Guy Pearce is a very busy man. Within the next month, the Emmy winning actor has three new projects releasing. First, there’s the exorcism horror film The Seventh Day. After that he’ll be seen in the HBO limited series Mare of Easttown, which reunites him with Kate Winslet ten years after the two starred together in Mildred Pierce, the series which won Pearce that Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. Finally, he’ll be co-starring with Michael B. Jordan in the Amazon action thriller Without Remorse, based on a Tom Clancy novel.
These three projects alone speak to the variety of work that Pearce has been involved in over the length of his career. Having established his name on the Australian soap opera Neighbours, where he starred for four years and 451 episodes, the actor broke out internationally with his role as a drag queen in the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He quickly moved on to a polar opposite character – a do-gooder cop whose resolve is put to the test in the critically acclaimed neo-noir film L.A. Confidential.
Pearce came onto the scene like a wrecking ball with one major project after the next, yet he has always remained impossible to pin down. Despite audiences’ appreciation for him over the years, there’s never been any way to predict what he’s going to do next. In that way, he’s been able to be a true chameleon, disappearing into his parts while always remaining an engaging presence in every film or TV series he’s in.
As The Seventh Day prepares to hit select theaters and on demand, I was fortunate to be able to sit down with Pearce and discuss his varied career. We took a deep dive throughout his filmography, from his early days on Neighbours to his upcoming projects, hitting plenty of highlights in between, including some hidden gems that deserve a lot more recognition. There’s never a dull moment speaking with Pearce, as he provided me with plenty of great insights and just as many laughs with his stories and a surprising amount of accent work.
Read on for my conversation with the always excellent Guy Pearce:
Mitchell Beaupre: Looking at a movie like The Seventh Day compared to something from early in your career like L.A. Confidential goes to show how varied your filmography has been. You’ve gone from Australian soap operas and Oscar-winning prestige movies to massive blockbusters and dark indies, and everything in between. Do you approach your career with a mentality of always wanting to switch it up and do different things, or is that just something that happens organically?
Guy Pearce: I think it happens organically. Ultimately, I am always interested in a variety of stuff, so the scripts I end up reading are of a great variety and I choose things from there. I don’t actively go out of my way to think, “Well I’ve done a big blockbuster so now I want to do a small Australian thing”, or anything like that. Even when I was younger I was doing lots of theater and would go from a big musical to a small play at a local amateur theater house, and then over to a role in a TV show, and then a film would come along, so I was always sort of going backwards and forwards between things, and that’s never really changed. I don’t understand how certain other actors keep it as limited as they do. I think if you can choose to play a drag queen one minute and then a news reader the next and a cop after that, why not? To me the variety of it all is what’s really interesting about our job.
MB: You’re very much the opposite of an actor who gets pigeonholed into one thing early in their career and then rides that wave forever.
GP: The thing is that I did a soap in Australia in the ‘80s called Neighbours where I played the same role for four years, and that really frustrated me after a while. I really loved that experience, but at the same time it just went on for too long and I don’t ever really want to get stuck in that again so I probably kept making sure that I was looking at things that were varied. I’m just no good when I’m boxed in like that, I get tired. I suppose selfishly a part of why I do what I do is because you get to express a certain psychology, and once you’ve expressed it then you’ve got to dump it and move to something else. If you’re still doing the same thing a year later, two years later, eventually four years later *fart sound*. You sort of end up going, “What’s the point?”
MB: Last week I was doing a Zoom trivia night with some friends in England and one of the rounds was specifically about actors who appeared in Neighbours, so naturally you were one of the answers. Do you still have people stop you on the street because they recognize you from the show?
GP: I do in England. If I go to England people will say to me, (English accent) “Oh my god, it’s Mike from Neighbors! Are you gonna do any more acting, or are you gonna go back to Neighbours? Is that it? You just did Neighbours, and that was it, no more acting ever again?”, and I’m like, “Well, I left in ’89, and I’ve done a few films since then”. They go, “Oh, I’ve seen nothing you’ve done. I’ve only ever seen you in Neighbours. You gonna go back to Ramsay Street? I’d love to see you back at Ramsay Street!” (laughing) It’s really just depending on where you are in the world people will have that particular sort of pigeonhole that they’d like to put you in. Then of course most people in America go, (American accent) “Neighbours, what’s that? I saw you in Priscilla for the first time.”
MB: Does your process change at all when you’re doing something like The Seventh Day which is very driven by the narrative, as opposed to a movie like Breathe In with Drake Doremus, who works in a much more improvisational kind of way?
GP: It’s always different because you’re working with different people and you’re playing different characters, but at the same time what’s at the heart of it is authenticity. Whether you’re playing someone who is very anxious, or someone who is very gregarious and relaxed, or someone who is kind of meticulous and a bit fearful, you’re just trying to be authentic. I have lots of things that I need to be the same on every job. It’s funny, I make a series back in Australia called Jack Irish, and when we were working on the last series we had this first AD who had not done the show before. We would finish a take, and something would get messed up, so I’d say let’s just go again, and he would just stand back and not say anything. So then I’d be like, “I need you to say action”. He’d tell me that we’re already rolling, but I’m like, “I need you to say action. If you don’t say “we’re all ready, rolling…. and action” I feel like I’m floating out in the middle of nowhere”. There’s this little stupid stuff like that where I need it, otherwise I feel like there’s no boundaries.
