In 1994, Guy Pearce made a indelible impression starring as a transvestite in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and has gone on to star is such successful and diverse movies as LA Confidential, Memento, The Hurt Locker and most recently in the TV miniseries, Mildred Pierce.
His new movie Lockout is another departure for him, as he takes on the role of Agent Snow, a falsely accused ex-government agent whose one chance at freedom lies in a dangerous mission to rescue the President’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), who is the prisoner of rioting convicts at an outer-space maximum-security prison.
This is such a fun role for you, is that what attracted you to the movie?
Yes, that’s what it was primarily. I liked the idea of playing an irreverent character like Snow. He’s not your typical action hero. He exhibited a lazy and exhausted quality, which I thought was quite funny.
I’m not normally asked to do those kinds of roles. I thought it was quite funny and fun to try to take on something like that, and just try and succeed at getting that balance right of humor but maintaining a sense of reality in the story, as much as one can in a futuristic science fiction action movie.
Do you feel Snow’s a surrogate for the audience?
Yeah, being afraid of heights and feeling too old for this. I thought, ‘Isn’t that what most audience members feel when they watch this stuff? I couldn’t do that, I don’t want to jump off that balcony. I don’t want to fight that guy.’ I quite liked that, and it just felt like a nice change from some of the other things I’ve been doing.
Were you dragged to the gym kicking and screaming in order to be so buff in this?
Not kicking and screaming. I used to go to the gym a lot when I was younger and I quite enjoy it. It’s harder as you get older to lift heavy things off the ground, but I really enjoy the aspect of it that helps you find the character.
A lot of CG was used in this. I would imagine that until you saw the film you didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like.
They do a lot of previsualization stuff these days. These technical guys sit there at computers and instead of just doing a storyboard, they have visual moving representations of what it is we are going to shoot.
They look like stick figures sometimes moving about, but they can certainly show you that they want to go down in between those buildings and that’s when the helicopter’s going to appear, and then that thing is going to blow up behind you.
It obviously ends up being helpful when you’re sitting there on a motorbike in a green room. But I’ve got a pretty vivid imagination, like most of us do, so [I can] imagine what it’s like to have something exploding behind me. I didn’t have to look at the cartoon version of it beforehand. But they’ve done so much work putting those things together that you don’t want to burst their bubble.
You and Maggie had those big spacesuits on, what were they like to wear?
They’re just horrible. They’re difficult to get on, they’re difficult to get off, they’re difficult to move in. Maggie and I couldn’t hear each other when we had them on. They’re really tricky. And we did a lot of stuff on wires as well. I was fighting hanging on wires.
It’s all tricky stuff. Some people have far more difficult jobs that I do, so I’m not complaining about it. Just keeping your concentration is the key, and being able to maintain the moments you’re supposed to be in, while you’re feeling excruciating pain because you’re being suspended by your crotch, and you can’t breathe because [the harness] is digging into you.
I did seem to hurt myself a lot on this film. I don’t know how [action stars] do it all the time. People are saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this was a big success and you got to do a sequel?’ I went, ‘I don’t know, maybe!’ Snow could be sent behind a desk and he could send out some other action hero to do his work for him. (he laughs)
Is it easier to play a fictional character like this compared to Edward VIII in The King’s Speech, Houdini in Death Defying Acts, or Andy Warhol in Factory Girl, where you can look at pictures and listen to recording of them?
On some level the process is still the same. You’re still working through a series of bits of information, whether those bits of information are written from historical facts or written on the page because they’ve come out of someone else’s imagination. You’re still having to work through those bits of information and come to terms with it, trying to inhabit them and make them be real.
Andy Warhol, you’ve got tons and tons of film and interview footage and it feels like he’s with us still. Whereas, Houdini you barely can get some sound recordings, and even Edward VIII, you get these very scratchy old-fashioned recordings where you can’t even understand what he’s saying.
Obviously there’s more flexibility when you’re working with a fictional character because you might have a particular take on the way he says this or the way he does things, whereas I feel like if you’re playing somebody who is real it’s best to do the best version of them that you can possibly do.
What was his most treasured memory about doing his first big movie, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? Click below to listen to Guy’s answer.
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