chris is not one to do something just for the sake of it, he’ll cast you if you’re right. So, you know, I just feel like if the time is right one day it’ll happen. I feel obviously honored to have done Memento with him, so yeah you know who knows?