BBC, 12 October 2000

Guy Pearce - Memory Loss
Interviewed by Film 2000 with Jonathan Ross

You play a guy with a memory span of a goldfish. How do you play a role where every time we see you in a scene we have to re-interpret it? It must put a strain on you.
When I went through the whole process of rehearsal with Chris Nolan, the director, it seemed very complex and quite convoluted. And then I suddenly got to a point where I realised there was actually quite a lot of freedom. Like any character you play, you essentially have to work out mentally where you're at, at any given time, so it's the same principle. It's just an extreme set of circumstances because you know that everything that you're concentrating on you can just forget and then start something new. So it was quite interesting to work on.

Were you attracted to this film because it subverts some of the suppositions that we have about thrillers?
I was attracted to the situation that this character has found himself in. The loss of short term memory and on a mission to find the killer of his wife. The way in which Chris had structured the film means a lot of it essentially runs backwards. I found that really innovative and it relates to the condition that the character is suffering.

Let's talk about how you started off in "Neighbours". Do you have fond memories?
Yes. It definitely got to be a grind after a while but it was such an incredible launching pad. I was there for four years and I was quite meticulous at observing what I was doing and what everyone else was doing, so it was a really good training ground I suppose.

The first time I saw you in a film was LA Confidential. You and a young fellow by the name of Russell Crowe, don't know what happened to him! It takes what you expect to be a standard film of its type and plays around with it.
I found that particularly motivating and inspirational. You've got a story that is really complex and handled in a very intelligent way, with a lot of focus on subtlety and detail. I think generally it's far more intelligent than most standard action films.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was a tremendous movie, a surprising hit and we saw it at the Sydney Olympics.
Yes, I was curious to know who that was sitting on the bus in my costume. It's obviously become a cult thing that everyone seems to attach themselves to.

Tell me about Rules of Engagement - the very odd William Friedkin movie from last year. There was a lot of shouting in that film.
There was a lot of shouting on set too. Billy likes to scream at you if you don't get it right. I'm one of those actors who likes to rehearse and Billy doesn't. You would block a scene and then literally go straight in to shoot it and if you didn't get it right he would scream and yell at you until you did. Not my favourite way to work.

I've met both he and Tommy Lee Jones very briefly and I get the feeling that if you got the two of them together it would be quite a volatile mix.
I said to Billy when I first went to meet him in the States, I said "What's with Tommy Lee Jones? Everyone calls him TL, do I call him Tommy or Tommy Lee?" He said,"Best just not to call him anything." So I thought I'll stick to my corner and keep quiet.

What's next for you?
I've just finished an Australian film called Til Human Voices Wake Us, with Helena Bonham Carter. And I'm currently working on The Count Of Monte Cristo, in Ireland and Malta. Jim Caviezel and Richard Harris are in the film. It's a good cast.


Guy Pearce talking about his role in Memento

"Leonard Shelby is suffering from this condition which is short term memory loss. Chris, the director, did not want really want to do a film about short term memory loss but he just wanted to use it for its metaphorical potential, I suppose...because we all suffer some kind of identity crisis at times y'know? So he's suffering from this condition and he is also on a mission to find the killer of his wife. There was for me a lot more freedom with this film than in a lot of other projects because the preparation, homework and research one is supposed to do as an actor - for me, maybe I don't have the mental capacity to do it, but I find myself getting bogged down with stuff. I work as an actor purely on instinct and intuition, when I'm inspired by something, y'know?. My imagination. In something like this, my imagination was completely fuelled by the script - I essentially didn't need to do one iota of homework because there is no past, emotionally there does not have to be a continuity from scene to scene, essentially because he wakes up every 10 minutes and says I have no idea what went before. It's difficult for the audience in the 1st half hour as it is hard to ascertain where the black and white stuff fits in relation to the colour stuff. The fact that the colour stuff is going backwards is difficult enough anyway without suddenly interspersing it with this B/W stuff..and you don't know whether it has already happened or if it hasn't happened yet..but that is the point of the film. the point of the film is to throw you into this little land of confusion and you've got to think about this and put these pieces together and work out this puzzle...not that evry innovative film has to be about solving a puzzle and trying to put the pieces together but just give the audience some credit and actually compliment them by saying I'm clever and I know that you're clever-let's see how you go with this."

guy edward pearce