I love freedom, though. It was interesting working with Drake on Breathe In because Amy Ryan and I were the two most experienced actors on that film, and yet we were the two most freaked out actors there. Felicity Jones had worked with him before so she knew Drake’s process, and Mackenzie Davis had never done a film before so she thought this is what filmmaking was all about. Meanwhile, Amy and I are sort of like, “uhhh improvising, how do we do this?” It’s really funny how different people have different processes, but I at least find that I need a first AD to go “and action!” or else I’m totally at sea.
MB: John Hillcoat is a director who you’ve worked with multiple times, starting with The Proposition, which I think is one of the best movies ever made, the kind of film that forces you to live with it for weeks after you’ve watched it. When you’re making a movie like that, do you know in the moment that you’re creating something really special?
GP: Well, the true answer is no, because you don’t know what the outcome will be. You can watch the rushes, but as most people say there’s never bad rushes, so they’ll always look good. It’s an easy question to ask in retrospect because you would think that when you’re making a movie like L.A. Confidential or Memento that you just know it’s going to be AMAZING, but the reality is that you’re just on the set thinking, “Okay, we’re going to do this, and then I’m going to do that, and then you’re going to make this look like this, and I’m going to try and be realistic here”, so you’re just going through the same process on every job you’re on. Some of them end up looking like a whole lot of elements just stuck together, and some of them take your breath away. The Proposition took my breath away from the moment I read the script. That happened as well when I read the script for Memento, but not all of them end up in that category of genius work.
I’ll look at those finished films, and I’ll go, “Why does that one sort of rock our world, and this one even though it’s got a great story, and we all did really good work, and it comes together the way that it should, why do we look at it and just kind of shrug?” It’s all sort of there, but it doesn’t get under our skin like The Proposition or Lawless or The King’s Speech or The Hurt Locker. It’s a bit of a combination of the timing, the music, the performances, and also what the culture is looking for at the time. There’s all sorts of weird and wonderful magical elements that make something genius and brilliant, and other things kind of terrible, and then other ones that are just in the middle somewhere that are fine but aren’t very memorable.
I’m glad you’ve brought up The Proposition though, because people will ask me sometimes what my favorite film is that I’ve done and yeah obviously there’s L.A. Confidential, Memento, and Priscilla, which are the big three, but The Proposition personally is my favorite film. It’s also partly because it’s Australian, and it’s just out there in the earth, in the desert, and incorporating the Aboriginal culture. That movie really gets me like no other film does, it really does. John is just wonderful, I would do anything for John.
MB: Another great Australian film you’ve done is The Rover, which is one of the first films I recommend to people when they ask me for a hidden gem, the kind of movie that for one reason or another has just been overlooked. Do you have a particular film in your career that you feel like didn’t really get the appreciation that it deserved when it came out?
GP: Death Defying Acts is a movie that I did with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Saoirse Ronan, that was directed by Gillian Armstrong, and I feel that’s a really solid, beautiful, interesting, gorgeous film. At the time Harvey Weinstein had the film, and he had to release it at a cinema in order for it to be eligible for the Golden Globes and Oscars and all of that, and he never told any of us that they were doing that, so he just put the film in one cinema and then released it. We all sat there and went “what happened?” We never got to market the film properly, we never got to promote the film properly, and it just got lost. It’s an interesting exercise in why and how marketing works and doesn’t work. There are some films that are marketed really well, and then you see them and they’re shit films, but everyone is going to see them and is talking about them.
I also did this film with Mark Fergus called First Snow that I think was a really brilliant film, and didn’t quite get the life that it could have, or should have. There’s not many films that I’ve done and looked at in the end and thought it was actually a bad film. I’ve done ones where I’ve thought they were just okay, they work but weren’t going to rock anyone’s world, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but there’s a lot of those compared to the six or seven that sit at the top like Priscilla and Memento and L.A. Confidential. I’ve done something like 66 or 67 films, and there’s probably less than 10 that you could really say are genius pieces of work. That’s okay, though. You just kind of go along, as I do. I remember James Frain giving me the best bit of advice one actor can give to another actor, saying, “You can be good in a good movie. You can be good in a bad movie. You can be bad in a bad movie. But you can never be bad in a good movie.” In the end, that’s kind of true. As long as I do my bit as well as I possibly can then if the film is good then great, and if it’s bad then at least I sort of upheld my end of the stick.
MB: You don’t want to see the reviews and have them say, “Everything was great until whenever Guy Pearce came onto the screen”
GP: (laughing) Exactly, “the one weak link is Mr. Pearce from Australia, playing a Norwegian stripper. What the hell did they cast him for?”
MB: You’ve got quite a few projects coming out soon, and one that’s very exciting is Mare of Easttown which reunites you with Kate Winslet for HBO. How was that getting back together with Kate? Was it as explosive as doing Mildred Pierce together?
GP: It was certainly explosive for me! I love Kate, and I really enjoy her company. I love working with her, and it was great ten years later to get back together again. Of course, we were impacted by COVID. I did one day on March 12th, and then they shut down, and we all went home and sat around for 6 months wondering what was going to happen. Then, finally, we went back to Pennsylvania, and finished our work in late September into October. To work with her again was an absolute delight. We actually stayed in the same house together during the shoot, so we spent many mornings and evenings in the kitchen together, sort of organizing breakfast and dinner together. She’s just fantastic. She’s a brilliant lady, and a brilliant actor, and just a gorgeous human being. We also share birthdays, so that’s something you can’t ever take away. Although I’m a little older than her, of course.
The Seventh Day opens in select theaters and on demand on March 26th. Mare of Easttown premieres on HBO on April 18th. Without Remorse launches globally on Amazon Prime Video on April 30th.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]