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Guy Pearce - Funny Guy, Nice Eyes, Anti-Star
interview by B.C. Edwards

He walks into the room wearing what all truly classy Hollywood actors wear: A stylishly dingy jacket over a dark olive green tee and perfectly tight worn-out jeans. The ensemble ratty as it is probably cost as much as I paid for my first car, but who the hell cares? He looks so disarming. There are six of us thirsty interviewers seated around the table and he shakes each of our hands before he sits down. The eyes are flat out amazing. He has these fabulous blue aggies, a slightly dulled azure that, were they any more intense, could only come from colored contacts. After you ask him a question he looks at you the entire time as he answers it - just looking, not staring. It's kind of scary; no one really does that anymore. And on top of it all this is Guy Pearce talking. These are Guy Pearce's eyes - both friendly and sharp; it's all a little overwhelming for an indie buff such as yours truly. He is beyond charming and it's not just the accent. The interview is peppered with jokes and colorful anecdotes putting both him and us at ease.

Almost immediately I realize that there's something rumbling underneath the well toned but rail-thin frame of this guy. Something that runs much deeper than most Hollywoodians. At the age of eight, he tells us, his father a test pilot crashed and died leaving the young boy with his mother and sister to fend for themselves. It was a milestone in his life that he is still coming to terms with, one that he talks about with an alarming ease.

"It's still sort of gradually affecting me as time goes on. I was only eight when it happened. I remember my mum saying - because it was only my mum my sister and I after dad was dead. And my sister is intellectually disabled so she takes some special care and all. And I remember mum saying 'It's so amazing that you're such a responsible young lad.' And I was like, 'oh right. Right! OK I'm responsible I better be responsible,' you know? And so I feel like I kind of snapped into that frame of mind pretty quickly and it hasn't been until later in my life that I've gone 'Well hang on a sec.' Because people have always asked me: How did it affect you that your dad died? And I've always gone 'Oh! No problem!'" He's a very animated talker and pushes it all away with a wide sweep of his hands. I wonder silently if this pragmatism is a trait of Australians in general or just this one kid. It sounds very much like a Fosters ad: 'Tragedy! Beer! Fosters, Australian for Beer.'

"Dad was on this pedestal, he was really an heroic sort of character." He actually used the phrase 'an heroic…' instead of 'a heroic.' Talk about well bred. "I mean what I've tried to do in the last couple of years is come more to terms with who he really was and try and understand that. Rather than say: 'He was a hero! He died! I'm OK about it! I'm a hero too! Blah blah blah.'" There's a lot of baggage in those blahs. "I've started to talk more to my uncles who were Dad's sisters' husbands. They banter about him and when he used to swear and get drunk or whatever stuff ya know? Stuff that mum never really wanted to say because she never really wanted to say anything other the fact that he was the greatest person in the entire universe. Which is probably true but from my point of view is not quite well-rounded enough." He talked freely about his sister's handicap and his father's death throughout the interview. He even shared with us the story a time he was 'on the other side of the law.'

"I remember when I was young I did this really stupid, stupid thing. I was so embarrassed about it. It's very mild it's not even gonna seem like a criminal offense. My father used to be part of the council he was kind of a well-to-do character he was a test pilot and he was very well regarded. Every year they used to have these functions, these Christmas functions. All these people in suits and this, that and the other. I don't really know what it was. And the year that dad died in 1976, that Christmas they had one of those big functions. And of course my mum was invited and they made her sort of this honorary guest and I was there as an eight year old and my mate, ya know? And we were pretty bored and so we went wandering around the place and we decided to pinch as many gems from the gem show display as we possibly could. And sort of stuffed our pockets with these things. And later on I'm standing there in a big circle with mum and all these well-to-do people in suits and mum's there and it's all sort of official and formal and I'm being a terribly polite young boy and this guy comes straight up to me and my man and says 'You and you empty your pockets out!' And we both just go…" he reaches into his pockets and pulls them out with a flourish. "Whoosh! And spread all these things over the floor. To this day it was so humiliating to humiliate my mother like that."

That same year, when he was eight - the year of his father's death - Guy made the decision to become an actor. "My mother used to take me to the theater and we'd watch these shows and I had such and incredible response to what was going on on stage that I just wanted to get up there and do it myself."

Twenty-some-odd years later Pearce is starring in The Hard Word along side Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under). An edgy story of three bank robbers, the Twentyman Brothers, about to be released on bail provided they do one last job for their double crossing attorney and the local corrupt police force. While on the surface a fairly standard caper film full of fairly standard caper film antics and obstacles, The Hard Word runs quite a bit deeper into the characters and what drives them than Ocean's Eleven or similar recent movies in this genre. It also has what Pearce calls a uniquely Australian sense of humor. While the film is quite dark and very gritty, everyone involved has a devilish sense of humor about their situation. Even when they've been outdone or double-crossed they can all still laugh at themselves. First time writer / director Scott Roberts carries this same black humor into every facet of the script. While producing a movie that has its share of pitfalls (especially towards the end) Roberts also shows signs of real brilliance and a love for the craft. The Hard Word is very much a genre flick and if you're not all that into the genre, you probably won't like the movie either. Conversely, it's a damn sight smarter than most of the blockbusters this season and is very far from un-enjoyable.

