Australian actor Guy Pearce has had his share of successes yet continues to be more than happy starring in often miniscule films that often get limited release. Take his latest film, First Snow, in which he plays a salesman whose past catches up with him once a fortune teller predicts his death on the first snow.
Merely describing this small Indie thriller as "a clever little story which clearly grabbed me," Pearce says his attraction for such tiny projects is based on a simple philosophy. "It's just about feeling honest," he explains from his Los Angeles hotel. "You know me, I really feel like my imagination really needs to be sort of sparked and if it's not I feel like I'm just kind of faking it. So because of that I think I end up sort of limiting myself to a small range of films that come along. And if there's a great studio film out there then there's a different list that I'm not necessarily on that the film's going to go through first, but there's something I think that just naturally feels a little more realistic or risky about most of the films that you find in the independent world."
Possibly this is also why the actor has constantly refused to succumb and relocate to Los Angeles, insisting on retaining Melbourne as his home base. "I think I really enjoy the separation from the work arena and there is a huge part of me that gets a bit exhausted by it. It's like I'm not even necessarily fighting it either, I just feel exhausted after work and I kind of just want to go home. It's a little bit like saying to somebody, 'Well you work from Monday to Friday, so why don't you stay at the office all night as well?' And you go 'Well why would you?'"
Pearce, who is a genuinely good humoured person, plays a collection of dour characters, so the perception may be, that the actor is reflected in the characters he plays. "People might think I'm a miserable bugger I think is the word you're searching for," Pearce responds, laughingly. "You know, I'd love to do something lighter if I found something that someone wanted me to do that I found interesting. I don't know, I probably am a bit of a miserable bugger at times and I certainly have been told to cheer up a lot in my life, but funnily enough, I have got a sense of humour and I'm quite happy to come and laugh at stuff, particularly more so as time goes on," Pearce says, reflectively.
"I think when I was really young I laughed a lot, told a lot of jokes and I thought I was really funny, and then there was a period, through my late teens and my twenties, where I took everything a bit too seriously, so probably a lot of the work that I choose is a reflection of some sort of hangover of that, of really wanting to express and get in touch with the darker side of life. But funnily enough I think doing that sort of work actually helps me sort of get something out of my system as well. At the same time I wouldn't necessarily go and choose something that was lighter just because it was, say, frivolous, because I really feel as if I need to do, even if I was going a comedy I would still want to take it really seriously and get it right. I do read a lot of comedies but comedies have to be really clever to make me laugh."
Pearce is not amusing in First Snow, a film that epitomises his darker view of the world, as is Factory Girl, in which the actor plays Andy Warhol to Sienna Miller's Edie Sedgwick in this 60s-set drama. In taking on Warhol, Pearce admits he had to try and avoid merely impersonating the iconic artist.
"I met a few people that met Andy and people would sort of raise eyebrows and go 'Mmm yes well let's see what you do' kind of thing. There just comes a point where I became so fixated on all the research material that I was looking at and listening to the audio tapes that I really felt like a had a grasp of something and so that kind of perspective ended up just being my frame of reference. To me, on some level, playing Andy ended up being no different to playing a character that is not a real person because as far as the process goes, it's still just a version of something in my imagination anyway. Now whether that imagination is prepared by real footage of somebody or whether it's prepared by clever writing in a script, it kind of ends of not mattering as far as I go in the process of things."
From Warhol to another iconic figure, Harry Houdini, is next for Pearce, who has just finished shooting Gillian Armstrong's Death Defying Acts. It's the first time the Aussie actor had worked with the acclaimed director of such seminal classics as My Brilliant Career, Starstruck and Little Women. Pearce says that working with her was "thrilling because I've been such a fan of hers for years and she's an incredibly honest person- emotionally honest, so if she doesn't like something she'll really pull a face at you. I mean she's got a particular sort of manner about her whereby she's not going to go out of her way to tell you something was good but she's also not going to go out of her way to tell you something's bad. So she's really honest I must admit, so abrasive as it might seem, I would rather that than somebody kind of going 'oh yeah fantastic, fantastic, fantastic' when there's no need to."
Pearce says he has high hopes for the film which is expect to world premiere at Cannes this year. "I think it will be a really beautiful film, very stylish and a really mature film. I mean Gill does have a great sense of maturity about her in her work, even within the sort of lovely, naÔve keeps falling in love quality that she sort of has and the photography I have to say, is just unbelievable."
As for what's next, Pearce laughs. "I'm looking for work and anywhere will do me. I'm here in Los Angeles reading scripts at the moment." Here with his wife Kate, the actor has to get back so she can continue with her university studies. "This is her last year unless she goes on to do her Masters, which she probably will." Perhaps Pearce can give up these small Indie films to be supported by his wife. "I hope so and that's what I keep saying. I'm just giving you a little taste of what it's going to be like when I'm not getting any more work."