Most New York, 22 September 1997

'Confidential'-ly, It Was a Stretch

Aussie Pearce goes Hollywood in 'L.A.'
By Howard Feinstein

Guy Pearce is still in shock. The 29-year-old Australian, who plays an American loner, Ed Exley, in "L.A. Confidential" a good-cop/bad-cop thriller set in the early '50s says that his role "could have been [played by] Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves, or Robert De Niro, but the fact is, it's us."

The "us" refers to Pearce (pictured below, at far right) and fellow Aussie Russell Crowe, who also plays an honest LAPD cop. The film, adapted from James Ellroy's novel, opens Sept. 19, with a cast that includes Kim Basinger as a high-class hooker, Kevin Spacey as a sleazy detective and Danny DeVito as a slimy journalist.

Pearce's introverted Exley is a far cry from the role that introduced him to American audiences: the wildly extroverted, bitchy drag queen Felicia/Adam in the Australian hit "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

Playing a straight American in "L.A. Confidential" was a much greater challenge, which had nothing to do with the accent.

"The Priscilla thing was easy: I latched onto that emotional roller-coaster ride. But to contain everything like Ed does, and keep it really still, is difficult. Ed suffers from pent-up emotions," Pearce explains. "I felt like I was a block of wood sometimes. I was desperate to see the dailies. I don't know whether I shouldn't be giving away my acting insecurities, but I always find it difficult to have faith in what I do."

A Case of Stage Fright

Pearce, who became well known in Australia while still a teen on the weekly TV series "Neighbours" ("I played an outsider who came from a rather tumultuous home situation"), was more Ed-like than Felicia-like during two days in June in Melbourne and Sydney, taking part in panel discussions involving Australia's top actors.

He sat rigidly and spoke sparingly. "I'm an anxious person, particularly in a situation like that," he said. "You're sitting there talking to actors who have been to drama school and have studied Shakespeare far more than I have, and you know they're thinking, 'What's this soapy actor doing on the panel?' "

Quiet though he may be, Pearce has a wry sense of humor. He mumbles acerbic one-liners under his breath. But, then, his parents were not Australian. His test-pilot father, who died in an air crash, was a New Zealander; his mother English. (He was born in the U.K.) "Mum is from the north of England, where they have a wicked sarcastic humor. I was brought up on a lot of English comedies. . . . It comes from your childhood, doesn't it?"

Pearce's openness doesn't stop with his personality. "I was a small, skinny guy and had a lot of insecurities about my body, so I got into weight training when I was young. I won the Junior Mr. Victoria bodybuilding competition when I was 15, which is a really odd claim to fame," he says with a laugh.

"If I don't go to the gym, I lose weight. That's what happened with 'L.A. Confidential.' I turned up at the set one day in a singlet [tank top], and Curtis [director Curtis Hanson] thought my arms were ridiculously muscley. 'Not for me,' I said, but he told me to stop going to the gym."

There also seems to be something strange about his mouth in the film, I tell him. "I put some temporary bonding on my teeth to lengthen them and make them straighter," he responds. "I thought, 'This seems like a real Hollywood thing to do.' "

The L.A. Differential

Dental veneers notwithstanding, Pearce is probably not one who will play the Hollywood game all-out even though the buzz on "Confidential" has already opened doors. He describes Basinger, known for animal-rights activism, as "a wonderful, beautiful person dealing with a lot of expectations and pressure," but seems mystified by her entourage: "Babies, baby-sitter, makeup artists and hairstylists, but I didn't see any animals!"

He liked the communal feel on the set, much like the Australian films he's used to, but says, "I get the impression that not all American films are like that."

Meanwhile, he's quite content to hang around his 100-year-old house in Melbourne with wife Kate, who is studying to become a naturopath, although he doesn't discount the idea of living part-time in America when the right parts come up. "Kate and I dag [schlump] a lot around the house. We've become socially inept. I daydream a lot, and I enjoy simple things.

"Going to Cannes and walking up the Croisette with Kim Basinger and Kevin Spacey and having your photo taken by 5 million people needs to be counter-balanced by waxing the fireplace, cleaning the kitchen bench and playing with my two cats."

guy edward pearce