Making of: Dating the Enemy (1996)
That Guy in a Girl's Body...
Guy Pearce stars with Claudia Karvan in the Australian romantic comedy, Dating the Enemy - and the enemy is/are him/her/self/ves. As the shoot wrapped, he/she (and Claudia) talked to Andrew L. Urban.
It was a sad sort of Friday night; after a serious and relatively long relationship, Guy Pearce was alone. The relationship had been unstable for a while, and it finally broke. "It was what needed to happen, but I just felt sort of flushed out, empty...and I remembered, while lying on my bed bawling my eyes out, that I was supposed to get on a plane the next morning to Sydney and do this audition for Dating the Enemy and be funny."
He felt like doing nothing of the sort. But he did it. He didn't play it for laughs, but that was just the right thing to do. He was simply right for the role - or roles, to be exact.
Because in the new Australian romantic comedy, Dating the Enemy, Guy Pearce plays not only Brett, the charming but uncommitted half of a relationship, but also Tash, the smart but hot tempered young woman in his life. And Claudia Karvan also plays both characters, because an extraordinary thing happens one night while they're asleep: they switch bodies. Tash had been wishing Brett could be in her shoes, see things her way. Wish granted. But in the process, she is landed with his body...and his job as a host on a tv music show, and his everything.
After a shaky, nervous two weeks in rehearsals, Guy and Claudia welded as actors. "I had to be talked into doing it," Guy admits, "so I was always on the edge, feeling I couldn't do it. So I latched onto Claudia."
As for Claudia, she felt she depended on Guy more than she had ever depended on another actor. "We developed the characterisations more than even [the scriptwriter and director] Megan [Simpson Huberman], so we really needed each other," says Guy. "And we were generous with each other." So much so, they even corrected each other on occasion, about the intonations of a line, "the biggest no-no for actors," says Claudia.
Of course, during filming, Guy was acutely aware of the irony of making a film about a relationship in danger as a result of a lack of communication, of understanding the other's point of view. He'd just gone through that for real.
And then there was the Priscilla factor: "My initial reaction was, oh god, they're going to see this and think 'Priscilla...Priscilla...Priscilla'. So I was negative. Then I got the part, and I was thinking 'Oh fuck, now what? But ultimately, I can't look at it from the point of view of what people may think. I was also aware of the marketing aspects, the image...ooh, I can't be seen in a dress again, I must go and do something butch. But I thought, why do I have to go and do something butch? I spoke to a lot of people, and ultimately, it was a big challenge, and I believe it is very different. I felt I could bring something to it."
Filming was physically tiring and mentally draining, being two people in the one day, as it were, because both Claudia and Guy were striving to avoid the stereotypes when being their opposite sex. This was the crucial difference in Megan Simpson Huberman's script, after all: unlike most previous body switch love stories, this is a double switch. And everyone was anxious to be fresher, truer and funnier.
Claudia says she played Brett "more blokey than Guy," and she praises Guy's work in Tash's character: "he wasn't a parody of a woman, he WAS a woman." They had to carefully co-ordinate the gestures of each, and Guy avoided camp gestures. Above all, Megan wanted them to play people, not 'man' or 'woman', whether they were in their own charaters or the "enemy's".
All the shooting was done in Sydney, with an eye to show off its sophisticated side, "to celebrate the city", as Megan puts it.
After Priscilla's success, Guy was signed to the mega-powerful ICM talent agency in Hollywood, and has had "brief, concentrated bursts" in Los Angeles, for casting talks. After LA Confidential, he was offered another film, "but I knocked that back as it didn't feel the right thing to do...I like to just go there for a short time, I don't think I could live there. I go there for two weeks and do 20 auditions...." Hollywood is aggressively competitive, he feels, and he is not keen to join that long, slugging race. "At school I was always the sprinter, not the long distance runner. I sort of go in, hit hard and get out of there."
But for long term plans, Guy is singularly empty handed: "I always feel I should have a ready answer for that question...I think if I ever decided to stop being an actor, I'd probably concentrate on my music. I write quite a bit now, and it's so much more personal, more expressive. As an actor you're often restrained and restricted..."
The reality is that Guy Pearce is not driven by ambition, he is not about to reach for superstardom, he is not moving to Los Angeles. "Look, I love to wake up in the morning and smell the fresh air, go and potter at the piano, and feel relaxed. I'm a really nervy person, so I need to feel calm and so on. Part of being an actor is to learn about as many people as I can, to take it all on board...and there is a need for me to do that. But when that need has been fulfilled I guess I won't do that anymore."
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