Guy Pearce
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Guy Pearce: “Where’s my conviction?”

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Short Profile

Name: Guy Edward Pearce
DOB: 5 October 1967
Place of birth: Ely, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Pearce, based on the characters you play, would you say you are interested in the dark side of humanity?

I would say I’m fascinated by how people can be completely narrow-minded, particularly when it comes to extremely bad behavior leading to violence or the repression of others. I'm so shocked by people's behavior that it's really fascinating to play those types of characters, actually. Whether I'm playing somebody who is pursued or repressed or if I'm playing the antagonist myself, either way, the story of the way in which we relate to each other always fascinates me and the more extreme, the more fascinating, really. I also think I have an understanding of great fear and being powerless.

How come?

Well, I have a sister with an intellectual disability and I think growing up with her and watching her try to survive in the world is very frightening. For her, a lot of life is quite tormented, even just by somebody who is a bit off-hand and a bit judgmental — for her that is pretty much torturous. Having experienced that just beside her probably has something to do with why I choose the roles that I choose, you know? My dad was also killed when I was very young, and that was a pretty horrifying experience for me, so I think my interest in extreme events stems from that as well…

“I allow myself to choose the things that just feel right to me at the time.”

Does that make the parts you choose more personal?

I don't know if I consciously think about my dad when I'm putting together a role, no. If it’s conscious, then I'm taking it out of the script, if it's subconscious, then it just informs it. I definitely allow myself to choose the things that just feel right to me at the time. I know that I play a lot of nasty, horrible people and I'm sure some people might not cast me because they have seen me in something really evil and think, “No, he wouldn't be right for this.”

Is that frustrating?

No, I don't really care! (Laughs)

You never feel like there’s a game to be played in Hollywood?

You know, I'm aware of how you have to keep your public profile up in order to be valuable enough for finance companies to agree to put you in a movie but as far as anything goes, I wouldn't call it game playing or anything like that, it's more just being conscious of how the industry works and trying to keep your head above water. The only thing I ever feel frustrated by is my own lack of talent, if I ever feel like I didn't do a role well enough or I can’t quite work out ahead how to put a character together. That's the only thing I would ever feel frustrated about, my own limitation. 

How do you overcome that?

I think that one of the most satisfying things about playing a role is not about the role itself — it’s more about the fact that you’re often playing somebody who really knows who they are. As a person in this world, I’ve often not really known who I am, and I’ve often felt at a loss, or anxious or insecure about who I am. A lot of the time growing up I felt a bit lost or a bit too shy to speak up, or I’d follow other people rather than be able to know how to lead the way myself, so I love that I get to stand on stage and play a character who has conviction.

“Finding the integrity within a character enables you as an actor to look at your own sense of morality.”

Because it satisfies the part of you that aspires to be more like that?

Yeah, it’s incredibly therapeutic because if you play somebody who has conviction, it goes a long way to enabling you to look at your own self and go, “Well, where’s my conviction? What do I believe in? Who am I as a person?” Finding the integrity or the belief within a character enables you as an actor to look at your own sense of morality and integrity. That’s really indulgent and self-satisfying in a way. (Laughs) But in a way, you are also playing with fire a little bit.

What do you mean?

Well, you’ve got to be careful with what comes with being an actor, these silly things like fame or recognition or bad reviews. Your own fragile, precarious nature can be tossed around and be made to feel even more useless or vulnerable. I think a lot of people get in it for the fame, then they become incredibly famous and then they wonder why they’ve gone nuts.

You started acting when you were only eight years old though — did you learn all these things the hard way?

I probably wasted a few good years taking more drugs than I should have! (Laughs)I don’t think when I was eight years old that I imagined a career, I had no sense of what longevity meant; I was just an opportunist. Back then, being on stage felt like a very compelling and safe place to be — I entered acting for a very particular reason, and that was to sort of escape things that were difficult as a child. So when I had the opportunity to leave Australia to work on L.A. Confidential, I actually was really reluctant.

“It occurred to me that I was doing something as a 30-year-old based on the decision of an eight-year-old...”

Really? Most actors would have jumped at the chance to make it to Hollywood.

I knew how competitive it was! The thing is, I entered the whole thing with massive insecurity about my own ability because I’d struggled to find film work in Australia after doing television for so long. I went to Hollywood with a real attitude, “I’m not going to succeed here, I don’t feel good as an actor, I can’t even get work at home properly.” I started working there, but I was really fighting against myself to work out how to fit in. It really occurred to me that I was doing something as a 30-year-old based on the decision of an eight-year-old, which was to take opportunity after opportunity after opportunity.

How did you reconcile that problem?

Actually I had a real crisis and I took a year off in 2001. I knew I had to look at it on a deeper level I suppose, and try and find the value in it, try and see the point of it. I then came back to it with a much more calm sense of humor about the whole thing and I think a lot of it was about looking at it from an adult point of view rather than from that of a little kid. I am still questioning and reassessing my view of it though. I’ll have some years where I am more cynical about it and other years where I feel really positive but… I’m working harder. I’m digging deeper.