Urban Cinefile, 05 April 2001
A GUY IN A QUANDARY
What to do? Music or musing? Nothing or acting? As his fame grows and the films get
bigger, Guy Pearce is in a bit of a quandary, he admits to Jenny Cooney Carrillo,
while discussing his starring role in Memento.
Though he is perhaps one of the most brilliant actors of his time, Aussie actor
Guy Pearce has remained relatively unknown in Hollywood; but his new film,
Memento, may change all that. The hit of the Sundance Film Festival, Memento
is a small-budget drama directed by Englishman Christopher Nolan, starring Pearce
as a man with a rare short-term memory disorder who is unable to make new memories
and yet driven in his search for his wifeís killer despite his constant confusion
and need to use Polaroids and tattoos to keep track of his own life on a daily basis.
Born in England and raised in Australia, Pearce quickly put his early soap days
with Neighbors and Home and Away behind him when he broke out as the
cross-dressing star of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which earned a Golden
Globe nomination for Best Comedy (and an AFI plus an Oscar for Best Costume. . . ).
He then followed it up with his unforgettable role as the straight-laced detective
at the heart of L.A. Confidential, also starring Russell Crowe. Currently residing
in Melbourne with his wife Kate, Pearce is again turning heads in the industry
with his finely-nuanced role in Memento and with larger and more visible roles
on the horizon.
This film was fascinating to watch. I can only imagine what it was like making it.
Did you film it in sequence?
Well, we shot the film any way you would shoot a film and that is location-based.
The nice thing for me was that the entire black and white sequence of the film
was shot in sequence. That was the last three days of the shoot and was essentially
a one-man play. I found it more difficult reading the script the first time than
actually shooting the picture. There were various days we would come across a
few logical questions like I would be walking around with Polaroids of pictures
that I had shot but we had not filmed the scene yet. There were a few odds and
sods but overall it was such an inspirational piece of work that anything that
seemed difficult or perplexing went out the window.
Speaking of memory, as your movie does, how is your memory?
Well, I have always known that I have a slightly bad memory but I question my
memory even more now after having made this film. I mean, you think you have
a particular image or memory; for example my father died when I was very young
and I put him on a pedestal. But after having done this film, I went back and
looked at a lot of old photographs and questioned what I might have remembered,
what may have been fantasy. Your memory is broken up into so many different
elements, you know. There are days when I canít remember what I did five minutes
ago. Also nerves, anxiety, will all affect oneís memory.
Was the post-production done in Melbourne to accommodate you?
In a way. I was working in Melbourne on an Australian film called Till Human
Voices Wake Us with Helena Bonham Carter and so I couldnít really get away. So,
thanks to the wonders of modern technology we were able to have me literally in
a booth in Melbourne communicating with Chris and the sound guys in L.A. We
re-worked some of the voice-over stuff and also re-worked some of the looping
that needed to be done.
What about the character? Does this condition really exist and were you able
to research the role?
The condition actually does exist. I did a small amount of research on this,
spoke to a doctor at home about the various forms of short-term memory loss.
There are various ways to lose memory but I really did not feel a need to do a
great deal of work at all. As I mentioned before, it was an incredibly inspired
piece of writing. Chris did such a beautiful, delicate job of observing this
character in this ridiculous or very extreme situation. I mean it may seem
ridiculous from an outsiderís point of view and definitely a situation none of
us would like to find ourselves in.
How do you go about choosing the roles you play? You seem to reinvent yourself
in every role. What is it that attracts you to these projects?
In general the actors I respond to are the actors that reinvent themselves.
They are the people that are able to lose themselves in the story, who do not
simply make you feel as if you are watching the actor, as such. I am more
interested in the extreme personalities that exist out there in the world and
if I am inspired by something, I respond. I donít have people telling me what
I should do so I find it a really simple process. Sometimes there is a story I
quite like but the characters need to be developed, but I like the director and
his vision so I will give it a go. It is not really about reinventing myself. It
is about discovering characters.
How do you feel about fame?
Actually after having done Neighbors in Australia, which is very popular, I had
my fair share of fame. It got a bit mad, being spotted everywhere. Maybe thatís
a by-product of why I seek roles where people will not recognize me. It is nice
in America where I am hardly recognised at all. If it builds up and I get to that
stage again at least I have some experience in knowing how to deal with it.
Do you keep your home in Melbourne to stay grounded and keep track of who you
I guess so. I mean, I just donít feel the need to leave Melbourne. If I had to
analyse it then yes, I would say that I see Los Angeles as a big workplace and I
like to be able to go home on the weekends. I play a lot of music and it is really
important for me to be able to go home and play music by myself, kind of recharge.
I am constantly questioning whether I want to do this forever, so being able to
return to Melbourne is a stabilizer, in a way.
Has your perception of tattoos or Polaroids changed?
Well, it is funny because when you are filming on a set you are constantly being
ĎPolaroidedí by either the make-up department or the wardrobe department or the
continuity lady. I do kind of listen to it differently now and I canít help but be
conscious of the fact that now a moment has been caught. Tattoos you also
mentioned. My wife just got another tattoo so I am fascinated by tattoos, by the
actual finality of getting a tattoo. I never had the courage to get one myself.
So your wife has one but you donít? What does hers say? ĎGuy Foreverí?
Yeah thatís right, ĎI love my husband!í (laughs). No, she has the Ohm symbol on
her stomach and she also has a ganesh elephant on her back. They are quite
beautiful images, so I live out my tattoo fantasy through her!
If you were not acting, what would you be doing?
I am constantly questioning why I am there on the film set getting paid to act
for people. I am not one of those actors who at the age of twenty thought I
would try acting. I got into it when I was about eight in Australia. I found
myself going to theater productions with my mother and I so in awe of the
feeling that these people on stage gave me that I wanted to get up there and do
the same for other people. I wasnít conscious of the decision to make it a
career at that time, and now as a thirty-three year old I question the decision
that was made when I was young. I question the value of what I do. I question
the need for me to get on stage and manipulate peopleís emotions. I look at my
insecurities and my inability to feel confident in front of other people and the
way in which I might manipulate a situation, act confident or funny or whatever,
and it becomes a survival tactic. Ironically, it is what Leonard, my character,
does in this film. It is what an actor does. I would rather find a place in my
life where I feel calm and confident and content. I feel the more I work and
the bigger it gets or the more recognition you get, the more I question if this
is what I should be doing. I actually get a lot more satisfaction sitting at
home playing guitar and singing to myself, so I am often wondering if music
means more to me. I am in a quandary about the whole thing, to be quite honest.
Can you tell me about your up-coming roles in remake of The Time Machine, produced
by Steven Spielberg, and the new big-budget version of the classic story The
Count of Monte Christo?
I canít tell you anything about Time Machine because I am currently working on
it - I find it very difficult to talk about things I am working on. I do find
it a fascinating project, I mean the effect the original had on me was great.
And now I am sitting in the time machine and being reminded of how I felt when
I was a kid watching Rod Taylor in it so that is a really exciting experience.
The Count Of Monte Christo, I havenít seen yet but I do know I had a wonderful
time shooting it in Ireland and Malta.