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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – How Guy Pearce coped with invisible creatures

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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Guy Pearce
Alex (Guy Pearce) © 2011 Miramax

Guy Pearce doesn’t like to be pigeonholed. Over the course of his quarter-century career, the British-born Australian native has appeared in a wide range of films, including LA Confidential, Memento, The King’s Speech and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to name a few.

Pearce, who’s just finishing work on Ridley Scott’s top-secret Prometheus, recently sat down to discuss his work on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. In the atmospheric thriller, directed by Troy Nixey and produced by Guillermo del Toro, he plays Alex a single-minded architect trying to restore an old mansion with his girlfriend Kim. When his young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) comes to live him, Alex is too preoccupied with work to notice Sally’s claim that she’s being attacked by an army tiny creatures living in the mansion…

You haven’t done a lot of genre stuff work in the past. What was it that drew you to this particular project?

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Guy Pearce
Alex (Guy Pearce) © 2011 Miramax

Even though I feel like I’ve done quite a variety of work, I generally tend to be drawn into things that are reality-based but emotional, on a level that we all relate to on a day to day basis.

That’s not to take anything away from people who feel they hear voices in their heads and their lives are tormented by what they’re in touch with, but the thing I’m drawn to is obviously emotional connections and disconnections between people.

So most of the stuff that I do is relationship-oriented stories and films, but I do have a broad interest in film and occasionally I really feel the urge to step into something that is a bit more outside what I normally do.

I don’t necessary look for films like that, but if I think of examples like Time Machine or even Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories or Ravenous; even though it was a gory horror-oriented film, it was really about psychological torment and the extremes to which people can go as far as what they can do each other. But the idea of genre-based stuff doesn’t grab me all the time.

As a kid, I probably saw five or six horror-oriented films like Death Ship, Evil Dead, American Werewolf in London; obviously the Friday the 13th and Halloween series, things like Poltergeist and The Exorcist, but the idea of being as frightened as you possibly can just for the sake of it doesn’t really draw me in.

So as far as Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is concerned…?

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison
Alex (Guy Pearce), Sally (Bailee Madison) and dinner guests © 2011 Miramax

With this film, as far as being attracted to it, there were three elements. One was the very mundane domestic aspect of the story, that I suppose could happen to any couple that have split up and one says to the other, ‘It’s your turn to look after this kid!’

The other aspect that  interested me was the question of whether or not these creatures in this house are actually real or whether they’re the result of a disconnect between this young girl and her family, her father specifically.

We don’t know what kind of relationship she’s got with her mother, but obviously we’ve all been kids and we’ve all imagined the worst  or been tormented by things. As you get older, you realize that a lot of it is in your head and it’s incredible what we can come up with.

Obviously we discover that the creatures in this film are real, but I found it interesting that there’s a question about that in the beginning.

And I suppose the third aspect is that it does have a bit of a horror element, which piqued my interest at the time. As I say, it’s not something that I’m drawn to very much to be honest, but I guess because Guillermo was involved and I liked Katie Holmes and was a big fan of hers, the piece just fell into place.

If it was just more of a horror-oriented film without the basis of the domestic father/daughter story that existed, I probably wouldn’t have been that interested, so it’s one of those odd things that felt right at the time.

Did it help your interaction with the digitally-created creatures in the film to know what they looked like?

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Creature
One of Troy's illustrations of the creatures © 2011 Miramax

Obviously Troy who’s a wonderful illustrator who directed the film and Guillermo who we all know has a great imagination, showed us some pictures and a little model of what the creatures were going to look like.

But they weren’t there when we were shooting, so it was fascinating to see the finished film and really get a sense of the style of it and to be able to say as an audience member, ‘This is kind of scary!’

I don’t have an issue with green screen, other than the fact that after you do it for a few days, you get a bit of a headache. When we were doing The Time Machine, we were in a green room for about a month and I felt I was hallucinating by the end of it, so it was quite a strange experience.

Did your involvement with a genre film like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark inform your recent work on Prometheus with Ridley Scott?

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Guy Pearce
Alex (Guy Pearce) © 2011 Miramax

Probably not, actually. We’ve all been sworn to secrecy, and I still have a little bit to go so unfortunately I can’t tell you why it wasn’t really preparation for that. I often don’t make the connection between one film and another. We shot Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark in the middle of 2009, so it was two years ago, and in a way, I’ve kind of forgotten about it.

I see every job as being very different and sometimes it’s not until I’ve finished a particular job and somebody says, ‘Oh, and you did that in Count of Monte Cristo as well, ‘that I think ‘I suppose I did!’  It was a different period, and a different kind of character, but there might have been some similar thread, so I tend to really shed a job when it’s over.

It’s quite a cathartic experience and I tend to not even want to keep costumes from a film, unless it’s something generic, like a nice suit. I don’t want to be putting something on and thinking, ‘Here I am again!’ I really am very happy to walk away.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark opens August 26th.