Australian Movie Guide, 20 March 2001
The Mementous Mr Pearce
Guy Pearce is another of that unique group of Aussie actors that seems to be taking over Hollywood these days. But unlike Crowe, Pearce has chosen to concentrate more on the Indie film scene. His latest film is the critically acclaimed Memento, an original thriller that is structured in reverse order. The film had its US premiere at the recent Sundance Film Festival, where Paul Fischer sat down with the Aussie Thespian.
The one thing that is noticeable about Guy Pearce on screen is how quickly he immerses himself into a character. Take Memento, the complex thriller that plays around with memory. Pearce is quickly enveloped in the role of Leonard. This is acting at its purest, no Guy Pearce persona to speak of. "I think the reason why I'm an actor is there is no Guy Pearce persona. I'm trying to find it," the actor says laughingly in the midst of Park City's Sundance Festival. "I get bored watching actors do the same thing all the time, and it must be boring for the audience to see. I hear people say, "There was a link between this and something you did four years ago. How do you feel about that?" And I'm immediately embarrassed by it. I think, "Oh God, everything should be completely different," you know? Because all the characters I'm playing have nothing to do with Guy Pearce, you know." Perhaps it is hard to get a handle on Guy. But then perhaps not. When we met, the bearded Pearce was casually clothed in a tan V-neck jumper and faded jeans that were patched and written on with some kind of silver marker. "I love this festival because it's so casual. None of this black tie shit, it's great." The actor was happy to escape the outside freezing temperatures to the warmth of his hotel, discussing his work. Since I've known him, it has always been about the work. His private life, he maintains, is a closed book. He has come to Sundance to discuss Memento, and he does so with an insistent and genuine passion.
Memento is a film that presents unique challenges for an actor. This is no conventional film, but played in reverse. Yet as complex as it seems, Pearce doesn't seem to notice the difficulties- at least not during this interview.. "I had such a great time making this film", the actor responds when asked what difficulties he faced making it. "It was a complete case of inspiration, as far as I was concerned, which is the best way to work. You don't have to think, then."
Pearce is Leonard, a man struggling to put his life back together after the brutal rape and murder of his wife. But Leonard's problems are different from those of most people in his situation; he was beaten severely by the same man who killed his wife, leaving him with brain damage. The most significant manifestation of Leonard's injuries is that his short-term memory has been destroyed; he is incapable of retaining any new information, and must resort to profuse note-taking and polaroids photographs in order to keep track of what happens to him over the course of a day (he's even tattooed himself with a few crucial bits of information he can't get along without). Somehow, through his mental haze, Leonard has begun to retain awareness that his wife was brutally murdered, and he's become convinced that the culprit still walks the streets. Slowly but surely, Leonard becomes obsessed with the notion of taking revenge against the man who has ruined his life, and he sets out to find him, getting help from Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), a sympathetic barmaid, and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), who claims to be Leonard's friend, even though Leonard senses that he cannot be trusted.
Pearce says that it wasn't too difficult to create a character with no memory and, as such, a man with virtually no personality."There was no need to sort of have to invent a person. Quite often on films you think, 'OK, here's the situation, but who is this person?' So we'll do this and do that and come up with whatever ways to sort of invent somebody. In this case, this was very much about the inside of this person's head, so in a sense, Leonard is the one doing all the work. HE'S the one who's doing the acting, or inventing. Guy kind of just wasn't really there. It's weird; I can't really explain it very well, to be quite honest," he adds smilingly.
Asked if working on Memento changed the way he approaches a role, Pearce offers a reflective pause before responding. "As far as I'M concerned, the way I like to act is not to have to build a character, it's to find a character that exists, and you just immerse yourself in that. I don't find myself a very inventive person", Guy says surprisingly. "I just allowed myself to be swept up by the whole thing. Leonard operates almost like a synapse really, just a nerve ending that's responding to everything around him and trying to maintain some sort of control. At a certain point, I found an incredible freedom about the whole thing. I was able to actually just live in a narrow-minded little bubble and let these guys do the stuff around me. I really don't know how to explain it better than that. I do it because I want to do it, not because I know how to explain how to do it."
For Pearce, doing Memento was yet a liberating experience, he says. "Certain other things I've done have been more challenging because you have to really look inside the emotional continuity of the character, you have to really structure something, you have to remember specific things about the character. Whereas this, I had to let all that go."
While Pearce has worked with veterans such as Curtis Hanson, he had no difficulty in taking up ther challenge this time around and working with first-timer Chris Nolan. "He's the guy that wrote the script. It wasn't like someone had written a fantastic script and given it to some loser." More laughter.
It was LA Confidential that put Pearce, who had made his name on Aussie television before Priscilla came along, on the map. But rather than following the Crowe route to mainstream Hollywood, Guy found independent movies more to his liking. Perhaps that world of independence gave him the roles he was looking for. "I guess that's where the better roles come from, but there are so many films out there, if you can't find stuff that's interesting, then there's got to be something wrong with you. There's a certain sort of aim that certain actors have, which is to get yourself in a No. 1 position where they think they'll get offered everything, you know? I'm just happy to flit around in the background and find stuff that interests me. It's not necessarily about a career choice; it's finding stuff I'm interested in."
Ironically, next up for the constantly busy actor, is a high profile studio pic: A second big screen version of the H.G. Welles classic, The Time Machine. Coincidentally, the original version starred another Australian, Rod Taylor. Asked what life lessons Pearce may to this big studio picture, Guy cheerily retorts that he hopes "to try and stay positive and not allow myself to get grumpy if things don't quite go the way I want them to go." Somehow, one can't imagine Mr Pearce being too grumpy. "I guess it's your own insecurities that come out when things aren't going the way you want them to."
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