Guy Pearce: Face-off with fame

He cut his acting teeth on ‘Neighbours’ and hit the big time in ‘LA Confidential’. Since then – and despite his refusal to join the celebrity circus – Guy Pearce has built an impressive career. As for movie-star glamour: “I don’t need that stuff,” he says

Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 11:00

It is quite a trick to gain the status of suave leading man – or woman for that matter – while still getting to play fleshy humans with nuanced personalities. Character actors have long careers, but they rarely get to play the man on the biggest, whitest horse.

Guy Pearce might be an exception. Now in his mid 40s, he still has the sharp, smooth features we remember from his time as Mike – the thinking person’s Scott – in the era-defining Australian soap Neighbours. But, since breaking into the bigger time with LA Confidential, he has managed to play an impressive array of rough-grained maniacs and beaten-down vagabonds. Think of the haunted protagonist in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Recall his hairy villain in John Hillcoat’s The Proposition. No equivalent of the McConaissance is required here.

Pearce is at it again in the sweaty postapocalyptic thriller The Rover. David Michod’s follow-up to Animal Kingdom casts Pearce as a puzzlingly ruthless loner who will stop at nothing to retrieve his stolen car. Never having been exactly pre-apocalyptic, the Australian outback offers the perfect location for a tale set on a wasted Earth.

“Yeah, it’s such a confronting place to be,” Pearce says. “That really adds to the impression that the world is collapsing about you.”

Mind you, it must be a tough place to film. There aren’t too many luxury hotels about the baking interior. “Oh I don’t need that stuff,” he says. “It’s fantastic out there in the desert. I love the heat, if it’s not too humid. As far as the glamour of film-making goes, I am okay without all that.”

You hear this sort of thing a lot from actors. (How many sub-headings on interviews use the words “reluctant star”?) But Pearce really has steered a course around the celebrity fleshpots. Every interview he’s given has stressed his discomfort with the glamour of it all. At the start of this decade, he told the Guardian that, when fame really struck, he suffered a “mini-nervous breakdown”.

“Oh, well it certainly wasn’t a nervous breakdown,” he says, audibly embarrassed. “It was just this thing of trying to manage too much work. I didn’t really want to handle the real heights of fame. I had to ask myself: ‘how do you really want to handle this?’”

We’ll come back to that. Pearce admits that his difficulties resulted from the near-accidental way he fell backwards into celebrity. It’s a story worth telling. Pearce was born in the quiet cathedral city of Ely near Cambridge. The family moved to Australia when he was a child with the intention of staying for just a few years. They liked the place and never left. Then, just as they had settled in, his father, a test pilot, was killed at work. That must have been awfully tough on his mother.

“Well, she’s a strong woman. She is from the north of England, after all,” he laughs. From Durham, I believe. You don’t mess with folk from the northeast. “No. You’re right there.”