Toronto Sun, 18 September 1997

Making the leap from Oz to L.A.

Aussie duo gets comfortable in L.A. Confidential


Two Australians, one an ex-patriate New Zealander, the other born in England, play quintessentially American cops in the '50s-era film noir L.A. Confidential.

One of the most acclaimed titles in the Toronto filmfest, Curtis Hanson's epic, torn from the lurid pages of James Ellroy's novel, finished second both in the critics' vote for best film and in the public vote for most popular film.

At the heart of the matter is a superb cast led by Australian based actors Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce and completed by a roster that includes Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey and David Straithairn.

"What we brought to the roles -- me and Russell and all of us -- was what was important," says Pearce, "and our background is, in a sense, irrelevant."

For his part, director Hanson has made it clear he chose actors with relatively low profiles in Hollywood so audiences would accept these fresh faces in complex, dark roles without worrying about the emotional baggage stars carry into movies.

"Each character appears to be one thing when you first meet him or her, but is in fact, something else," says Hanson, "which can also be said of L.A. It's not called 'the city of dreams' for nothing."

So the 29-year-old Pearce and the thirtysomething Crowe glided into their roles without faltering in the accent. The dreamstate of L.A. Confidential gave them licence to thrill.

"You go into these movies to play an American, you know," shrugs Crowe, the New Zealand-born actor who emigrated to Australia to establish his career in movies such as Romper Stomper, the violent skinhead flick that inspired Hanson to cast him as a tough, shrewd but crooked cop.

"That's part of the fun of it for me. I can be an Australian in Australian films." He stars in the Australian-made Heaven's Burning, which was also in the Toronto filmfest this year.

In his first American movies, including Virtuosity and The Quick And The Dead, the feisty yet friendly Crowe refused to use a dialect coach for his American accent. "I was too kind of brave and proud to want a dialect coach because I thought that showed weakness in my armor. But then you just learn it's a more efficient way of doing it.

"A dialect coach is really important because it takes a certain technical responsibility off your shoulders. Otherwise, it would be very disruptive, because you've got to focus on the internal life of the character. The language is easy if you're not focusing on it, you know."

Pearce, who was born in England and moved to Australia with his family when he was three, was less worried about accents and more concerned with Hanson reacting to him in a frock in the Australian drag queen spectacle Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert. Fortunately, Hanson cooperated.

"Curtis knew about Priscilla," says Pearce, "and hadn't seen it and didn't want to see it. He didn't want his judgment to be clouded or colored or whatever." Pearce's character in L.A. Confidential starts the movie as a swaggering, cocky, obnoxious man with a real rooster strut.

Pearce has walked the walk before. Although slight, he is wiry and strong, a former teen bodybuilding champion. He is known for macho roles. "So Priscilla was seriously out in left field. But I don't get offered drag queen movies so it hasn't at all been a hindrance. In fact, it's been wonderful."

Together, the Australians with cool '50s American slang in their mouths help propel L.A. Confidential to success. "This is an adult movie," says Crowe. "If all the oohs and ahhs and giggles and laughs and applause (in Toronto) are any indication, this is one of those movies that is totally involving. And it's the first one I've made in America like that!"

guy edward pearce