DISCourse: Exclusive Interview with Guy Pearce

DISCourse: Exclusive Interview with Guy Pearce

Mar 02, 2011

English-born Australian actor Guy Pearce wasn't too well known in America when director Christopher Nolan chose him for the lead in 2000's Memento. Pearce's performance as Leonard Shelby—a man with the inability to form new memories who is trying to solve his wife's murder—won him many awards and led to roles in acclaimed movies like The Proposition, The Hurt Locker, The Road and this year's Best Picture winner, The King's Speech.

Lionsgate has just released a 10th-anniversary edition Blu-ray of Memento—an intricate psychological thriller that gets better with each viewing. During our casual chat with Pearce, we picked his memory about making the mind-bender, if movie awards are a good idea, and what he would choose to do if offered the opportunity to erase a painful memory of his own.

Movies.com: It's been 11 years since Memento debuted in theaters. Your character, Leonard, has no short-term memory, but what was most memorable to you about the shoot?

Pearce: The whole experience and the way in which Chris [Nolan] had a handle on everything was really encouraging and inspiring. I think not many people have the capacity to understand what it is they're doing as much as Chris. He was very honest and said, "Look, I haven't really worked with professional actors much. I'm not sure what you want or what you do in rehearsals." It was fantastic because I was happy to start off on that open footing. We shot it in 26 days and really needed to be well-prepared before we started and that is thanks to him. Working with a great script and a great guy who was so on top of it was probably the best memory.

Movies.com: Memento is one of those rare movies in which you notice something new each time you watch it because the story does not unfold in a linear fashion. When you were filming it, were the scenes shot in reverse or linear order, or were they random?

Pearce: It was the same as a normal film, really. Everything is location-based, so we would be at a hotel for a week, Carrie-Anne Moss's house for a week and the bar for a week. You're jumping from scene to scene the way you do on any film, so there was nothing unusual about that. The thing that was a bit unusual is that I had Polaroid photographs of, say, a car that I would use in one scene and yet we hadn't shot the scene yet where I had taken the photo of the car. We would have to go out to the location prior and set the car in the right spot where we think it was going to be and "click," then you've got the prop. We had to make sure the continuity was correct. There were a lot of props in the film and I'm writing notes on the photos and sticking them into different pockets, so that was kind of complicated. We just had to be on top of it.

Movies.com: How did you keep your shifting relationships with the other characters straight in your head?

Pearce: Chris didn't want other people to do this, but I had a version of the script that I pulled apart and put in linear order just so we it was easy to reference. On an emotional level, because of the nature of the character having no short-term memory, Chris wasn't really stuck on what happened 10 minutes before anyway. I, as an actor, could just be in the present moment each time. Each scene was almost like doing one sketch-comedy scene, particularly when Joe Pantoliano was the funny guy. It was fun.

Movies.com: Before you took this role, were you able to meet anyone with anterograde amnesia or watch footage of anyone with it?

Pearce: I had a few written reports and accounts. Oddly enough, Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays Sammy in the film, had an operation at some point in his life during which he had to take a drug that gave him short-term memory loss for a short amount of time. He talked about the experience and reiterated what was in the script. He said he would walk into a room with a cup of a tea in his hand and not remember if he made it for himself, his wife, or why he had it at all. That was similar to what we read in the various articles we had.

Movies.com: When Memento has been released on DVD before, the special edition had a hidden feature that allowed users to watch the main portion of the film in linear order instead of reverse. Do you know if the new Blu-ray has such a hidden Easter egg?

Pearce: I don't know if it does and I haven't watched it in that order. A part of me would be curious to and I have the special edition, so I know it must be in there somewhere. I'm really surprised that Chris let them do it because he didn't allow people on set to reorder the script for themselves, but I guess he was thankful that the film had quite a following and was up for people to experiment with it.

Movies.com: If you were faced with the option of erasing or altering a painful memory like Leonard had, would you alter your memories or would you rather live with the truth?

Pearce: I'd rather live with the truth. I just have this feeling that to erase a memory would somehow come back to you in one way or another, even if someone told you or you just had an inkling. Leonard wasn't in good shape at the end of the movie—he's probably still wandering around in the Valley.

Movies.com: You starred in The Hurt Locker, which won the Best Picture Oscar last year. This year you played Edward in The King's Speech, which just won Best Picture. Are the Oscars and striving to win awards something that is crucial for you as an actor?

Pearce: They are definitely icing on the cake. I barely got to the point in my life where I can feel some kind of enthusiasm about awards because, in the past, I've always been quite disdainful towards them and the whole process. I don't get it and I think it's slightly distasteful. How do you judge a winner? I can understand it in a running race, but not a movie race. I've always been a bit weird about it, but I managed to let go of that a little bit in the past few years. Hence, that has brought on the opportunity to be in films that win awards. Good timing! [laughs]

Movies.com: You star as Monty Beragon in the HBO adaptation of Mildred Pierce. In general, how do you feel about Hollywood remakes? When is one justified?

Pearce: Is it a matter of time? Sometimes things feel remade too soon. But the interesting thing about Mildred Pierce is that it is honoring the book more than the original film did. The book is a beautifully written story about a woman whose husband has left her, she has children and is trying to make ends meet. It's very emotionally-based. When they made the Hollywood film, they spiced it up with a murder at the beginning and it was centered around this murder mystery, which doesn't exist in the book. We were getting away from that overt film noir style and treating the material as honorably as we could.

Movies.com: Memento was a hint of what was to come—like Inception—from the brilliant mind of Christopher Nolan. Is there any chance of you two working together again?

Pearce: We've talked about it a couple of times and, for various reasons, things haven't worked out. If and when it does, it will be great to be able to. Maybe Batman 15 or something. [laughs]

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