Pearce found he had a very strong connection to his character Dale, the eldest brother. "I went to a private school," he explains, "and there were lots of high faulooting people in suits who were quite condescending and made us feel like…" he searches momentarily for the proper term. "A bag of shit most of the time. And so I have a bit of a problem with authoritarian figures. I also really liked that frustrated element that Dale was feeling where he's stuck inside and these coppers and this lawyer that's out there supposedly doing the right thing is more of a crook than he is. And I think that was something that was nice to address [and parallel to] Australian government and other governments around the world. I also liked the fact that Dale said all of the things that I probably wouldn't have the courage to say to all those people in years gone by. I was always 'Yes sir. No sir. Whatever you say sir.' Whereas Dale would have said 'What the fuck are you going on about mate?'" Pearce enjoys playing the anti-hero he says. He likes walking the line between the good and the despised. Almost all of his roles - all of the cool ones anyhow - are similar in nature while vastly diverse in character. Leonard from Memento, Exley from L.A. Confidential, Captain Boyd from Ravenous all are disparate characters, but all are solidly set in the category of the anti-hero.

"I like the idea of drawing an audience into somebody who they wouldn't normally be drawn into and wouldn't normally want to understand and wouldn't normally want to feel empathy for. But for some reason or other they end up feeling some sympathy for them. I mean I remember when we did L.A. Confidential and people used to say 'I hated that guy so much in the beginning; I can't believe that by the end I was saying: Yes! Go Exley! Go!' and I said 'Good that's what I wanted.' Because I think we always make these assumptions that the bad guy is the bad guy and the good guy is the good guy and that's all there is to it. And so often the bad guy has actually got the biggest heart in the world and he's just trying to survive a situation. And I really am drawn to that notion I suppose."

At eighteen Guy landed a role on the wildly successful Australian soap opera 'Neighbors.' While it was immensely popular, he is still feeling the brunt from the audiences down under for his performances "I mean some of the people come up to me and say 'God it's so surprising that you keep working overseas because we just thought you were shit on that television show you used to do. It's amazing that you've gone on to do all this… good on you!' And I'm like 'Yeah thanks. Thanks I think.'" Shy of Jon Stewart I don't think anyone in show business puts themselves down more than Guy Pearce. He is brutally honest with himself concerning his shortcomings - even shortcomings the rest of us fail to notice. And why is this? Why is someone so obviously on the top of his game so quick to dispel his own illusion?

It probably all boils down to the fact that he's happy with how famous he is. Happy that he can walk down Sixth Avenue without absolutely everyone stopping and turning or nudging the people next to them. He doesn't really want to achieve a level of superstardom he says. "I value my privacy" and fame American-style would be overwhelming. Besides, he says, he already had that sort of recognition and adoration when he was a kid. "The TV show I did in Australia when I was eighteen. It was hugely popular in New Zealand and Europe and we experience that kind of Beetle-mania and it was ridiculous. It's great for a minute but it's completely ridiculous. So when I then got the opportunity to then come and work here and after L.A. Confidential my agent was going 'RIGHT! Let's do this!" and I just went 'Noooo! Hold on a second. Hold on. This is kind of like what happened ten years ago and I don't want this.'" Again he gestures wildly, hands out in front of him warding off fame as though it were the devil.

Of course never mind that he is an icon and a legend when it comes to the independent circuit. With Memento, Ravenous, Pricilla, Queen of the Desert and the like, Guy Pearce has immortalized himself in the undercurrent of the film world. Like I said before, there's something rumbling underneath that brash Aussie accent.

For someone so critically acclaimed and widely regarded he's got surprisingly little confidence. Not only does he not desire the fame of being a huge Hollywood star he doesn't much care for the style of roles they play either. He doesn't feel that he fits as a leading man. "I've never considered myself to be particularly heroic," he explains. "I like the idea of playing a…" He starts to cough a little. "Oh excuse me I've got a sort of coldie thing going on." How cute is that 'coldie?' "I like the idea of playing a character that's got a sort of heroic quality to them but not because I feel heroic because it's somebody different than me. Where as you see Tom Cruise or George Clooney, they naturally play those kinds of guys all the time. I'm always a little too anxious for that… I don't feel confident enough as an actor to justify being the guy that's out there in the front going 'I'm the number one dude.' I can be good sometimes if I have a good director I can be really bad sometimes if I haven't. I can be anywhere in the middle." This coming from a guy who has dealt out some of the more astounding performances in the last few years. And also considering that The Time Machine was one of the poorest scripts and directing jobs of last year and he managed to eek out a truly genuine performance, which may not have been brilliant but also wasn't in the least ways damaging. Humility may very well be Guy Pearce's forte or perhaps he is trying to shy away from the fame that continually knocks on his door. Maybe he just enjoys the role of the anti-star too much to give it up. Whatever it is, the longer he stays in the shadows of Hollywood the longer he'll last and the longer we'll be able to enjoy his uniquely subtle and powerful brand of performances.

 






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